BY CARY GINELL
On the night Jonalyn Saxer made her debut in Bullets Over Broadway, her older sister Randi was getting married in Topanga Canyon. Jonalyn had flown home for the rehearsal dinner the previous night, but had to return to New York because of her obligations to the show. In a fairy tale occurrence, Jonalyn made her Broadway debut that night, after being asked to fill in for a sick ensemble member. She went on stage for the first time just as Randi and groom Tanner Redman were saying their I dos. It was hard for Jonalyn to be away from her family at a time like this, but simultaneously, it was thrilling to be making her first performance on a Broadway stage.
VCOS: What was the hardest part of being a swing? The waiting?
JONALYN: There was a good four weeks where nobody called out on my tracks. Then it gets hard because you’re just sitting there, especially if you don’t bring things to do. Then there are days when you’re really tired or you may have had an audition in the morning and you’re happy to be a swing because you can just come, sit down, and relax. But once I was on for a whole week, eight shows. And my body was so tired and it started hurting so much, because I wasn’t used to that. So there are a lot of pros and cons.
VCOS: You won’t ever forget your first time, will you?
JONALYN: Other members of the cast said to me, “You’re gonna black out. Just take a moment during bows and try to remember it.” So I went through the show thinking, “I’ll remember this,” but by the time I got to the bows, I had no idea what had just happened to me. But there was a moment where I looked at the audience and said to myself, “Here it is! I did it!”
VCOS: How far ahead of time did you know that you were going to be performing that night? Was everyone aware that your sister was getting married?
JONALYN: They weren’t aware before I went home for the rehearsal dinner, because I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it. You know, “Don’t bring your personal problems to work.” But when I was gone, everyone said, “Oh, where’s Jonalyn?” The other swing knew about my situation because she and I had become really good friends. So she told everyone and when I got back that Saturday morning, everyone said, “I can’t believe you’re here!” One girl was not feeling well for the first performance, and she said, “If you feel comfortable going on for one of your secondaries, I’m going to call out.” So I said, “Of course I feel fine.” I mean, that’s my job. So I found out during our dinner break, probably around five o’clock. So I ate my dinner, went over my notes, and then I went on.
VCOS: So she really was sick?
JONALYN: Yes. She had a headache and was nauseous. The girls in this cast were just incredible. It takes them to actually be throwing up or really hurting to call out. They love what they do and they have great stamina, and are great people and athletes, and know that this is their job, so they power through it. A lot of them had been swings before, so they knew how it was.
VCOS: Were you surprised by anything in this experience?
JONALYN: I don’t know. I didn’t know what to expect, and every show is different. What surprised me most was how everybody knew each other. It was a whole different community that I stepped into. I got very lucky with this cast. Most of the girls had worked together before so it’s hard coming in as someone who doesn’t know anybody, and coming into a dressing room and that kind of camaraderie that’s already there. But nobody was mean to me, everybody helped me, everybody was so nice, and I was immediately treated like I was one of the family. The entire cast was so wonderful, and everybody was always excited and happy to be there.
VCOS: Did you ever get to meet Woody Allen?
JONALYN: He stopped by the day before our closing show, just to say thank you to the cast. I didn’t personally meet him but he said thank you to the cast so I saw him! From the stories I had heard, he was very ever present during rehearsals and the previews for the show.
VCOS: What kind of perks does a swing get?
JONALYN: We get paid a little more money than the normal ensemble for covering. You get your own set of costumes, because it’s Equity – you know, sanitation reasons. You have your own costumes and your own wigs. I liked swinging although I didn’t do it for that long. I don’t know if I’d want to get stuck in it, but academically, it was good for me, because I had just graduated from school, I was used to taking notes, and studying for the test of going on. It was kind of like a pop quiz, if somebody got sick. This cast just showed me that you have to work hard. Everybody warms up every day and nobody goes through the motions.
VCOS: Did you have any incidents on stage where you really didn’t know what was supposed to happen?
JONALYN: Oh, plenty! (laughs) One time, there’s a party scene at the end where everyone is kind of milling about, and I was going on for the first time for this one girl. So I have my fake champagne glass in my hand and I’m talking to two people. I was on for this girl named Brittany, so they said, “Brittany usually leaves us about now.” So I said, “OK!” I knew I had to end up stage left, so I go up stage left and there’s no one really that’s around me, so I’m just kind of there and everybody else is in these groups. So I’m just walking around up stage left; I don’t really know where I’m supposed to be, I’m just kind of standing there…and I hear a loud whisper: “Jonalyn! Jonalyn!” I looked down stage and there was a group of girls motioning to me: “Over HERE!” (laughs) So I casually walked down over there. That stuff happens all the time.
VCOS: With all the training that you had in high school and college, was there one bit of advice that stuck with you through all of this?”
JONALYN: That’s a hard question. If there’s anything that I learned in school that benefited me the most, in doing a show, you have to do your work. You can’t just wing it because that’s not how the professionals do it and that’s not why you get paid to do this. You have to do your work and you have to be prepared because other people are counting on you. In auditions, if you don’t know the song, somebody else will know it better. So you have to do your work, and for me, that started in school. I always made sure I did my work and was prepared.
Jonalyn Saxer has returned to New York and is awaiting her next project, which we will announce here as soon as we know what it is (she’s keeping it a deep, dark secret for now…)