EXCLUSIVE (Part 1 of 2): Leaky Interview with Cast of Off-Broadway PUFFS

puffs

Aug 13, 2019

Posted by: Gianfranco Lentini

Actor Interviews, Broadway, Companion Books, Exclusives, Fandom, Interviews, J.K. Rowling, News, Puffs, Theater, TLC Interviews

Time-turn back to December 2015 — The unsuspecting town of New York City is bustling with Muggles in the midst of holiday festivities. Magic fills the air in a flurry of snowflakes, twinkling lights, and merry tunes. But downtown at the Peoples Improv Theater, a very special kind of magic is about to take the stage: a troupe of Hufflepuffs ready to show the world why, for the love of Dumbledore, they matter.

Time-turn forward to August 2019 — we are of course talking about the now long-running and record-breaking off-Broadway play PUFFS, or: Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic & Magic written by Matt Cox and directed by Kristin McCarthy Parker. With more tricks and delights than can be found inside Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, PUFFS documents the underdog lives of the Hufflepuff class of ’98 while exploring what it meant to attend (and survive) Hogwarts during the Potter era.

Now, just over three and a half years later, this play with humble beginnings has gone on to bewitch continuously sold-out audiences in New York City and across Australia; is now available for streaming across digital platforms as PUFFS: Filmed Live Off Broadway; and will soon publish under Del Rey Books the behind-the-scenes book PUFFS: The Essential Companion on November 5, 2019.

So it’s with wands raised that we at The Leaky Cauldron salute this show as they prepare to take their final bow in NYC on August 18, 2019. Enjoy Part 1 of Leaky’s interview with the cast of PUFFS below, followed by Part 2, featuring the show’s creative team.

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PUFFS KEY:

Puff = Hufflepuff
Brave = Gryffindor
Smart = Ravenclaw
Snake = Slytherin

 

CAST Q&A

 

LEAKY CAULDRON: Hello, cast! For those out there who still haven’t had the great fortune of seeing PUFFS, introduce yourself, tell us who you play, and *in character* give a one-liner of what this play is about.

ZAC MOON: Hey there! My name is Zac Moon and I play Wayne Hopkins in the show. I think the show is about what it’s like to grow up and go to magic school when you’re not that Potter kid who gets all the attention and glory.

STEPHEN STOUT: I’m Stephen Stout, I play Ernie Mac and all the male teachers (and I’m one of the original co-producers of the show). And PUFFS is BASICALLY THE BEST look at lives and adolescence of the other kids at a Certain School of Magic and Magic from ’91 to ’98!

ANDY MILLER: My name is Andy Miller, and I play Leanne and others. This show is about Leanne teaching the Puffs the importance of group hugs (but not really).

CHRISSY ALBANESE: Hi I’m Chrissy Albanese and I play Sally/Others. She would say it’s a play “about all my friends and we do a lot of stuff together and try really hard.” 

MADELEINE BUNDY: My Name is Madeleine Bundy and I play Susie Bones in PUFFS. PUFFS is a woeful tale about finally learning the true meaning of friendship only to see my loved ones ripped away from me as I drift off to my cold sleep, because I don’t use bed covers. I use the wind as my blanket and souls of my family as my pillow.

I also play Harry in PUFFS. PUFFS is about the most wonderful people in the world all being my bestest most wonderful friends where nothing ever goes wrong and I buy everyone chocolate frogs and we sing songs and tell jokes and I have a best friend named Wayne but I also have a best friend named Megan and Ron is also my friend and Hermione well she’s my best friend and we all love to give great big hugs! And everywhere you go people know your name because everyone is famous for being so wonderful! I love being a wizard!

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LEAKY: First and foremost, what is it like working on a play with source material that has such a legacy attached to it? Did that ever make your job or finding your characters more difficult?

ZAC: For me, as a big fan of the material already, it was so much fun and a little daunting. I didn’t have to worry about finding my character in there, but I got to examine Harry’s whole journey and see where Wayne could parallel his and where he could diverge, which was really interesting to do. Plus I got to be pretty close to myself interacting with all these iconic characters, what more could you ask for as a fan??

CHRISSY: I never found the source material’s legacy to be daunting because to me it was just fun to celebrate something that I loved growing up. I think we are honoring it BY making it our own and poking some fun. 

STEPHEN: It’s been lovely to satirically play in this sandbox that people have so much investment in – to find these little nooks and crannies of jokes from these wonderful performances and character types and apocryphal trivia. And to have been embraced by even a portion of this enormous lovely fandom has been a real gift.

MADELEINE: Working with this material is fun. How could it not be? But because we are/were trying to subvert expectations, it is challenging. Everyone knows this world by heart in some way and to ask people to come in and completely change their perspective on the source material is tricky. But I feel very lucky to have worked with this source material even if it wasn’t technically in any official way…

ANDY: My character is only briefly mentioned, she doesn’t even have a last name, so it was a really fun challenge to create a character in this world with very little to go on.  I was told that Leanne is the Puffiest of the Puffs, so I tried to incorporate all of the Puff stereotypes (good and bad) into who she was.

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LEAKY: PUFFS has had quite the journey in New York City playing the Peoples Improv Theater (PIT), the Elektra Theatre, and New World Stages where you currently are. And many of you have been with the show since the beginning! What has it been like watching the play and your work grow and evolve each step of the way? (p.s. I’m very proud to say I’ve seen the show in each of these theatres!)

STEPHEN: Well first, thanks for comin’ with us on each step of the journey! It’s been such a lovely roller coaster ride. This thing that we developed with our friends and rehearsed and built props in apartments on a shoestring that was discovered by the internet (and the fandom) and getting to see it grow to heights we could only have dreamt of the plan was “5 performances one Christmastime” has been a surprise and we are all so, so thankful. And as we’ve grown into each space, we’ve revised jokes, deepened the emotion and storytelling, and just tried to do well by whoever was going to plunk down $20-60 bucks to check us out.

ANDY: I have been doing this show for a looooong time, and I think the reason I’ve been able to is because it has evolved and changed with every version.  It keeps the show fresh and keeps all the actors on their toes! Also, yay!!!! The PIT version was crazy because the script was still changing every week, so you probably saw something no one will ever see again!

ZAC: It’s been truly incredible to be standing here now and look back on all the iterations of the show and its journey. We used to joke way back at the PIT that New World Stages would be like the pipe dream for the show, never in a million years imagining it to really come true, so… that’s still amazing to think about. Probably my favorite thing has been watching everyone keep striving to make the show better at every turn and never compromising or sitting back when there was an opportunity to make something more finely tuned.

MADELEINE: As an actor I have definitely grown with each space. I had never had to adjust a part so drastically because we were moving from one room to another to another so that was new and challenging and fun. As a designer I’m exhausted. I’ve had to build PUFFS so many times.

CHRISSY: I’ve only been with the show about 6 months, but I certainly have an appreciation for all the people who have put so much work into it before I got here, and for all the fans who have supported it up until now. I am so happy to be a part of the timeline of PUFFS Off-Broadway. 

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LEAKY: What has the response been from Hufflepuffs (and the other houses) who’ve seen the show?

MADELEINE: Great! Puffs really needed something that was just for them made by people who really care about this 25% of wizards. And other houses have been equally positive. We get audience members all the time coming up to us and saying “oh sorry, I’m a Brave, but I really really loved your show” We have had people dress up in all the house colors and that’s really nice!

CHRISSY: I get so excited when I see people out in the audience wearing their Puffy gear because it becomes participatory for them in a way. They feel such enthusiasm for the type of person a Puff is that they want to celebrate along with us. Like the play says, there is a bit of Puff in all of us. That’s a beautifully unifying idea.

ZAC: It’s been so cool to see all the Puffs who come out of the woodwork and are finally proud to be a Puff after kind of getting the short end of the stick for so many years. And also to see the folks from other houses who go ‘you know? I can see a little Puff in myself now for the first time’ that’s pretty neat.

ANDY: I get a lot of Puffs who come up to me after the show and say “Leanne was my favorite”  and I think it’s because she is so relatable to super fans. Everything in this world is new and she is so over the top excited about it all. So in a way she is just like the fans who have been reading the books since they were kids and love every element of this world.

STEPHEN: My favorite little laugh of Puff recognition that sometimes rolls through the house is on the line “Maybe it’s the times you lose your keys. Or momentarily forget how old you are.” Just something nicely human and fallible of a bunch of strangers going “yup that’s me.”

To another extent, the fact that people cosplay as these characters, have created fan art, and in at least one instance, named a pet after our show is like playing in an enormous ball pit of joy. The premise of the show could be adapted to nearly any monolithic geek/fantasy property but the real joy with it being specifically about PUFFS is that specific subset of fans are kind, and loyal, and quirky, and damn passionate. They’re just really nice people to be around and chat with after the show. They also occasionally bring snacks which is the truest and deepest expression of Puff preparedness.

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LEAKY: Zac, your protagonist character Wayne Hopkins finds himself in a trio of friends alongside the scary Megan Jones and brainy Oliver Rivers, similar to Harry and company. But in your opinion, what sets this friendship apart from The Golden Trio?

ZAC:  I really love that our trio manages to shout out the Golden One while also still being totally unique. The relationship between the three of us is so central, I feel, to the heart of the show and each of our character’s journeys are so different than the original three. And if you’ve seen the show, at least I have two friends that are flesh and blood, unlike that Harry guy!

 

LEAKY: Stephen, I have to know… How did you find Snape’s voice? And what’s going through your head during the “Sex Ed with Snape” moment?

STEPHEN: I was lucky enough to briefly work with Mr. Rickman on a project and I had a very, very tiny scene with absolutely no lines but I had to listen to that gorgeous sonorous oboe of a voice for the better part of a week. I also had two voicemails (tragically lost to the sands of time via an unfortunate incident with an iPhone falling into a toilet) from him lightly joshing me for failing to update my outgoing voicemail. His singular delivery is like getting to sing a song in this very specific and wonderfully idiosyncratic key and even before his passing I just really, really wanted to do it justice. I don’t think it’s making fun of him; it’s celebrating him (I hope). 

The beauty of Wizard Sex Ed or the Teenage Magic Talk beat is that I actually don’t have to do all that much to make it funny. The moment the lights come up (on either the adult version or the family-friendly one) the audience has filled in so much of the blanks by themselves that all I have to do is the slightest of movements to get a nice gale of laughter. That said, I do occasionally see parents frantically covering the eyes of young wizards and I try to alleviate their stress by doing something slightly more nuanced than they were anticipating. That laugh of relief they give once they realize they’ve been saved A Sudden Unexpected Conversation is a joy.

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LEAKY: A moment that I’ve always loved in the play, no matter how many times I’ve seen it, is when the Narrator tells us about the moments in which “we find that little piece of us that’s a Puff.” I find it to be rather touching, and as a Puff myself, truthful. What’s the Puffiest thing you’ve discovered about yourself while working on the play?

CHRISSY: I mean, I am a Puff all over the place, but overall, the thing that I will take away from playing a Puff is the pride I feel in being one. I am a weirdo and sometimes it can be a bit scary to embrace and share that, but my time here has made me see it as a strength – something that makes me special. It has made me see that even if I don’t always “win,” the fact that I am persistently TRYING is worth honoring. I wish we had more stories that raised up underdogs like this one.

STEPHEN: As we’ve gotten further into the run, there are moments where my brain will skip ahead in time. So it has been more times than I’d care to admit where I’ve dressed up as The Headmaster, gone behind the flat prior to giving Cedric’s eulogy and found myself with a teacup and saucer in my hands that I don’t need until the following scene (Emily Darone, one of our wonderful crew can attest to this).

ANDY: Officially I’m a Snake, but id be lying if I said I didn’t do something very Puffy at least once a day. I think the Puffs have always been the butt of all the jokes, but this show hopefully proves that Cedric isn’t an anomaly, he’s the norm!

MADELEINE: This show has made me better at hugs and stronger at seeing things from another person’s perspective.

ZAC: I think seeing all these people work so hard and care so deeply for each other has really been an inspiration to me, and makes me want to celebrate those Puffiest of values. Also the time that I said “I can’t wait for Cedric to come out of that mouth” instead of “maze.” That was pretty Puffy.

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LEAKY: At the end of the day, how do you think PUFFS has challenged the stereotype Hufflepuffs so often receive?

ZAC: I don’t think the Puffs were ever as easy to stereotype as the other three houses so they became the catch-all for anything else and no one really wanted to be associated with that before, but I think the show has successfully shown a lot of people that the Puffs are really special and maybe have the most heart of anyone.

CHRISSY: I’m not exactly sure what stereotype they have, except maybe the lack of one? The show challenged the idea of the house being “personality-less” by giving it a voice and integrity.

STEPHEN: I think it’s about that this list of arbitrary traits given to you by an omnipotent chapeau when you’re at the cusp of the hellscape that is wizard puberty is actually things to be celebrated and embraced! Not everyone needs to charge in and damn the odds to fight the forces of evil or to be highly analytical (or scheme-y) about how to solve a problem, or to be a snake. A literal snake. Being good-natured, and supportive, and daring, and loyal – there’s a reason that so many of them stay behind to face down the ultimate evil against impossible odds – is great. As Helga says, why be one thing when you can be everything else? Everything else is pretty awesome.

ANDY: It’s important to let people be truly excited about the things they are passionate about. In popular culture it’s so common for people to be branded a nerd for dressing up like their favorite character or reading all the books 10 times. I think this show is a celebration for anyone who is a proud Puff and doesn’t care what others think.

MADELEINE: I hope that Puffs teaches people that just because you are sorted into this house or any of the houses it doesn’t mean you are actually defined by one general characteristic. Humans have layers and depth and contradictions etc. Valuing heart above all else doesn’t mean you are not also Brave or Smart or… ambitious…

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LEAKY: And out of curiosity, what is this I hear about the PUFFS cast having an obsession with Paddington Bear? Is he a Hufflepuff too??

ZAC: PADDINGTON! He’s definitely a Puff, I mean “be kind and polite and the world will be right” like, come on! But don’t forget your manners or you’ll get that ‘hard stare.’ Those two movies are also really really well made and if you haven’t seen them, you should treat yourself.

ANDY: I watched Paddington partially as a joke. My brother had a whole Paddington decorated room when he was little, but there was no way a remake would be any good? And then I left the theatre CRYING. It was great, and the second one was somehow even better!?!? Paddington is definitely a Puff.

MADELEINE: Paddington 1 and 2 are just genuinely very well made movies. Their construction is tight and the actors are give 110%. Paddington’s message is essentially “be kind” and that’s a wonderful thing for anyone to be passionate about.

CHRISSY: Yea, they all love Paddington 2. It was practically required viewing when I joined the cast, hah.

STEPHEN: Paddington is amazing – the Paddington virus spread through Puffs during the 2017 holiday season when the first film was on Netflix and the second was rolling into theaters. If you haven’t watched the movies, you are missing out on some truly magical, precision-watch-level constructed, hilarious, heartwarming and emotionally powerful stories and great, great cinema. Just go watch them. Right now. This article will still be here when you’re done. It’s fine. I’ll wait….

 Now that you’re back. C’mon! Wasn’t that fun? And surprisingly dark and mature and lovely? I mean: “If you’re kind and polite, the world will be right.” Improving the lives of those around you even if you get into some well-intentioned shenanigans? An innate desire for a spreadable jam? Tell me that beautiful bear isn’t a Puff.

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All photos credited to Hunter Canning.

 

LIGHTNING QUESTIONS

 

LEAKY: What is your actual house?

ZAC: Puff.

CHRISSY: Puff.

STEPHEN: I am a Brave.

MADELEINE: Brave. The old formula and new formula.

ANDY: Snake!

 

LEAKY: What would you name the Hufflepuff badger?

ZAC: Honey Badger.

ANDY: Puffy.

CHRISSY: Huey.

STEPHEN: Oh, he already has a name: Duffy. He’s Duffy The Puff Badger. That’s CANON (don’t ask any of the others).

MADELEINE: Stephen calls it Duffy and now I can’t get that out of my head!

 

LEAKY: What plant would a Hufflepuff totally fall in love with?

ZAC: Weeping Willow.

STEPHEN: The Monkey Faced Orchid. A true flower I did not just google using the phrase “funniest flowers.”

MADELEINE: Audrey 2 and then that Puff would have some tough choices to make. 

ANDY: I have killed everything I’ve ever tried to plant so something hearty.

 

LEAKY: If Hufflepuffs could survive on only one flavor: sweet, salty, savory, spicy

ZAC: Spicy, really though? Sweet.

CHRISSY: Sweet.

ANDY: I’m all about spice!!!!

MADELEINE: I think spicy because we like to feel things.

STEPHEN: Spicy. Not cause it was the first choice, they wanted to try something new and exciting but now it’s a bit beyond their comfort zone but they don’t want to be impolite and change their answer. 

 

LEAKY: Which magazine would heartthrob Cedric Diggory be featured on the cover?

ANDY: Teen Beat.

CHRISSY: Badger Beat.

STEPHEN: Spelunkers Quarterly.

ZAC: Aviafors: A Birdwatching Quarterly.

MADELEINE: Something with woodworking and baking, does that exist? Cedric will start it.

 

LEAKY: Favorite chocolate to fight Dementors?

ZAC: Toblerone.

STEPHEN: Anything English. It’s just so clearly superior to ours.

MADELEINE: Dark Chocolate with pink sea salt.

ANDY: Butterfinger.

CHRISSY: Salted caramel chocolate.

 

LEAKY: Favorite song to mosh to at the Yule Ball?

ZAC: Playing with the Boys.

STEPHEN: There Were Multiple Dragons At The School (And We Were All Fine With It): Remix.

MADELEINE: The soft quiet one where Susie can rest her bones. Careful! She’s brittle!

ANDY: Stand Out from The Goofy Movie.

CHRISSY: Don’t Stop Me Now.

 

LEAKY: Fill in the blank: If PUFFS had a multi-million dollar budget…

ZAC: *jaw drops* how can we make sure everyone in the world can see the show?!

MADELEINE: Madeleine would have been less stressed.

CHRISSY: We’d have way more snacks.

STEPHEN: We would’ve spent most of it on espresso beans. Those matinees don’t energize themselves sometimes.

ANDY: Leanne would enter in a Galinda style bubble from the ceiling…at least 3 times.

 

And now, go read Part 2 of Leaky’s exclusive interview with the creative team of PUFFS!

Thanks to the team behind Puffs for letting us come along to see the show, and for generously giving us their time!





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The Leaky Cauldron is not associated with J.K. Rowling, Warner Bros., or any of the individuals or companies associated with producing and publishing Harry Potter books and films.