It sounds like pure Broadway fantasy: A theater usher is plucked out of the mezzanine and cast in the production for which they previously handed out programs.
With the flick of a magic wand, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child actually made that happen. Twice.
Sarita Amani Nash and Jon Steiger started out as ushers at the Lyric Theatre during the show's first year on Broadway. Now, Nash appears in the Broadway ensemble and swings for roles like Rose Granger-Weasley and Moaning Myrtle, while Steiger plays the leading role of Scorpius Malfoy at the Curran in San Francisco.
"We were coworker buddies," Nash says with a laugh as she recalls their time working for the Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG), owner of both the Lyric and Hudson theaters. Nash had been with ATG at the Lyric for quite a while, ushering for shows like On the Town and Cirque du Soleil's Paramour as a survival job between acting gigs. As a self-proclaimed "big Harry Potter nerd," she was excited by the prospect of working there when John Tiffany's production came to town, if only to be able to watch it.
Steiger's theatrical home base, between performance jobs, was the Hudson, which is where he met Nash during Sunday in the Park With George. He landed at the Lyric in March 2018 after coming off a TheatreWorks USA tour right as the Hudson's then-tenant, The Parisian Woman, was ending its run. "I was looking at three months of no work before Head Over Heels came in, which scared me," he says. "At that time, Harry Potter was starting to hire their front-of-house staff. I knew some of the people who were going to be managing over there, so I sent a quick email asking to jump on the team. The first day I ushered there was the last dress rehearsal for Part 2, so I kind of watched it out of order."
It was while watching the show, again and again, that they both realized they wanted to audition for it. "Seeing how they were casting it was really exciting," Nash explains. "There were opportunities that I didn't expect. I realized I could do it." "I told her she needed to go in for it," Steiger adds, noting that he saw his own opportunity as well. "Once I had seen the show in its entirety, I was hooked. I knew that in some form or fashion, I was going to be in this show."
They both landed their roles the old-fashioned way. Steiger went through "two months and seven rounds of auditions." Nash's process was much faster, with her callbacks condensed into a few weeks. They prepared like crazy, watching the show when they could, but both kept the crucial piece of information close to their vest on the job. "I didn't want to broadcast that I was auditioning because then I would have been really sad if I didn't get it and everyone would know," Nash says. They didn't reveal their current gigs right away in the audition room, either: They wanted the creative team to see them as actors, not just as ushers. Nash told them on her third callback; Steiger didn't reveal it until Tiffany called to offer him the job.
In short, they also had to #KeepTheSecrets. "It was kind of funny," Nash recalls. "I had to Irish exit out of work because we were going to start rehearsals and I wasn't allowed to announce it until the whole cast was announced. On the day of our first performance, my coworkers all took a little video congratulating me and I started crying immediately."
With a lot of shows under their belt now, they're able to relish their experiences. "It's so fun, but it's a lot," Nash concludes. "Two parts, so many capes, lots of running around. I especially have fun because I'm a swing. I get to dip my toe in a lot of different parts in the show, which is really exciting." "I've seen the show so many times," Steiger continues, "but I'm not tired of it. I thought I knew what it was going to be and was quick to learn that I didn't know. It was like coming in with a clean slate."
Both Steiger and Nash have mementos of their past lives to keep them grounded. For Steiger, it's his usher nametag hanging above his dressing room mirror to remind himself "the possibilities are limitless." Nash's is slightly larger. "There's a props guy named Joe, and when we had our first performance, he gave me a broken armrest that was engraved, saying 'From the aisle to center stage,' with my name on it. Again, I started crying."