Industry Insight - by Cara Joy David
Industry Editor Exclusive: PUFFS' Magical Future
Puffs, the long-running off-Broadway HARRY POTTER-inspired comedy, is going the way of many Broadway shows, with a closing in August. But it is doing something differently: licensing four different versions of the show through Samuel French.
That Puffs would do something unusual is not surprising--Matt Cox's Puffs, or: Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic & Magic has had a strange road to its current home at New World Stages. It began at the comedy venue The Pit in 2015, produced by the men behind Peoples Improv Theater. The following year it transferred to the Elektra with new producers and then, in 2017, it hit New World Stages.
David Carpenter, who is one half of Puffs' off-Broadway lead producer, Tilted Windmills Theatricals (the other half being John Arthur Pinckard), said the transfer to New World Stages gave them a legitimacy that their run at the Elektra did not. The marketing and advertising possibilities are different in such a major venue and the show was able to be on Telecharge, which helped open it up to a new audience. Of course, with this prestige also came increased production costs. Despite a May announcement that tickets were going on sale through March 2020, a less-than-expected summer haul meant the show would not have enough in reserve to get through the annually slow start of fall. In late June, an August 18 closing date was announced. The show, which required $223,000 to mount off-Broadway and another $150,000 for the transfer to New World Stages, will have recouped only 1/3 of its investment, despite its fairly long run.
Carpenter says, despite the economic shortfall experienced during this particular run, he still considers the endeavor a success. "I don't look at one piece of the puzzle as the end all and be all," he said. "I spent a lot of time and money building value in this IP that I care deeply about--there is a lot more that I can continue to do with it. We need to start to treat our IP like we would a global product."
That IP is on display in Puffs: FILMED LIVE OFF-BROADWAY, which originally premiered with a two-day national screening from Fathom Events, and is now available on iTunes, Amazon and streaming via BroadwayHD. Del Rey Books will publish "Puffs: The Essential Companion," the official behind-the-scenes companion to the show, on November 5.
Which gets us back to the script itself--four versions of the script are available for purchase and license. Most properties have one version of their scripts or maybe two. The script was self-published by the producers because they couldn't get any major publishing house to go for it. Carpenter notes it is harder then it looks to self-publish, but they got it done.
Two versions of the show play off-Broadway: a one-act for adult and a one-act suitable for younger audiences (sans curse words and some sexually suggestive scenes). Those are out there available for purchase or license, but so are two-act versions for adults and younger audiences. There is some added material in the two-act version, which is the version Tilted Windmills Theatricals produced in Australia.
In terms of licensing requests, the traditional two-act is in fact the most popular, with 99 requests for it. The Puffs two-act for "young wizards" is at 58 requests, the one-act (which is the one currently playing at New World) is at 42 and the one-act for "young wizards" (also running for matinees at New World) is at 37. The show has been most popular in the K-12 market--in other words, schools are doing it; 151 of the licensing requests have come from them. The show has also received a considerable amount of interest from non-professional groups, which have put in 63 requests for some version of the script since the versions became available for licensing by Samuel French in January.
Carpenter, who admits having four versions might have been a touch of overkill, says he is not surprised the two-act versions are doing better, as he believed those versions offered added flexibility for the producing entity. He is looking forward to doing more with the Puffs IP himself and also seeing how the companies licensing it handle it. He lists as a big regret not getting a tour out while the show was running in NYC. The team thought about it, but just couldn't make it work given the 11-person cast size and various marketing challenges.
But there is a universality to Puffs--it is about a hero that isn't meant to be a hero. It works particularly well for HARRY POTTER fans, because it is inspired by the series, but it doesn't require you to be a Potterhead. So it should do well elsewhere.
"This isn't a funeral," Carpenter said of the show's impending off-Broadway death. "This is a celebration. This will forever live on. We should all celebrate this amazing thing."