Final Bow: Hand to God's Sarah Stiles Is a "Rock Star" in Broadway's "Rock-Star Show"

When you share the stage with Bob Saget, you’re bound to get Danny Tannered.

Hand to God isn't just any Broadway show. The Tony-nominated play follows a young Christian Puppet Ministry participant whose life is thrown into bloody chaos when his sock puppet takes on a life of its own. It's the kind of show that uses a tagline like "Broadway's going to hell in a hand puppet," and where it's relatively unsurprising that an audience member would jump on the stage before the show to try to charge his phone in a prop outlet.

Sarah Stiles stars as the show's female lead, Jessica, a young puppeteer of whom Stiles says, "She's the still waters. She can stay calm." That extraordinary poise serves Stiles' character well in a play where she witnesses demonic possession, gory violence at the hands of a teenager, and a puppet sex scene. And fortunately, with credits that include Into the Woods' Little Red and Avenue Q's Kate Monster/Lucy the Slut, Stiles has a wealth of relevant experience playing children and puppets.

But if Stiles (or Jessica) ever find themselves in need of a little advice, they're lucky to have two wise men of god as costars (Bob Saget and Mark Kudisch, both of whom played Pastor Bob during the show's run).

Sarah Stiles and Steven Boyer in a scene from Hand to God.
Sarah Stiles and Steven Boyer in a scene from Hand to God.
(© Joan Marcus)

1. What is your favorite line that you deliver?'
You know what, it's not a line. It's the turn-out after the puppet blowjob. It's just the deadpan face front.

2. Everyone loves inside jokes. What is the best one from your show?
They're all dirty…but before the show starts, ever since [we played] the Lortel [Theatre] — and I'm assuming he probably did it at [Ensemble Studio Theatre] too — Steven [Boyer] would tell the cast to "F*ck 'em in the heart." So that's how it started…And you can only imagine, now having Bob Saget in the cast, where this has gone. I will save that for your imagination.

3. Every show experiences technical difficulties. What was the worst technical
difficulty experienced during your show and how was it handled?

The weirdest thing that happened to me was the swings were coming down — and [in that scene] Steven walks on first and I follow him on — so he started walking and I started following and then they got stuck halfway through. Then the swings went way up back up into the air, so Steven turned back at me and I just shrugged and pointed off stage, and was like, "You wanna go back offstage?" And he nodded, and then we just walked off, like, very deadpan…Nothing fazes Jessica.

4. What was the most "interesting" present someone gave you at the stage door?
One of my fans made this sign with my name on it…She made these block letters [and] doodled things that I love. Like, I play the ukulele, so she drew the ukulele in.
And it was also awesome to walk out on Halloween and see Jessicas out there. There were three girls dressed up like my character and two of them actually came to the stage door… I could not believe it. It was so awesome.

5. Who is the coolest person who came to see your show? (You can't say family!)
The most unbelievable people come to see this show, so it's very hard to choose. But I think I would say Spielberg. He was so generous and specific with each one of us…He has got a good heart, that man. You can just really tell. And he really loved the show.

6. What would people find surprising about the skills needed to be a good puppeteer?
The thing about puppetry is that it's really subtle. And I think that with a sock puppet, it's even more subtle. The smaller and more specific you are, the funnier it is. I think when people put puppets on they kind of think the opposite, and it's really not.

7. How much longer do you expect to be able to continue playing high school students?
I keep thinking eventually I'm going to play an adult. But it hasn't happened yet. It's kind of amazing. I don't know how long I can stretch this.

I think that it's kind of funny because I've been auditioning for lots of TV lately, and on camera I'm much closer to my age. But I'm used to attacking roles in this very naive way. And you can't do that when you play your own age because you have lived life and you've experienced things. The thing about playing young kids is that you have to imagine that the circumstances that they're being presented with, it's the first time they've ever been presented with it.

8. If you had both Pastor Marc Kudisch and Pastor Bob Saget at your disposal, what kinds of problems would you bring to each?
I love both of those guys so much and it is fascinating how completely different they are saying the same words. So that question is good…I mean, Marc Kudisch is the authority on most things. He always has an answer even if you don't have a question. I can say that, he would love that. I love him so much, make sure you say that.

And then Bob is America's dad and he plays Pastor Greg like America's pastor. I'm not kidding you, I got Danny Tannered. I literally did. I came down from my dressing room at intermission and he was like, "What's wrong with you?" And I said, "I'm just sad 'cause we have like a month left. I can't believe it's ending." And then the show started and we have a moment where we're both offstage, and he came walking over to me and just put his hands right on my knees and went, "Sarah, you have to know that you are a rock star in a rock-star show and this show needs to end because you're going to go and do great things. So you need to be grateful and just know that this is all a blessing and when God closes a door he opens a window." And then he just walked off and mouth open, I didn't say anything, just a single tear ran down my face. And I'm like, "Oh my god, I got Danny Tannered."

9. If you were in the audience, which set piece would have prompted you to jump up onstage?
There's so many good set pieces. I mean who doesn't love a swing, first of all? I love them so much that I had them put one into my dressing room.

10. Hand to God is transferring to London in February. If you had the choice of anyone in the world, who would you pick to take over your role in London?
I would love to see Emma Stone do it. She'd be hot as hell and also she's so dry and I would love to hear that low raspy voice delivering all those lines since mine is the complete opposite.

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