A play for anyone who has never been destined to save the world.
Liam Erck explained the joys of playing numerous roles in the upcoming production of Puffs, presented by CentreStage in Geelong.
Puffs, or Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic has a long legacy as a parody of a wizarding powerhouse book, movie and play. Before landing on the stage in Australia, Puffs had a successful run Off Broadway, where it was professionally recorded. Liam Erck plays Ernie Mac/Voldy/Professor Turban/Professor Locky/Potions Teacher/Ghost History Teacher/Seamus/A Very Tall Man/Real Mr Moody/Mr Nick/ A Certain History Teacher in this Geelong production. Erck explained that when Puffs was confirmed to arrive in Australia he watched the recorded version with some of his now castmates. After seeing the unique heart and power of the show, Erck felt he had to audition. This show “is like the 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee, it can be streamlined, and the jokes can be targeted for the audience so that everyone is in on the joke”, Erck continued saying that this show will have moments that are solely for the Geelong audience.
Puffs is able to create a warm and personalised space, Erck explained that “A good aspect of storytelling” is when you feel you are “welcomed to someone’s home and use the resources they have available to get creative.” He continued by explaining that this production of Puffs is unique, because the audience impacts the atmosphere of the show, and together with the cast creates something new.
Erck’s role in Puffs is multifaceted, with no less than 11 characters assigned to a single track. The unique experience of such diversity for a single actor is something that attracted Erck to this show. After doing some Musical Theatre and TV work, Erck said he was ready for a new and different opportunity. Erck expressed interest in the creativity and quick wit Puffs requires from its actors. Having one actor play multiple roles requires skills that Erck had, and was excited to utilise.
Erck touched on the costumes and designs of the show, and how he was able to become many different characters almost simultaneously with the aid of direction, costumes and lots of rehearsing. Erck explained that his costumes “start from the ground up, there is a base costume that is Ernie Mac, and I add things on when I am playing different characters, a long wig and a rob for some roles, or a smaller nod to the character; a wig and a beard for the very tall man.” The characters are solidified by some additions to the costume, and this allows Erck to connect to each character he portrays.
Erck explained that he wrote out which character he was at all times during the show, and he has kept that backstage throughout rehearsals. He did this so he “can mentally prepare to change characters” explaining that the more he practiced, the easier it was to know which characters he needed to be for which scenes. Erck described the feeling of switching between characters, saying that it was like “telling a story in your living room and working in a small space, and bouncing the characters off of the audience. There is mental preparation before, so the characters are distinct, and wont meld into one.”
With so many characters played by one actor, the characters are bound to interact. Erck outlined one scene, where he had to play two characters having a conversation with each other. Erck explained that a conversation with himself wouldn’t be possible in any other show, and that the comedy of the show allowed for this scene, but it was possible with the help of his castmate, Shani, who helps with the quick costume changes. Erck said it was “fun to work out what looks nice and what helps the audience understand what’s happening.”
Some of the characters that Erck plays are iconic in the zeitgeist, when asked which Puffs character was most different to his expectations Erck said that Ernie Mac surprised him. After “reading the script and watching the play I didn’t know he was a canon character, when I played the Lego games I realised he was in the books”. Erck explained that he had created a backstory for Ernie in his mind, and the character developed independently from the source material. Erck added that it was interesting to go back and compare the stories he had created for the character with the original source. When asked if he had a favourite among his legion of characters, Erck stated that they all hold different spots in his heart, but Mr Voldy is the most fun. Erck added that he enjoys playing villains, especially ones as extra as Mr Voldy.
Theatre has been profoundly impacted over the last 18 months by the COVID outbreak, and this production of Puffs is no exception. Puff began rehearsals in May, and was forced to stop inperson rehearsals in June. The recent lockdown has meant Zoom rehearsals. Erck explained that the cast of Puffs has sometimes felt like the characters in Puffs, during Zoom calls “everyone is showing their cats and things in their home, it really added to the experience of the show”. Erck added that the cast has been flexible, and morale is high.
The cast started the process of this production mostly as strangers. Erck explained that over time it was cool to see how the relationship of the cast began to reflect the relationships of the characters in the show. The cast grew together, and became more comfortable as the work began to take on life. Erck noted that at the end of Puffs the characters observe that “they are the same, but a little bit better and that’s good.” He added that he felt that aptly described his feelings of the cast, and of the show.
What Erck wanted people to know about the show is “feeling satisfied with yourself, and knowing that you are enough and you don’t need to worry about the expectations you put on yourself”. This show emphasises that you don’t need to feel like a main character, and you don’t need to be in control of your destiny. Erck concluded that “Puffs has some awesome investigations on what it means to be human.”
Puffs runs from August 20th to September 4th at CentreStage, 26 Rodney Road, North Geelong. Article by Annie Zel
Tickets are available from www.centrestage.org.au
Article by Annie Zeleznikow.