Saugus High School theater students ‘Puffs’ their way into county competition

Saugus High School students perform their fall play, "Puffs." The play is a spoof of "Harry Potter" and tells the story of a group of young wizards fighting darkness with their light and kind hearts. Courtesy art Jeremy Thompson

The Saugus High School theater department received recognition from the county as students chosen to compete at the California Educational Theater Association High School Theater Festival.  

“It’s incredible for my students to be recognized by the county and go on to compete against the top schools in (our and other) counties such as the Inland Empire, San Diego and Orange counties,” said Gina Painter, theater director at Saugus High.  

Students performed the two-hour play, “Puffs,” written by Matt Cox, for their fall play in November.   

“Puffs” is a spoof of the wizarding world of “Harry Potter.” The story of the Puffs, the Hufflepuffs, follows as the students fight off the darkness in their life or actual villains plotting to destroy them with their light and kind hearts.

Saugus High School students perform their fall play “Puffs.” The students will compete at the 2022 California Educational Theatre Association High School Theatre Festival against the top schools in other counties. Courtesy art Jeremy Thompson

The play mentions the other three houses – Braves or Gryffindor, Smarts or Ravenclaw, and the Snakes or Slytherin – but the story focuses on the Puffs. According to Painter, they cast 41 students to perform. 

The students had to rehearse in groups rather than one large rehearsal, added Painter. Eventually, when Painter brought all the students together, it was magic.  

Seniors Marissa Momary and Melyna Wong agreed they felt proud and honored to be selected to perform at CETA High School Theater Festival Jan. 14-16 at Los Osos High School in Rancho Cucamonga.  

“I’ve always loved to sing, dance and perform,” said Wong, who plays one of the lead roles. “I was able to continue pursuing my passion at Saugus theater.”  

Momary said they were not able to perform on stage because of COVID-19. However, she’s more than happy to return to the stage, perform for an audience and compete against peers from other campuses. 

Saugus High School’s theater department performs their fall play “Puffs.” They received recognition from competitions in the 2021 fall semester. Courtesy art Jeremy Thompson

“Saugus theater gave me a safe place to be my weird self,” said Momary, who’s part of the ensemble. “I’ve also made lifelong bonds with my peers. I know I made friends for life.”  

According to Painter, the students had to wear a clear plastic face mask to perform on stage. The face mask was an added layer of protection, and it didn’t interfere with the story, she added.  

Every year, between October and December, CETA judges fall productions at high schools in four areas in the Southern California region. However, this year, CETA asked high schools to submit a video and they selected the top schools for its festival.  

The festival weekend will offer opportunities for students and teachers to grow. CETA’s festival offers workshops led by industry professionals, scene competitions, workshops specifically for students and teachers who are Black, Indigenous and people of color, and scholarship opportunities.   

Death Eaters discuss their plan to harm the Puffs. Courtesy art Jeremy Thompson

Painter said the students performed “Puffs” Nov. 10-13; however, students were saddened and anxious because Nov. 14 marked the second anniversary of the Saugus High School shooting that resulted in the deaths of two students – Gracie Anne Muehlberger and Dominic Blackwell — before the shooter, also a student, turned the gun on himself.   

Following their performances, the cast received news they would compete at CETA HSFT. 

“We had mixed feelings,” Painter said through tears.   

Most of the performers were freshmen or sophomores when the shooting happened, but the students were able to come back and produce the show, Painter said.  

“To see our students come out, perform, compete and excel is a testament to their will and skills,” Painter said.   

“Puffs” is a 41-cast member play, and the theater arts department was selected to perform its fall play at the 2022 California Educational Theatre Association High School Theatre Festival. Courtesy art Jeremy Thompson

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