A ‘Puff’ of fresh air

VHS Theatre Department starts rehearsals

Dayna Ung, Staff Reporter

Avada Cadabra! The Hufflepuffs shrink in fear as the spell is cast. From the auditorium, he smiles as his vision is played out on stage. Turning back to his paper, he rapidly scribbles down notes, pausing to chuckle at the improvised joke one of the actors on stage pulled.

Technical Theatre teacher, Jeff Davis, is directing Vandegrift’s first show of the school year. The first play, for many students, in over two years is called “Puffs,” a fast-paced comedic parody of Harry Potter told from the perspective of the Hufflepuffs. Show dates for “Puffs” are Oct. 14, 15 and 16, and tickets can be purchased online here.

“I think this show is gonna stand out just because of how ridiculously fun and silly it is,” Davis said. “I think as soon as you tell people that it’s a parody of Harry Potter, they just get a huge grin on their face because they understand the potential that that has.”

Davis said he has loved Harry Potter ever since he was first dragged to a Harry Potter movie in high school. When “Puffs” first came out, Davis said he followed its journey closely and grew a special connection to it.

“‘Puffs’ takes a really different approach to the Harry Potter series by focusing on the side characters,” Davis said. “The Hufflepuffs are kind of misfits and outcasts, and personally, I felt like a misfit and an outcast when I was in high school. So I think it’s a show that seems to speak to a lot of people because they look at these characters and they’re like, oh yeah I know that person, or I am that person.”

Davis began acting at a young age but soon discovered directing in his junior year of high school. From there, he went to UCLA and earned his degree in Direction. After graduating, he worked in various places in the Austin area as he learned tech skills on the job.

“As a director, I found that you get to sort of dissect every character and their motivations and why they say and do the things that they do,” Davis said. “And then figuring out how we tell this story and how we get this point across to the audience.”

However, with the recent code red stage for COVID, Davis said he is working to the best of his ability to prepare the show while still ensuring the health and safety of his cast and crew. He has taken steps such as wearing masks during rehearsal, trying his best to keep social distancing off stage and being mindful of not touching other people’s props. 

“It’s very possible that masks may be incorporated into the costuming, but if we have to go down that road, we’re prepared to do it,” Davis said. “Right now we’re just kind of playing the wait and see game right now until mid October when the show goes up. But if it’s looking like we’re gonna have to stay masked, we will have a masked show.”

Puffs poses several challenges on both the acting and technical sides too. In the technical area of the show, there are over 700 of the original Off-Broadway sound cues and between 300-400 lighting cues. In addition to that, this show provides space for actors to improvise lines and even entire scenes, making every show different from each other. But even with all the challenges and limitations the cast and crew face, Davis said he is excited for many parts of the show.

There’s a lot of parts of the show where I want to have the performers interact directly with the audience and effects that we will rig in the theater that will be over the audience,” Davis said. “And that’s something that I think is always fun because you never know how the audience is going to respond to that.”

Davis said that out of the whole show, one of the scenes that speaks to him was when one of the characters, Megan Jones, has a monologue where she talks about not wanting to be like the rest of her Hufflepuff family. 

“I think there’s a lot about this scene that’s relatable because, you know, maybe there’s something in yourself, this character trait that you don’t really appreciate, and there’s a really beautiful moment when she finally embraces herself,” Davis said. “It’s one of my favorite parts of the show because it’s so real and so touching, but there are a lot of scenes in this show that really speak to me as well. I feel like these characters are kindred spirits because, again, these characters are kind of loners and misfits that are trying to find their place in high school and that was a really hard thing for me to do when I was a high schooler.”

Davis said he is very ecstatic to be a part of such a large community of people. Outside of Vandegrift’s production of “Puffs,” multiple theaters are putting together and performing this show across the country, with at least three others in the Austin area. He said he enjoys the sense of community this brings to the production and wants to pass that on to the audience.

“I just want the audience to sit back for two hours, forget their troubles, laugh, and go home with a smile on their face,” Davis said. “That’s the big thing. But also for them to remember, you know, what it was like to be your high school aged kid, and the friendships and challenges and struggles that they had in that school experience.”