“Puffs” has badgered its way into the history books.
Earlier this week, the off-Broadway play — which satirizes the “Harry Potter” series from the vantage point of undervalued Hufflepuffs — announced that it had inked a deal with BroadwayHD, Amazon and iTunes to become one of the select few Broadway or off-Broadway plays to be instantly streamable online while still running on stage.
The development is the latest in what has become a poetic success story for the small-budget production, considering “Puffs” was never expected to exceed its first five performances at the Peoples Improv Theatre back in 2015. But, like the famous House that inspired it, the underdog-driven comedy has patiently chugged along with a loyal cast, advancing inch by inch under the shadow of its more famous contemporary (a certain play that must not be named, but won six Tony Awards last year).
The symbolic elegance of its sleeper-hit status isn’t lost on Matt Cox, a longtime Potter fan and the show’s playwright. He originally cooked up the idea with his friends, joking about the oft-forgotten Hufflepuffs and their unenviable plight. “It’s been amazing. I don’t think any of us could’ve anticipated being here right now, three years down the road,” Cox told ALL ARTS. “I mean, at that time in our careers, we were coming from a place where we just hoped our friends would show up.”
The "Harry Potter"-inspired satire Puffs is coming to…a computer near you? The smash Off-Broadway hit made history earlier this week by inking a deal with BroadwayHD, Amazon Prime and iTunes: https://bit.ly/2CBpYow
Posted by ALL ARTS on Wednesday, October 24, 2018
Now running at New World Stages in the Theater District, “Puffs,” less commonly known by its full title, “Puffs, or: Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of History and Magic,” follows a trio of characters as they navigate the equivalent of middle through high school at what fans know to be Hogwarts. None of them bear a lightning bolt scar, excel at witchcraft or descend from a close-knit, pure-blood family. Cox has deliberately made his protagonists as woebegone as possible, and, without giving away any spoilers, their circumstances don’t change much. The show is not about “The Chosen One”; it’s about those who sit behind him in class and are, at first glance, wholly unremarkable.
Even the props, created by de facto prop master, actor and veritable chameleon Madeleine Bundy, have the patina of forgotten objects. Old mops double as characters, giant stuffed animals stand in for monsters and Christmas lights are cleverly used to denote a ghostly presence. Keeping these original staples despite the production’s recent financial success serves as a nod to its humble roots, while also dolloping comedic relief on the familiar and more somber moments from J.K. Rowling’s original tale.
“It was always important to us that we live in the ‘Puffs’ world and we see it through their eyes,” said director Kristin McCarthy Parker. “I think there’s a lot in ‘Puffs’ that can speak to us. Even if you are not somebody who is extraordinary in the ways we typically laud — if you’re not super ambitious or super brave or super smart, that’s OK. You can find your own community and be supportive and kind and loyal to those people, and there’s heroism to be found in that.”
Thanks in part to its relatable characters, the show has carved itself a niche within an existing online fan base of self-professed “Hufflepuffs” and achieved cult-favorite status in the process. Within those recesses, to self-identify as a “Puff” is to stand for inclusivity, loyalty, friendship and fairness — indispensable traits that are all too frequently overshadowed by bravery or bluster. To demonstrate their allegiance, “Puffs” fans have been known to dress in cosplay, write fan-fiction and poetry about the production and, crucially, tell their friends about it, too.
Cox recalled some fans who had seen the show more than a dozen times, and it’s them he credits with carrying “Puffs” through the first run at Peoples Improv Theatre, securing a sister production at the Alex Theatre St. Kilda in Melbourne, Australia, and lobbying for its most recent streaming deal, which he hopes will allow its messages to be more accessible to the fan community at large.
Their reaction, Cox said, has been the most magical part of the experience.
“Having watched it go from something that was just a silly thing made by a bunch of friends to something that is now embraced by people that are, literally, worldwide — that’s been crazy,” he said. “By far the most rewarding part of all of this is that people really care.”
Puffs is now streaming on BroadwayHD and will arrive on Amazon and iTunes on Nov. 22.
Top Image: Courtesy of "Puffs;" Hunter Canning