By Nick Yates, ISB Communications
Cast, crew, and audiences at the International School of Beijing (ISB) had a spellbinding experience this week with a theater production that was perfect for indulging students’ passions and captivating them in challenging and joyful learning.
Puffs, or Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic is a spin on J.K. Rowling’s well-loved books about young wizards books told from the perspective of the underdog Puff characters. Written by Matt Cox, the play features humor, action, and magical visuals.
It was a great choice as the first High School staff-directed production since the pandemic because of its appeal to young and old in the ISB community. The original books and their movie adaptations are a worldwide phenomenon of course, and ISB’s Elementary, Middle, and High Schools are packed with Potter fans.
ISB has Strategic Focus Areas that include ensuring effective learning and helping students find curricular and co-curricular areas they are passionate about and in which they can excel. With such popular subject matter, learners in the audience and on stage were gripped by Puffs. ISB and other modern schools know how important it is to captivate students and give them study topics and projects they can enjoy for their learning to be at its best. Likewise, it’s recognized in education today that performing arts and other co-curricular pursuits play a valuable role alongside traditional academics in producing well-rounded students.
Here are some ISB community members’ accounts of how Puffs was brought to the stage and what spending time in the captivating world of Hogwarts meant to them…
Chelsea Hill, High School Theater Teacher
“It’s been over a year since I started looking for a High School production. After arriving at ISB, I felt the community needed a production that was lighthearted, whose story was familiar, and that would involve a lot of people.
“Puffs came to my mind early on, but I put it aside knowing that it is a very challenging show to produce… an ensemble with hardly any moments of pause, over 100 props, actors that have to switch characters and costumes within seconds, over 200 sound cues, and 300 to 400 light cues… very technical. As the weeks went on, I read play after play, but nothing seemed quite right. Puffs looked more doable after I met the amazing Chris Ma [ISB’s theater manager] and his team. After a few more team members stepped up, I felt, with everyone’s support, we could do it.
“It’s been a great experience for everyone. We have two fabulous students, Zack Y and Jade W, who attended every rehearsal, taking meticulous notes and doing an incredible amount of organization and coaching. I was also really pleased to have so many new-to-acting students join the production. We’ve focused a lot on ensemble building, pacing, and verbal and physical expression. I’m very proud of how everyone has grown and taken ownership of their parts/roles. I think we’ve accomplished our goal of bringing the community together, making them laugh, and sharing our passion for theater.”
Jasmine G, Grade 8, watched Puffs on Wednesday
“I was extremely excited especially because I’m a huge fan of the movies. I thought it was a super cool idea to retell the story from a Puff perspective so I could see a different point of view. There were a few friends of mine who hadn’t read the books who did find this show a little bit confusing. But overall, I would rate the show 4.5 out of 5!
“I learned how I can help improve ISB as a more welcoming community. Like the Puffs house in the show, I want ISB to be a place that can welcome everyone, no matter who they are. As an international school with students from around the world, we need to work harder to make sure that everybody can feel at home [here].
“When students can easily identify with something, it makes it easier for them to relate, enjoy, and remember what they are learning. That’s why I think it is important to base a lot of our learning on material we are familiar with, because then we can review what we know and cross-apply that to learn what we don’t know.”
Eva Y, Grade 8, also enjoyed being in the audience
“After watching the show, I realize the power of love and friendship. Being sorted into the worst house (the Puffs) was [a blow for the Megan character]. However, everything changed for her as she became friends with Oliver, and their friendship grew as they overcame difficulties together. It teaches us the importance of love and willingness to sacrifice for others.
“I am so looking forward to being part of the High School drama production team when I get to Grade 9 at ISB!”
Jade W, Grade 11, Puffs assistant director
“I first got involved in a production in fourth grade and the last one I did was in eighth grade. I missed it, so this year I decided to audition for a play in the One Act Festival. I loved it! I had forgotten how fun theater was, so I decided to do more. I want to experience different aspects of the process, so I applied to be assistant director this time.
“It was a hard work but also really joyful. One moment that stood out was rehearsing the Cedric death scene, which is very emotional and sad. The first time we rehearsed it, after the line ‘He’s dead,’ our actor who played Cedric jumped out of backstage and flopped face down on the floor. It cracked us all up! It was so jarring to have that moment of humor. It really worked to lighten the mood and keep us going.
“Being backstage is different. Your mental clarity needs be very strong. Directing is a lot of pressure, but it’s also super rewarding. I’d now like to get more experience directing. I’m also a writer. I’d love to write a play for the Oct Act Festival next year.”
This article shows ISB putting its Strategic Focus Areas into action – captivating students in challenging and joyful learning and helping them find pursuits they are passionate about and in which they can excel. ISB news articles in 2022-2023 are all looking at aspects of ISB that are examples of the Strategic Focus Areas. To find out more, click here.