“You see, Megan’s mom, you’re right. Puffs are failures. We’ll try and fight you and we’ll probably fail. We’ll fail big time. We’ll fail so hard. But eventually, we get better,” Wayne Hopkins says in the play “Puffs.”
The show is a comedy that tells the story of a group of young witches and wizards who attend a certain British school of magic along with a certain famous dark-haired boy with glasses and a lightning-bolt scar.
While the words Harry and Potter are never mentioned anywhere side by side, and the Hogwarts name is never uttered, “Puffs” is set in a world where those things exist, where magic is real, and where, as in a certain popular series of books, love is the most powerful magic of all.
Magna Vista High School’s advanced drama class has been hard at work over the past two months rehearsing the show. The actors are almost ready to share their efforts, and the show’s central message, with a live audience when “Puffs” is performed at Magna Vista May 20 and 21. Both shows begin at 7 p.m.
“Puffs” is a play director Bryan Dunn, Magna Vista’s theater, film, and forensics coach, has wanted to do for several years. This class of students finally presented the perfect opportunity.
“I had a lot of kids who had all these shows stolen from them because of the pandemic,” he said, “and they were all going to be in my advance drama class this year.” So, he made the decision to do something he’d never done before—do the show with a class, rehearsing during school rather than after school.
“I’ve never done it that way before, so it was a struggle. But I keep reminding myself that it’s a struggle that’s going to be worth it in the end.”
Working with the students make the struggle worthwhile as well, he said.
“I have such a great group of students. They are some of the people that I look forward to coming and seeing every day. I look forward to when we get to fourth block and we can start working on this. This group of kids is one of the hardest working, most talented groups of kids that I have had in a very long time.”
Some of the underclassmen, he said, were initially hesitant about being in the production, and now are eager to participate. He has enjoyed watching them come out of their shells. “I see what I can do. I see what I can be.”
A lot of the class, Dunn said, are seniors, “and I’m going to miss them terribly when they graduate a week after the show.”
One of those seniors is Will Ortega, who plays the dual roles of Cedric and Mr. Voldy.
“I love the message of the show,” Ortega said. That “no matter what, you always belong. You’re never just put somewhere, you always have something,” resonated with him. “I try to keep it with me. Just always be happy being yourself.”
In the character of Cedric, Ortega said he found a great deal of optimism.
“He’s always optimistic about whatever comes his way. He never beats down on himself or others for what went wrong. Rather, he always tries to look on the bright side of any situation. He has confidence in himself that is easy to spread to others, and allows other people to have hope, no matter what.”
His favorite line from the character is, “failure is just another form of practice,” another lesson Ortega said he carries with him. “If I fail, there’s always a way to improve, and it’s just a way of learning more.”
Mr. Voldy, Ortega’s other character, is not quite as nice.
“He’s just evil,” the young actor said. “He’s overall not a good dude, but I get to have fun with the character by doing weird voices and weird movements,” which Ortega said he finds incredibly fun.
When he was an incoming freshman, Ortega said he’d never even considered theater. An upperclassman convinced him to try, telling him it would not only be fun, but also boost his confidence. He signed up for drama in his freshman year, and has stuck with it ever since, with plans to pursue directing in college.
The role of Wayne is played by another senior, Landon George, who takes on the role having only been in one other show—“Chicago,”—during his high school career.
“There are a lot of great aspects to the show,” George said. “It’s a really good underdog story. It starts out really goofy, gets kind of sad, makes you cry a little bit, then you start laughing again. It’s really fun and it’s incredible to have your own take on your characters.”
The journey of his character may sound strikingly familiar to anyone familiar with the story of another boy wizard. Wayne, George said, is an orphan who “goes to this certain school of magic and magic” after being taken from England to grow up in New Mexico.
“He spends his entire 7-years at school trying to become something that he probably isn’t. Looking at Harry, or Potter, in a certain limelight, but also with a certain disgust. He’s always trying to one-up everything that anybody else is doing. He’s trying to become Harry.”
“I feel like “Puffs” is a very inclusive show,” said Lauralee Robinson, a sophomore who plays Leanne and a number of other characters, including Ginny (Wayne’s crush), Frenchie (“she’s a French person and she says ‘baguette’ a lot,” Robinson said), and wizarding school co-founder Helga.
Leanne, she said, is “a very energetic character,” raised by her grandparents in a cabin. As the first person to venture from that cabin on her own, “she’s trying to discover who she is because she’s been secluded all of her life. Everyone has some sort of connection with Leanne.”
Leanne, it seems, also has a whimsical side, as illustrated by one of the lines Robinson shared from her character (and delivered in an excellent British accent), “I was having a dream that I was a unicorn, only I didn’t have a horn, and I was eating hay.”
While the character is generally “one of those people that just goes with the flow,” Robinson said there is a moment in the show in which Leanne makes an important stand.
“At the end, once everybody is deciding to abandon something they they’ve been involved in their entire life, she stands up and says, ‘I want to stay. I want to help defend our certain school of magic,’ and she motivates everybody else to join her.’”
Robinson said she hopes the audience realizes how much work she and the rest of the cast and crew put into making the show happen.
“I want to see them with tearful eyes and joyful smiles,” George said.
“We want them to have fun, laugh, but also learn something,” Dunn added.
During the two months of rehearsals, the cast, crew, and even the director, have all learned a little bit along the way, both from each other and from the play. And the Puffs themselves, at the end of the show, realize they’ve learned something too, if one of Wayne’s lines is any indication: “Did we really spend 7 years at magic school to learn that love is the best magic there is?”
General admission tickets for the show are $8 and available online at www.onthestage.tickets/show/magna-vista-high-school/puffs-83847/
The cast of “Puffs” includes:
Landon George (Wayne Hopkins)
Own Amos (Narrator)
Taylor Holland (Oliver Rivers)
MacKenzie Morrison (Megan Jones)
William Ortega (Cedric/Mr. Voldy)
Briana Tatum (Ernie Mac and others)
Kennedy Coleman (Hannah and others)
TiQuise Fitzgerald (J Finch Fletchley and others)
Lorelei Edmonds (Susie Bones and others)
Danielle Agnew (Sally Perks and others)
Lauralee Robinson (Leanne and others)
Maeve McCulloch (Harry)
The “Puffs” crew members are:
Mallory Burton (stage manager)
Petra Balderas (set and costumes/Sal)
Damian Lovette (set and props/Death Buddy #1)
Racheal Jones (costumes and puppets/Ric Gryff)
Olivia Reeves (costumes and puppets/Rowena)
Madison Willard (set and props)
Bryan Hird (sound)
Trinity Aldrich (lighting and light design)