Regular attendees of theater performances know that when the curtain goes up, the magic happens. Those behind that curtain know, however, that a lot of work goes into making that magic happen. At North Branch High School, that work is in the hands of two seniors who are directing this year’s fall play - a play about, interestingly enough, magic.

Chloe Petersen and Danielle Laszcwski were chosen by North Branch High School theater head Laura Michels to direct “Puffs! Or Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic,” a comedy written by Matt Cox, and loosely based on the “Harry Potter” franchise. 

The play is perfect for Potterheads and anyone who loves a heartfelt and funny “epic journey” that “reimagines what a boy wizard hero can be.” Michel called the play “quite hilarious and farcical.”

Although they are directing a show based on the famous Ministry of Magic, Chloe and Danielle underwent no hocus-pocus in being picked to co-direct. The pair went through a rigorous audition of sorts before being chosen by Michels.

“I have an application and interview process for any students wishing to be on the production team,” Michels said. “This includes students interested in directing, doing costumes, props, scenic art, publicity, etc. I hold interviews for each of them and choose based on my perception of their leadership abilities as well as their organizational abilities.”

In the interview, Chloe and Danielle - who have participated in theatre for years, treading the boards and handling technical positions - discussed production ideas for “Puff” and their respective approaches to directing.

“Ms. Michels then chose the two people that she thought would work together best and had a similar vision for the show,” Laszcwski said. Once selected to direct, the pair read the script and held auditions. Laszcwski also watched all eight of the “Harry Potter” films. Petersen, who has considered the “Harry Potter” franchise “one of my favorite book series for as long as I can remember.” Although an off-Broadway production of the play is available for viewing online, the pair avoided watching it so they wouldn’t copy that version’s blocking, theatrical parlance for the staging of the actors’ movement.

“We wanted our show to be unique, not a copy of the original,” Petersen said.

New challenges

The pair have faced a few challenges in crafting their first production. For one, directing peers can often be problematic. “I was worried about everyone not liking their roles or being disappointed and possibly being angry at us or dropping out because of it,” Laszcwski said. “It’s also difficult because I don’t want everyone to see us as rude or controlling when we are just trying to get things done and make progress.”

They also have a lot to get done in a short amount of time, which Petersen considers “stressful” but “really exhilarating.”

Luckily, they have assistance in their theatrical alchemy from their student-led production team: technical director/stage manager Juliana Orellano; costumers Dayna Nelson and Brianna Hendren; properties master Cameron Fenner; scenic artist Jack Erickson; publicity director Kelly Steele; and hair and makeup lead Kendra Geary. They also get a boost from their families.

“I can always count on seeing my mom and dad, who are my biggest superfans, in the audience at every single show,” Laszcwski said. “And they almost always bring a lot more of my family with them every time.”

“My family loves the theater program,” echoed Petersen. “My mom especially, has always pushed me to work harder and improve, and she has gone to every show I’ve performed in, some more than once.”

They consider themselves fortunate, too, that the cast and crew is comprised of their closest friends, all who will work together to ensure that the illusion comes together.

Seeing the show coalesce under the management of students is something Michels finds rewarding. “I love watching them have ‘a-ha’ moments when they realize why they need to do things a specific way as a director, as opposed to an actor or technician,” Michels said. “I love seeing them come up with creative solutions to every problem that pops up during rehearsals.”

According to Concord Theatricals, the licensing agent for “Puffs,” the play depicts “a familiar adventure from the perspective of three potential heroes just trying to make it through a magic school that proves to be very dangerous for children. Alongside them are the Puffs, a group of well-meaning, loyal outsiders with a thing for badgers.” 

Performances of “Puff” will be at 7 p.m. on Oct. 29 and 30 and at 2 p.m. on Oct. 31 at the North Branch Area High School Edelstein Auditorium. Tickets are available through the North Branch Area Community Education Office and will also be available for purchase at the door. It is highly recommended that audience members wear masks to the show.

“I am just glad to be back doing what I love with such an absolutely amazing group of people,” Laszcwski said, when asked how it feels to direct during the age of COVID.

“Puffs is a comedy that has something for everyone,” Petersen added, “but don’t be fooled; there’s a strong message underneath the Harry Potter jokes.”

There will also be a whole lot of magic.

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