Battle of the Puffs: Kennedy vs. Washington
Two Cedar Rapids schools, Kennedy and Washington, performed Puffs as their fall play.
October 14, 2022
uffs. A shortened version of the term Hufflepuffs pulled from a story that took the world by storm with its release. Puffs is a comedic retelling of Harry Potter through all seven years at the magical school from the eyes of the Puffs. It shows a side of the story readers rarely consider in a satirical—and sometimes crude—manner.
Last weekend, Kennedy High School’s Drama Department kicked off its school year with a fantastic production of Puffs. Directed by former student Cael Jones and Kennedy teacher Steven Tolly, Kennedy’s rendition of Puffs was nothing but magical.
The play follows the Puffs through all seven years at a certain magical school that the script chooses not to name. Puffs are relentlessly known for their kindness. The play covers their struggles of earning house points and overall just trying to stay alive. The debut of Puffs brought lots of laughter and tears to the Kennedy stage.
Junior Sam Larson says he was hesitant about the play after auditions but by the first run-through he was all in.
“I thought we were going to hit a plateau with the script,” said Larson. “But with Cael and Tolly, they continued to keep it going and gave us the freedom we needed.”
Kennedy’s cast did an amazing job of committing to their roles and conveying emotions. As an audience member, you are truly immersed in the production and will feel the same joy and sadness as the actors.
Many roles in the show were played by just one actor, and while difficult for some high school actors, Kennedy students gave it their all and pulled it off fantastically. With mastered costume changes and flawless line delivery, the actors in Puffs portrayed each character differently making it feel like every character had its own actor.
The play is written to be undercast, making it difficult to direct. Jones says it was hard at first but eventually, he got the hang of it.
“Initially it was difficult to keep track of all the parts and who was playing who,” said Jones. “I think we had three or four different cast scripts.”
Additionally, Kennedy students in the Stagecraft and Design class taught by Tolly along with the stage crew put together a fantastic set that added to the professional feel and truly transported the audience into the play.
“We did a great job with our set, line delivery and pacing. There’s always room for improvement, but with what we had I think we did really good,” said Larson.
Kennedy managed to stay within the expected time limit of the play, something Washington’s show struggled with. While the show didn’t drag on, they were forced to cut many beloved characters and scenes which may have lowered the overall comedic value of the show.
“We constantly tried to cut it [time] down,” said Jones “I had no problem with cutting out characters to fit the time limit.”
The second night’s performance faced a few trials. From a wig falling off to messed up sound systems, there were many instances where the play could’ve gone downhill but the actors were able to push through to make it a memorable night through improved lines and self-aware humor at those few slip-ups.
“There are always things to fix and there are always things to tweak. There are always things to make better,” said Jones. “There are endless things we could have changed but I’m satisfied with where we ended up.”
Washington High School’s drama department began the 2022-23 school year with a production of Puffs. Differing from Kennedy and other schools in the area, Washington has historically produced a play within the first few weeks of the school year. Auditions are held before summer break and rehearsals start in early August instead of after school has begun.
Washington Drama Director Kyle Woollums says this schedule is a perfect fit for his students.
“We find our little place in the crazy ‘before-school rush’,” said Woollums. “Students get some time to focus on drama without having to worry about school.”
[Puffs is] a lot of fun for the audience and it’s a lot of fun for the actors, it was a good fit for this year.
— Kyle Woollums
Due to the sheer amount of characters with few lines, actors played multiple characters and had to distinctly switch in the portrayal of roles. Instead of being a hindrance to the audience’s understanding of the story, the script made it into a self-aware joke. The comedic line delivery had the audience laughing from beginning to end and the unique depiction of the characters’ personalities was memorable.
“It’s nice when you have an audience that is really responsive to a piece. The students’ work really translated to the audience,” Woollums said.
The main cast did an exceptional job committing to their roles and keeping continuity between different performances, giving the play a professional feel. Background actors stayed true to their roles the whole time, adding to this effect. Risqué jokes were made without actors seeming nervous or breaking character, elevating this play above other high school productions.
Despite the incredible acting, the undercasting mixed with the lack of set variety made the play hard to watch for someone who didn’t have a basic understanding of the plot.
The play was put on in Washington’s ‘Little Theater’, a smaller theater outside of the main auditorium. While one would think the smaller space would make it easier to hear, this was not the case. Throughout the performance, actors failed to project lines loud enough for the audience to hear, making many already chaotic scenes confusing and impossible to understand without a general understanding of the plot of Harry Potter.
Washington did a shortened version of the original play that should have been around the length of one act, maybe an hour and a half. Puffs opened with the narrator saying the play would be “90-ish minutes.” The off-broadway version of Puffs followed that time limit while Washington ignored it and ended the play at almost two and a half hours without an intermission. This length is longer than the original two-act play.
“There was no way the play could be done in 90 minutes,” said Woollums. “You would have to go at a crazy fast pace.”
The seventh and final year in particular was 30 minutes on its own and filled with pointless fight scenes that added nothing to the play itself, dragging the audience along in an almost painful manner.
Though they went over their intended time, the cast kept you entertained for most of the two and a half hours, and both times went to see the play I was surprised time passed so fast. Washington’s Puffs was clearly an exciting play for both the audience to watch and the actors to perform. The Washington Drama Department took a leap of faith in producing Puffs and it was well worth it, despite the sometimes confusing storyline.
“I wanted to do a play that was expandable and also well known,” said Woollums “It’s a lot of fun for the audience and it’s a lot of fun for the actors, so we thought it was a good fit for this year.”