Nancy Harris has been an usher at The 5th Avenue since the doors re-opened in 1980 and in those 35 years, she has collected plenty of backstage memories, some good and others not so great.
She had the privilege of presenting a bundle of roses to Lauren Bacall on the opening night of Woman of the Year and she recalls the many times Richard Harris kept audiences waiting for Camelot. When Katherine Hepburn (appearing in West Side Waltz) arrived at the theater one night at the same time as a tardy usher who tried to strike up a conversation, “Miss Hepburn was not pleased,” said Harris.
She was working on Aisle 3 when the movie Braveheart opened the Seattle Film Festival with a screening at The 5th and Harris showed director and leading man Mel Gibson to his seat, encouraging him to “enjoy the movie.” Harris has seen shows delayed by protestors, bomb scares, and fire alarms, including one actual (small) fire upstairs during a performance of Fiddler on the Roof.
There was the time she got a real-life view of her teen idol, David Cassidy, who appeared at The 5th in a revival of Little Johnny Jones. She spied him at the opening night party “smoking a cigarette with his legs spread wide apart and a Playboy-bunny type perched on each knee. He kept telling them he was going to quit smoking.” Her Cassidy crush was over. “My feelings for celebrities changed. I decided I would never be intimidated by them again,” she said.
Harris is disappointed that The 5th has never hosted her favorite show, “Mama Mia,” but one of her fondest memories was watching Lara Teeter and Natalia Makarova dancing the the dramatic Slaughter on Tenth Avenue ballet at the end of On Your Toes in the early ‘80s. “I’ve never seen anything like it or since,” she said.
Over three decades, Harris said life for ushers at The 5th has changed. “Radios have taken a lot of fear out (bad) situations,” Harris explained, but there are still times when patrons become angry or yell. Her coping strategy is to “stay calm and listen very carefully to what they are saying.” She particularly enjoys the infusion of volunteers into the ushering staff. “We get such a variety of people. They have freshened up the job up for me.”
She’s only missed 5 or 6 shows since 1980 and claims to know the theater “like the back of my hand.” If she has her way, she will have her ashes placed in the theater. Until then, she says, “I feel like I will work at The 5th forever.”