Theater actors can accomplish unbelievable feats, running through intense rehearsals and daily performances. But at the end of the day, they’re still human — actors might forget a line or have to dance through a wardrobe malfunction.
Regardless, they’ll have to keep pretending like everything is going according to plan. Audiences will be none the wiser — after all, it’ll likely be their first and last time seeing that specific production.
But ushers — the ones who pass out playbills, help audiences to their seats, and shut off pesky phone lights every night — are different. The ushers notice all the small differences because they’re at the theater for every performance.
That’s what Jon Steiger says. Steiger is currently playing Scorpius Malfoy at the Curran Theater’s ongoing run of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. But back in New York, Steiger ushered for the first year of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child at the Lyric Theatre.
Ushering was what Steiger called a “survival job,” something that paid the bills as he tried to establish a name for himself as an actor. It was also a way for Steiger to stay constantly in the creative spaces he wanted a career in.
“It was extraordinary — being a part of the front of the house time for that show,” Steiger says. This was right before Harry Potter would win six awards at the 2018 Tony Awards including Best Play. “There was a lot of excitement in the air.”
Steiger immediately connected with the characters, especially Scorpius Malfoy, a character written into the Harry Potter world after the series ended.
“I fell in love with him the minute I saw him — the minute I saw Anthony Boyle’s portrayal of Scorpius,” Steiger says. He thought to himself, “I was gonna do that.”
In less than a year, that aspiration would become a reality.
“By December 23, I had gotten the offer for San Francisco,” says Steiger, who had been auditioning for Harry Potter. “Then the show was never quite the same for me after that.”
Auditions for Scorpius Malfoy went through seven rounds over the course of two months. Steiger’s first audition with Alexandre Bleau, a casting director with Jim Carnahan Casting, was actually quite short. “It took about 30 seconds and he was like, ‘Great, that’s exactly right,’” Steiger says. “I was terrified because I didn’t know what that meant.”
It quickly became apparent that ushering for the show had better prepared Steiger for a stage role than his competition.
“It’s funny because any show you usher, you will learn the show whether you want to or not,” Steiger says. “You can’t escape it because you’re hearing it all the time, you’re seeing it all the time.”
In his first rehearsal, Steiger found he knew the play even better than he thought.
“I was almost off book because I had seen it and heard it so many times,” he says. Steiger was familiar with the movements and pacing because he had seen it from the “Year One Cast” so many times.
But that doesn’t mean he had it easy.
“One of the fun things about having ushered and having seen it as much as I had — I walked into this thinking I knew what it was, and quickly learned that I had no idea,” Steiger says. “I was experiencing things almost as if I had never seen it before because it’s a massively intricate process. That was very exciting — having that clean slate.”
And, of course, having the chance to play Scorpius.
“He’s a very human character. He’s a very relatable character. Something I’ve gotten to notice in the run is that sentiment is true across the board. Every night people will laugh and connect and empathize with Scorpius on levels I didn’t even realize,” Steiger says. “As an actor, that’s something beautiful.”
For those interested in seeing Harry Potter and the Cursed Child at the Curran Theater, Steiger has a bit of advice.
“When you come to see the show, have a great time,” Steiger says. “Be nice to your ushers, and don’t be late.”
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, open run, at Curran Theater, 445 Geary St. $59-$289; 415-358-1220 or www.HarryPotterOnStage.com