Upstage Productions “Puffs” a welcome challenge for theatre group

Michael Oleksyn/Daily Herald The Puffs introduced themselves during a rehearsal on Friday afternoon for “Puffs, or Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic” at the Lecture Theatre at Ecole St. Mary High School. The play opens on Jan. 11 at the EA Rawlinson Centre.

This year’s first production by Ecole St. Mary High School’s Upstage Players was a challenge from the start.

When the production of “Puffs, or Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic” begins on Thursday, Jan. 11 at the EA Rawlinson Centre, it will be the culmination of challenges that began with the Lecture Theatre at the school flooding in June. There was even some doubt if there would be a production.

“I mean, during the summer we were hoping, but we didn’t know if we would get a first show because our theatre got destroyed,” said Grade 11 student Lukas Tamayo, who plays Oliver Rivers.

“We started out in his classroom. It was a smaller space. I don’t think any of us have ever really rehearsed for a very long time in a classroom for a play of this size,” added Grade 12 student Sam Malenfant, who plays Wayne Hopkins in the production.

The play is by New York-based playwright Matt Cox. Joining Malenfant and Tamayo as the leads is Grade 11 student Zoe Mortimer, who plays Megan Jones. They are the trio of main characters while the rest of the cast play multiple characters.

The play is concluding auditions in the Lecture Theatre this week before moving into the E.A. Rawlinson Centre next week for final preparations.

All three actors said it was great to have a show, even though they did not know what show it was going to be. In fact, the actors auditioned for an entirely different play: a drama called Anatomy of Grey.

Lukas said that director Jason Van Otterloo knows his players well enough that he could cast from one set of auditions for a different play and place them in a comedy.

“We don’t always understand the plan, but I always trust him,” Tamayo said.

All three actors explained that they trust the process when it comes to Upstage productions and their director. The early play is usually in the Lecture Theatre and in November, this year it is in the EA Rawlinson Centre and in January,

“It worked in our favour,” Tamayo said. “What isn’t is the timing…. It is finals next week and then auditions during finals.”

This is a unique experience for all of the members of the production cast and crew.

“(Director Jason) Van (Otterloo) was saying that will be the first of his crew to actually do both productions in one year at the Rawlinson, which is crazy,” Malenfant said,

“We’re the first of a lot for Upstage, just cause of our timing,” Tamayo added.

The play is similar to a popular book series about a young wizard at a school with two friends.

“It’s similar to a story that you may have heard before,” Mortimer said.

“Similar, but for legal reasons, not the same,” Tamayo said.

“It’s like a story about a magical time at a school and we all kind of venture through the years and stages of growing up and what the world throws at us,” Malenfant said.

The show has moments of magic and comedy. The play itself is also a challenge because it has many different characters and settings.

“The props, there’s so many props, so many props in every scene to remember and the lines are hard because so many people are different characters,” Mortimer said. “Sometimes you walk on stage, say one line and leave. It’s so jumpy. That’s hard.”

“Puff” has a large cast, only Mortimer, Malenfant, and Tamayo play the same characters in every scene.

“We don’t have to deal with this but the rest of the cast does,” Tamayo explained. “We play one character. There’s three characters between three people. If you take one person out of that group, you’ll get at least seven characters.”

Mortimer said the changes are crazy.

“One of them changes characters on stage, the middle of the stage,” Tamayo said.

The play covers seven years in 110 minutes so the action is quick. Mortimer explained that the play has jump cut aspects between subjects and people.

Tamayo explained that the challenges have made the production even more exciting.

“I’m just energized by it, honestly,” he said.

“I’m so excited it didn’t feel real,” Mortimer added. “I was like, I’m still in a show right now, during Christmas break. I was (saying), ‘I’m still in a show it’s not over.’”

The upcoming week before the production will also be a whirlwind.

“Our tech week days at the Rawlinson are very quick,” Malenfant said. “Something’s happening in the morning. Then we have something happening in the afternoon, and then on Wednesday we are missing the whole day at school.”

Mortimer said they would rehearse at the Lecture Theatre and start Tech Week on Monday until Wednesday, open on Thursday, have two shows Friday, closing night Saturday and then strike the set.

Tamayo said that when you look at the schedule you could see Van Otterloo had cut the fat to make everything work.

The production has many light cues, music cues and special effects cues. Tamayo enjoys the cue-to-cue rehearsal, which will be running all day from 9 a.m. until 10 p.m.

Mortimer, Malenfant and Tamayo encouraged everyone to come and see the show.

“If you like a certain boy wizard, you will really like the show, and even if you don’t, you will like it anyways,” Mortimer said.

“I didn’t know anything about this boy wizard and I got into the show and I fell in love with it,” Tamayo added. “Then I got into the boy wizard and I still love it. Either way, don’t miss it.”

Tamayo added that the show is PG leaning PG-13

“Be ready to cover your kid’s ears but not their eyes,” Tamayo said.

Showtimes at the E.A. Rawlinson Centre are at 7:30 p.m. from Thursday, Jan. 11 to Saturday, Jan. 13 . Tickets cost $22.00 for adults (ages 19 and over) and $18.00 for students (ages 18 years and under) and are available at the E.A. Rawlinson Box Office, online or by phoning 765-1270.​