“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” made its theatrical debut in London on July 30, 2016, and has since spawned a global round of productions, the fourth engagement of which will be debuting at San Francisco’s Curran Theatre on Dec. 1. The play, the eighth entry into the Harry Potter franchise and the first to come to the stage, follows Harry Potter in a new context: Father, husband and tired Ministry of Magic employee. But it also introduces the next generation of the wizarding world gang — Harry Potter’s son Albus, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger’s daughter Rose, and Draco Malfoy’s son Scorpius — as they tackle a new host of adventures.
Actors Benjamin Papac and Jon Steiger, who play Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy respectively, gave a phone interview with The Daily Californian to discuss what makes the play’s West Coast debut so unique and exciting.
When asked what it was about the San Francisco debut of the play that brings dynamism to the production, Steiger explained, “The fact that Benjamin’s playing Albus and I’m playing Scorpius — I think that’s what makes it different from anybody else.” Papac answered in eager agreement, elaborating, “Every artist, every individual, has their own unique set of experiences that they bring to life. And when an actor gets hired for a role, it’s because that person at that time brings something to that role that is needed. It’s a little intangible and it’s unique to every single person, but it’s undeniable.”
With the two of them being longtime fans of the franchise, it was evident that their own knowledge and experience will bring an entirely new dimension to the characters. Both actors also learned how to read with the Harry Potter novels. Papac noted, “I was about six years old and she (his mother) was reading ‘Sorcerer’s Stone’ to me and she would do all the different character voices. … She would get me to read back to her and that’s how she got me reading independently.”
Steiger explained that his family was similarly instrumental in his love for the series. “I used to collect … the original Lego sets that they came out with when the films started coming out. It’s probably easier to count how many sets I didn’t have.”
This history with the material bred an evident appreciation for and ability to engage with audiences who share the same passion. “The audiences have just been so generous with every performance, and it’s such a beloved story that we get to tell,” Papac commented.
The production’s story, while imbued with the magic and mysticism the franchise is known for, is also intrinsically human. “The story touches on grief and loss and love, and family and friendship and all the different forms that love can take in the human experience, and that’s universal to me,” Papac said.
Steiger added, “Both Albus and Scorpius are kind of … underdogs. But they complement each other in so many different ways. … I relate so hard to everything about Scorpius because I was him at one point in time — I truly, truly was.”
The pair were effusive in discussing the wonder of participating in something as intricate as the production. Papac, having experience primarily in film and television, explained that aside from a brief run in a student-produced stage series, “Cursed Child” has been his theatrical debut. He explained that theatrical productions are privileged with extensive rehearsal, whereas because of the fast-paced nature of film and TV, to “get to your best quality work, you have to move quickly and understand the story as quickly as you can.” Papac continued, “It was helpful with ‘Harry Potter’ because there’s so much story. We spent nine weeks rehearsing and we needed every single minute of it. So, having that experience … was definitely useful stepping over to the theater side.”
But even Papac’s description of the dramatic change of mediums didn’t sufficiently capture the idiosyncratic departure that the scale of “Cursed Child” brings to theater as a whole. Steiger, who has extensive onstage experience, expressed how special this production has been. “It’s grander and more extreme … I’m always awestruck with how people create these things and how the geniuses on this team can make a Time-Turner and can make things disappear in front of you,” Steiger said. “The things that we’ve had to learn and the things that we get to do in front of an audience of 1,600 people — I’ve never done anything like this before in my life.”
And it is likely audiences will have never seen anything like it either. “Steven Hoggett, one of our head movement directors, told me that at least with the New York show, 70% of the audience is first-time theatergoers,” Papac said. Speaking directly to audiences, both Papac and Steiger had wisdom to impart. “As magical as this story is, as much as you’re going to love it … theater is one of the most beautiful production art forms. And there’s so much inspiration and story and human connection to be found,” Papac said.
Still, the magic of the world is something more than worth seeing. Steiger summed it up with a few words: “Have fun — don’t be late.”
Areyon Jolivette is the assistant arts & entertainment editor. Contact her at [email protected].