Puffs casts a spell on UF School of Theatre + Dance

May 25, 2016
Kelli Kaufmann
photographer: Hannah Pietrick

The University of Florida’s School of Theatre + Dance is spreading a little magic this season as it stages a sardonic but heartfelt comedy bound for an off-Broadway debut in the fall.

Puffs, alternately titled Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic, is a collaborative effort featuring students in UF’s Summer Repertory Theatre program and a New York-based creative team. Performances on campus will be June 2-5 in the Black Box Theatre in the Nadine McGuire Theatre and Dance Pavilion.

Joining the team is School of Theatre + Dance alum and two-time Tony Award-winning producer John Pinckard. Managing partner of the commercial theatre production company Tilted Windmills Theatricals, Pinckard worked with UF students last summer on the well-received comedy Volleygirls.

Director of the School of Theatre + Dance Jerry Dickey said the summer program is designed to focus on UF as an incubator of new and developing works in theatre and dance, offering student actors the opportunity to work with a team of professionals for four weeks.

“The School of Theatre + Dance is honored to host this special residency as part of our Summer Repertory Theatre program,” Dickey said.

Playwright and visiting artist Matt Cox describes Puffs as a witty parody that tells the story of Wayne Hopkins, a boy who discovers he’s a wizard and travels to a school of magic, where he is placed in a group of loyal and good-intentioned misfits called the Puffs. The seven years he spends at the school are fraught with dangerous situations as he tries to learn magic and avoid a four-eyed nemesis.

“It has a lot of heart and dramatic soul under all the silly moments,” Cox said. “It’s also a look at growing up, and growing up as not the cool kid in school.”

Director Kristin McCarthy Parker, who has worked with Cox on Puffs since its inception, said the development process is the next step toward doing another version of the show.

“It’s really exciting for us to see how the show translates through (the students),” she said. “It’s a bit of a playground, and I love to work in that setting where things are sort of rapid-firing and coming at you very quickly.”

For the student actors, “very quickly” is an understatement.

Kristina Johnson, a second-year student in the Master of Fine Arts in Acting program, said the eight-week production timeline typical for UF shows was reduced to a brief three weeks.

“It’s interesting to take what we’re learning in school and apply it in a way that we would when we graduate,” she said.

Kacey Musson, a 21-year-old theatre student, said the summer program, including the master classes offered by the visiting artists, gives UF students an education advantage.

“This is an experience I don’t know how many other universities can do,” she said. “We’re getting professional attention we may not get otherwise.”

After working through five-hour rehearsals and an ever-changing script, Musson looks forward to applying lessons learned from the show to her professional career. 

“Hopefully we’ve influenced the production team and made the show better,” she said. “And hopefully when we graduate we’ll be the alumni who have that experience and can give back the same experience that was given to us.”

Tickets for the UF production are $18 for the general public, $15 for UF faculty/staff and seniors, and $13 for students. Tickets are available through the University Box Office located at Gate 3 of the Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Gale Lemerand Drive (next to the Heisman statues), by calling 352-392-1653 or at ticketmaster.com.

The University Box Office is open Tuesday through Friday, noon-5:30 p.m., and Saturday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Tickets also can be purchased at the Constans Theatre Box Office starting 45 minutes prior to the performance. Puffs is not suitable for children.

The Nadine McGuire Theatre and Dance Pavilion is located at 687 McCarty Drive. Parking is available at the Reitz Union garage and the Museum Road parking lot.

For more information, visit http://arts.ufl.edu/in-the-loop/news/puffs-casts-a-spell-on-the-university-of-florida-school-of-theatre-dance/.

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