May 13, 2020
U = UNDERSTUDY/ SWING
David Connolly (D) in conversation with Jonalyn Saxer (J) for Matinee to Z,
a series of Instagram Live Master Classes developed in response to Covid-19.
D: Hello everybody, welcome, welcome welcome. This is Jonalyn Saxer. Jonalyn plays Karen on the first national tour of Mean Girls, and she was part of the original Broadway Cast.
And she has many other credits, which you read in the bio. So we wont waste time with that... Congratulations on everything, Jonalyn. And we need to talk about the movie… I mean..okay. Im going to stop talking. The format of Matinee to Z that you all get to ask questions of Jonalyn, so you can start typing those in whenever you like, and I will start because I wanna make sure we touch on this unique and phenomenal skill of understudy swinging, and so can you just share a little bit about that and what made you so successful in that world?
J: Yeah, well, I was kind of thrown into swinging. I had understudied a part at summer stock before and swung a show in college, but it's not the same as what it means professionally to swing or understudy when you're doing a show for months and months, and people are taking vacations and have personal days and such, so I auditioned for Bullets over Broadway and they went through and they asked everybody, Have you swung before? And I was like, Yeah.
I was like, Technically, I swung The Cradle will Rock my sophomore year of college. I.. No, that wasn’t helpful. But what was helpful for me, at least, I believe, is that because I booked Bullets so quickly after graduating college, I still had the student and the school mentality in me, so I was used to doing homework, I was used to taking notes, I was used to having to write everything out for my teachers, and so that really helped because I just went right into bullets and you have to do homework essentially when you're a swing, and I was just like, Okay, I've gotta knuckle down, I gotta do this, I gotta write out my notes I gotta do this thing. Where as even now for some of my under studies for Mean Girls, I was like, Jonalyn, right your notes! Like it's harder when you're out of practice from homework and doing that kind of work, so I think that really helped because I set up a lot of good habits for myself.
I was also really lucky. James Gray, who was our Associate Choreographer for bullets, and then my good friend, Cynthia link, and my other friend, Eric, who are the dance captains, kind of like took me under their wing, instead of just being like, Well, you have your own method, Cynthia and the other swing Brin who took over for the track that left, so I took over for Brin, they showed me their notes and they were like, This is how I notate this, you might wanna notate this differently, it's up to you and James would be like, we would go through rehearsal. And he'd be like, Okay, go write that down. He's like, You're gonna forget it. Write it down.
And now I feel like if I started a rehearsal like that and hadn't had that experience, I’d be like, I have my own methods. It's fine, but I was so just like, Sure, yeah, whatever you say, I’m gunna write it down And so they really helped me learn and create... And there's nothing swinging a Stro show because if you’re supposed to be on four, you can't be on four and a half, so you gotta know you're on four... So a much more specific for the other shows that I went into as well, 'cause I was used to that regimen, I was like, Well, I have to know what the numbers are, I have to know exactly where I stand, that there's no other way.
D: So when you came into Mean Girls, You were understanding all three girls? Or more than three girls?
J:Karen, Katie, and Regina. I always say if I hadn't had the experience of covering five cats in Cats, I wouldn't have been as prepared to do the understudy for Mean Girls, because Cats was like five and they're just entirely different tracks, you just... It's not just know the steps and kind of know the number, it's like doing five completely different shows, and so that really helped Mean Girls, 'cause I was like, Okay, if I could learn five cats, I can learn three parts, and I remember I... For Karen, I learn and I learn a lot by watching. Which was why, I Mean, Girls was a little harder for me because I was on stage, I couldn't watch all the time, but luckily, our state managers had a video that just the swings and understudies had access to, and I downloaded it onto my phone and I would just sit on the subway and I would just watch Mean Girls on my way to the show, and so I would just watch it and I do a number and then I'd be like, Okay, let me go back when we watch that, make sure I have every detail, I know what she's doing at every point, and then I wrote it in my script and then I wrote all my notes, and then we had understudy rehearsal, so Karen and Regina, I pretty much learned on my own, showed up to rehearse was like, Let's do it.
Katie, I was like, Hey guys, I need a little help! Because she never leaves the stage, and so that was more... Those rehearsals, they kind of just went like, let's start at the top and see how much you know, and we made it halfway through the first number and we stopped, and we just go back and correct it, and so we made our way through the show that way with Katie. So it was a lot...
D: Wow! And talk about that transition from that world, and then all of a sudden you're going on a tour to play the role. And is that something you had in your dreams or... ?
J: Yeah, well, it's kind of like something I've always said is that I think everyone should swing and understudy at least once in their life because it just as a person, you need to experience what that's like to understudy somebody else, or swing or not be on stage and then when you have an understudy, it'll help you treat them better. And you can tell the people who've never had to understudy or swing before, and they're like, Why don't you know this? And you're like, Well, if you had ever tried this, you’d know that's impossible to know.
So I always say that and I always said, I think everyone should go on tour at least once, because again, just as a person and as a professional, taking a show that's hard to do on Broadway, but now traveling on your days off, not being around your close friends having to exist with a cast for a year, and just them and how to treat people and know that they are your friends, your family, your co-workers, your roommates on tours... I think it's really important. So it was one of my goals, but as I started to get more and more shows, I remember saying it would have to be the right tour at the right time and the right track, and that's what happened with Mean Girls it was going on for Karen a bunch, 'cause Kate got injured, and I was like, I really like this role, I was like, This is fun, I could do this a lot, 'cause something I like about being an understudy is you don't have to do the roles every night, you know with Cats, I was like, I'm happy to have a couple of nights off a week, I don't need to do this 8 times a week, my body does not need to do this show 8 times a week.
And so with Karen, I was like, I really enjoy this, and I feel good about how I'm doing and getting a good response, so I was talking to our Associate Director was like, I'd like to be considered for tour, and then me and my agent had to put it out there, that I'd be willing to leave New York and... Yeah, and then they offered me the role. So it was a lot of fun.
D: Speaking of reaction, is the reaction to this show different than …I mean girls obviously look up to you, or an incredible role model on stage and off so... Did for people who aren't following Jonalyn, please do that because she's always there for the cause, she's always there for the cure, she's always there to lend a hand outside to do the backstage tour, she's just gold among... You're just golden. You are period. So, is it different? Is the reaction different in those girls and boys? it has such a strong message... Right.
J: I mean, it is kind of crazy because Mean Girls is... It's my fifth Broadway show, and it's kind of the first hit that I've ever been in, my first two shows were... I don't think they were flops, that they did not stay open for very long, and they did not sell a lot of tickets... Bullets was selling out when I joined, and then within two months, it was just like empty balcony, empty mezzanine and... It's hard to see. And just in the past five years, the way social media has grown, 'cause when we were in Bullets, we had this Instagram called the Bullet Babes that we ran, it was like just our cast, the girl's Beth Nicely ran it. And Honeymoon, we had a Honeymoon cast Instagram. At that time, shows weren't even having their own Instagram accounts and definitely didn't have a separate person running it, and then Holiday Inn was Round About so its a little different, Cats had an Instagram account, but Mean Girls was the first time…I mean, we have an entire different social media team, we have a whole different company that runs our social media. So there's our normal press and then there's our social media press, and I think in that way, we've been able to reach out to people more and have more interactions with fans. Because you have stage door before social media, but nothing like this, nothing like messages and stuff, and Mean Girls knows that that's the age that our fans are at, and they really are like, hey guys, post... We wanna share it. And they're so smart about that, so it's definitely been a big difference. People know who I am, I mean, Cats was the first time I really experienced that, where fans really, really cared.
A lot of fans at Cats who would come back and say, “I've seen you as Bombalurina but I still need to see your Demeter, I'm waiting for you to post that you're going on for her, I can't wait to rush that show” and it was the first time, especially as a swing, and I’d be like, “Oh my God, thank you!” It's just so kind to know… ‘cause as a swing, people don’t know that you're on, they just see that it’s someone that’s not the normal person, but to have those fans who came to see you... It's really special, and so Cats is the first time I really experienced that, but it's also Cats is such a different show, each person is their own part, really... And then in Mean Girls, it just blew up and it's just been incredible to support I've gotten from fans and people coming to see me, and it really means so much in the gifts and they care in such a deep and loving way. It's really amazing.
D: Well, I don't know if you can see the hearts exploding, a lot of fans on here sending lots and lots of love, which you so deserve. I guess speaking of Cats and understanding three leads and now playing a lead, like you are a triple threat. Right, I mean, real deal, triple threat. So for people who are aspiring to do that, do you have any suggestions about how to keep your training and tandem that way?
J: Yeah, I mean, I definitely... I was definitely first and foremost a dancer, because for me, it was like I was always going to dance classes, and I took singing lessons here and there, I don't think I took an actual acting class really until maybe high school. Definitely not a true acting class until college, maybe a monologue workshop here and there, or working on a song workshop in high school, but I didn't have any of that training, and so I'm so happy that I did go to a school that had great acting training and forced me as a dancer to say like, Okay, you're in acting class with acting majors who don't dance and who don't sing, and you need to be just as good as them. And it pushed me and my friends pushed me because they were so amazing, I was like, God, I gotta step it up, I gotta learn how to do this, I gotta get there. And so that really helped me, and it's something that we say at Syracuse is, you just need to have as many tools in your tool belt as possible, so if you don't dance, get in to dance class, if you don't sing try singing more. If you don't, if you haven't done any acting work, try to get into an acting class or just go get... Buy a bunch a plays and start reading through them so you can start to learn about the form and everything. Just because I do think that being a dancer was really helped me to get on to Broadway. It definitely was the key, but having the training that I have from Syracuse is why I was able to understudy and why I took on... When I started playing Karen on Broadway, I mean, there are members of my cast who we were in the third week of rehearsal and they were like, wait you were in Cats? and I was like, yeah, they're like, You dance?!
J: It really inspiring for me because it's always been... I have my own demons and the own things that I'm like, I'm not as good of a singer as that person, I'm not, I sing good enough for a dancer, but to have people know me, as just a singer and an actor and have no idea that I dance and that they think I'm good enough, just with those two things, it's really been incredible for me.
D: Do you dance?! That’s so funny.
J: My friend, DeShawn in the show, we were about to leave for Buffalo from New York for the tour. And he was like, wait, you dance? And I was like, Yes, I was like... I was in the Ensemble of this show for one, on Broadway... And he's like, Oh, because I saw you in rehearsal when we were learning Who's House and I was like, Oh, she's got some groove like to go Jonalyn, You groove out! (Laughs) and I was like, I do do this for a living...
D: What a wonderful compliment though!
J: It's like how, half of understudying, especially in just this business, I think is learning how to pep-talk yourself and knowing what your weaknesses are so that you can work on them. I think for about a year, for at least a year, I did not see anything else in my voice lessons except for Mean Girls. I worked on those girls songs on Sexy on World Burn on Stupid Love and all that stuff. I worked really hard on it 'cause I was like, I gotta pull through, I got to do this, but a lot of it is just about pep talks and telling yourself like, I can do this, so I'm gonna do this and it's gonna be great, and it gets you past a lot of the nerves and... A lot of the things that can take you down.
D: I love that. What about any suggestions for opportunities you didn't get that you wanted, or things that didn't work out, we've had a whole bunch of cancellations in theater in both countries, and there are some people online would that have affected by those, any thoughts I guess in regards to staying positive?
J: Yeah, I mean, this cancellation for Tour has been really hard for me. Yesterday was my birthday, and we had huge plans, we were supposed to be in LA. We had about 40 people who were supposed to come to the show on Sunday, and we were gonna have a big birthday party at my parents house with the whole cast and my friends from home, and it was hard when we were first starting to feel like, Okay, I think L.A. might be cancelled, and I was like, maybe only half of L.A will be cancelled. And so like I... Some of my sisters haven't seen me in Mean Girls at all yet, and this was gonna be their shot, so it is very hard to cope with that, but what I will say about as artists like we never get this kind of rest... We never get this kind of break to truly let ourselves heal, I think just for health-wise, I was on so many vitamin supplements, and I neti-potted every morning and I slept with a humidifier next to my face, and I kind of just tried to let my body exist on its own again, which it haven't had the liberty to be able to do in a really long time, as well as I've been dancing more since quarantine started, since then I was on tour, because there's so many opportunities online right now of dance classes and dance combinations ballet bar is like, I like... And so I do that every week now, and I'm tapping almost every day doing tap lessons and learning combos from friends and stuff, and so that's been fun to kinda get back into that and use that to be positive.
D: Okay, type away your questions everybody in relation to anything about training about... How about tour. Any advice on that? What a handle being onto our...
J: I mean, it is my first tour, so I'm still kind of a newbie, I had...I'm still figuring it out, somebody was like, if you pack up all your stuff, realize you're not gonna need half of it, and I was like, I need all of these things and No, I didn’t need half of it.
So that's been hard, but it's funny, a lot of people ask me why I don't do my puns anymore on tour, and it's something that I realized I started to depend upon in New York was our backstage crew and my friends on wardrobe, are some of my closest friends, and the difference of not having... We still have a big company, we have our traveling crew that comes with us, but it's not like a Broadway show where you have your dressers and your whole crew and then the front of house staff and you get to know everyone, and there's so many people there and it's a much smaller group, and it's been very different, but that I have had to step it up as I've had a lot of really great dressers in my life who covered for some of my stupidity, and I really have had to learn that... I need to look at myself before going on stage...
J: 'cause I definitely forgotten the vest a couple of times on the Mean Girls tour just 'cause my dresser was like, Okay, it's like my costume is just hanging there, and if there's one costume in the dressing room at intermission and it's three pieces and all have to do is put it on. And I didn't put the whole thing on, I just left the vest hanging in my dressing room.
D: You're a busy girl, you’re a busy girl I don’t judge that for a second. and... Okay, is there anything that you've learned throughout your career that you wish you had known from the start?
J: Oh, that's a hard one. I think my first couple of shows out of school, being thrust into the professional world was quite an awakening, I didn't realize how much of a business this is, especially as I started as a swing, I think it was the best... I'm so happy that I was in shows that in some ways, struggled as we started because I learned not to expect things as much, and that just to be happy with everything. You meet people who are in like, Oh gosh, in shows like Wicked, a MK and Megan who are in the tour, toured with Wicked. MK asked me halfway through Buffalo, she was like, “Jonalyn, do you know what we're gonna get our water bottles?... And I was like, “What do you mean?” She goes, “Well, on Wicked when you join, they gave everyone water bottles, so they all fit in the dresser things the same and you label it, and so when are we gonna get our water bottles?” and I was like, “Pffftt, I've never gotten a water bottle in my life!” it was like “what?” I was like, “girl, you gotta go on Amazon and get your own!”
It's been so crazy, but definitely as a swing, I think what I didn't realize was how mentally difficult it was going to be. I had never prepared for sitting backstage when your best friend is like, I got tickets for today, and I was like, Great, I was gonna watch the show and that like so... Or opening night, watching from the back of the house and it's hard. Some shows, producers don't really know who you are 'cause they haven’t even really seen your face before, if that... Our producers on Mean Girls are great and they know everybody, but sometimes it's just hard and you're there and you're watching big things happen, or I think the hardest thing with shows as being a swing on closing night, because a lot of the times you had no idea that your last show was gonna be our last show, and so you're trying to love every show, but not get too emotional, and then it's closing night and you're sitting there and you're watching everyone up on stage living their life, and you're in the back of the house cheering them on, but also like... great.. like already dressed for the party.
It's very hard mentally, 'cause nothing prepares you for that, there's no way to be prepared for that in any other form than in the professional world. And so I think if we're just open about it and people can be more prepared. I always say managing expectations, if I know what to expect, I can handle anything that comes at me, if it's something wildly different than what I expected, then it's gonna be a struggle.
D: Let’s talk about Auditions, tell us about your method, your book, your...
J: For me, I think the biggest difference about coming to New York and doing okay in the world is not seeing auditions as auditions really but seeing a dance call as a free dance class and a vocal call as a free chance to sing my song with a great accompanist. I can't say enough that you have to have songs that you like singing, because even if nothing works out that day, if you like singing your song and you get to sing your song. For me, I'm kind of not a great example because a lot of the times I have one great 16-32 bar cut, I sing Here I am and I love it, and I sound great on it, and it's not always appropriate, but I'm like, this is gonna show them what I do, and that's what I do. And usually that works. And then they always ask me for Soprano song after that, and I always have one ready and so you just have to be prepared.
But yeah, I went through a period actually right before I booked Cats with auditions where I was in, Holiday Inn and I was like, Holiday Inn was a limited run, and I was like, I have to book something after this, Round About because of contracts, it's a Port Theater, so you do not get paid as much as a Broadway show. And so I did not have... I was not able to pay my New York rent and save as much money as I wanted to... So I was like, I have to get a job after this and have to be working, I can't do another four and half months of random labs and unemployment that I had just done before Holiday Inn. And I was like, I can't do that again, I have to get a job. And so I was going to all of this, all of these auditions with this desperation of not going into the audition to do my best, but going into the audition saying being like, I need to book this job. And there was a broadway show that I had booked the out-of town, but I ended up not doing the out of town 'cause it conflicted with me doing Peggy at The Muny in 42nd Street, which I was dying to do, and I was like, I gotta do that.
So I didn't do this out of town show, 'cause it wasn't sure was coming to Broadway, but then it was coming to Broadway and they were looking for literally the exact track that I had been cast as before, and I was like, Great! I went into sing the stuff for the understudy, and I didn't even get a dance call back, and I was like what happened?... I was like, Maybe if you see me dance you’ll remember you liked me so much and also remember that I can sing that and you’ll want me... And they didn’t it and it didn't work out. And I was like, I was devastated, but I also was so nervous because I went into that audition not saying, I love this song and I love this musical, and I can't wait to sing this... It was, I have to get this job. You have to hire me again. And so nothing was happening, nothing was going well for me. And finally, it's like Holiday Inn was closing in January, and it was the end of December, and I got this audition for immediate replacement swing in Cats, medical leave, swinging cats.
And I was like…. Okay. I was like, Sure, and it's for 5’7” and above. And I was like, I'll see all my 5’7” above friends there, whatever. And I go in and we auditioned at the theater, which is the first and only time I've ever done an audition at The Theater, and we're in the back of the house stretching, and there's only three other girls there, and I'm looking at the time and it's getting closer and closer to time, and I was like, I think there's only four of us, because it's December 30th, so nobody was in town, everybody's gone for the holidays, nobody was there, and I'm sitting there and I... And then what's great about Dance auditions is you can see everybody else doing it as well, and I was kind of there and it was like, I think I might get this, because I was just there to dance. I didn't care, I didn't think I was gonna get the job. I wasn't desperate about it, I was just doing what they were asking of me, and I got the job and it was 9 months of employment after that, and I was in town to be able to audition for all the Mean Girls stuff, and if I hadn't done Cats, I wouldn't have been in town to do all the Mean Girls stuff, so it really all works out the way it's meant to... So that's what I say about auditions, be prepared as possible so that you don't get desperate and you don't get nervous, just as long as you walk in and do what you prepared... That's what matters.
D: Everyone’s clapping for you. All the hearts. All the gratitude. That's incredible advice. What an amazing, real life story. Holiday Inn is online somewhere, right? Is it on Broadway HD? Yeah, so everybody watch that because Jonalyn is the one tapping in that skipping rope, and it is enough to blow your mind if you have not seen it yet. Go check it out. It's just incredible. Yes, everyone's saying loves and things and hearts and all the good things they should be saying!
Can you talk about nerves, can you talk about how you combat those?
J: Yeah, weirdly, because being a swing in an understudy, I've had... It's not just audition nerves that I've had to deal with, it's like every performance is nerves, especially as an understudy and as a swing when you start out with shows and stuff. I think the best preparation is to prepare as much as possible. And it sounds so simple, but you can't... The hard thing about being out in the world and not being in school anymore, doing professional theater, is no one's gonna hold you accountable except for yourself, and I say being a swing is like having... Is having pop quizzes and no one's gonna tell you what subject it’s gonna be on, and they're not gonna tell you... They're not gonna give you a heads up and it's just gonna happen and you have to ace it... You have to ace it!
So it's like always being ready for a pop quiz, and in that way, I again, have all of those little things that I tell myself, the little pep talks, one of them is, it's going to be fine because not being fine, is not an option. I remember doing, back in Honeymoon, I was not really expecting to ever have to do, and I was like, if I mess up, they cannot stop the show, they can't not do the show, they can't not have this track, they cannot... This is a Broadway show and it's gonna happen and everyone's gonna keep going no matter what I do, so I just gotta do it. For me with like swinging and stuff, I learned the track and then I write it out just on lined paper, messily write out everything for the track, and then I transfer that track to either small notebooks or note cards, where I only write like... What foot you start on, the numbers, what hand you grab, what prop you grab just the really important stuff, and then I go through that and I highlight the really important stuff because if you didn't know, highlight shows up in blue light, so if your backstage trying to read your notes, the only thing you can read is the highlighted stuff, and so just the really quick thing of like, Oh shoot, what number does she stand on again... Okay, and that's... That it's highlighted four... Right. Okay, great. By that time, I have written out the track like four times, I know it, you know, and especially just with quizzes or with tests or with homework, for me, writing it out was always the best way 'cause in Cats, whenever I would hear that I was going on for a track, I'd be on the subway and I closed my eyes and I just start at the top of the show. And I just start thinking through it, but if thinking through it is your only method you go to... who do I go up stage of, I think it's this, but I'll figure it out.
When you have to write it down, you have to look up the information, you have to figure it out, we have to know it to really write it down, you can't let yourself get away with not knowing what foot or what person or where you go, and so with that way, and then, especially with Cats and with Mean Girls, it was a little different 'cause with Cats, they wouldn't put you on unless they had taught you the track, and normally you would have one run through with other understudies in that track and kind of once you did one run, it was like, you're ready to go, they can throw you on whenever now, and so I would be on stage and I'd be like, I've done this before. I've done this before this, I know this, I've done this before, I knew it, then I know it now. And that still also applied when it would be like three months in between doing a track, because I've been learning other tracks and then other people had been going on, 'cause we have multiple swings in multiple understudies, and I'd be there and I just remember one time I was Cassandra and I hadn’t been Cassandra in months, and I only done three times or something, and in standing in the Skimbleshanks Train like ... I don't know where I go after this. I turned to the Dance Captain who happened to be next to me and I was like, I don’t think I know where I go and he just looked at me, 'cause he was the male Dance Captain was like, “I don't know where you go, we'll see what happens.” It was like I knew it and I just said to myself, You know what, I've done this before, and it's in there somewhere, and it's a little level of trust you have to have with your brain is it's in there somewhere, but you can't have that trust if you don't do the preparation.
And the same thing happened with Mean Girls, it's like I've done it. And I say this to other understudies who get nervous, I'm like, you've done a put in, this isn't your first show, your put in was your first show and you did it and it went flawlessly so you've done it, so you just have to do it again, and that's what it is. You know, it's in there somewhere. And another one of my phrases is, it'll come to me... There were a couple of times in Cats it did not come to me.. what I was supposed to say, but you just keep going, because if you dwell on those mistakes, then you're gonna mess up four things after that, keep going.
The great thing that Cats did for me is it made me much more comfortable with messing up. Cause that show especially it's all set to music, so you mess up a line and people just keep singing after you. No one looks at you weird 'cause well, you're all dressed as cats anyways, but it keeps moving, it does not stop, and so sometimes you're just like, that was wrong, but I’ll just keep going because we’ve got a dance break coming up! And so that helped me be able to release things easier, because I was able to be like, Okay, that's gone. Let's move on, and I was able to do the same thing when I brought it to my understudies in Mean Girls or even just playing a part, were being in the show every night.
Yeah, and I will say another trick that I use that might not be the healthiest, but helps me is every time I finish a track, I would sit down on my station or after each Act, during intermission, and I would write down the things that I messed up. Which sounds like really negative, but you don't know when you're going on for that track again, and so what you don't want is two and a half weeks later, they're like, Okay, you're on for this person again and you're like, You're starting the show and you're like, I messed something up in this scene... What was it? It was big and I was mad at myself.
No, I would have a note card saying It was this, and then as long as you don't mess up the same thing twice, people will trust you!
D: That’s incredible.
J: That was a very elongated answer.
D: No, it's so helpful. It's so helpful. And just the idea of forgiving yourself in the moment, I think is so hard.
J: And now being Karen, with our other understudies on tour, it's like... They come off stage and they’re like, I’m so sorry, I'm so sorry. And I'm like, Girl, it's okay, that's okay. I know that as long as an understudy, you kind of let them know, yes, I know that was wrong, 'cause the worst thing is having an understudy to do something wrong and you're like, do they know that that's not it...And then is not your job to tell them, so then you have to go to Stage Management and you have to be like, I'm not sure if they know this or not, but they're not doing this correctly, so you might wanna check on that, 'cause sometimes Stage Management doesn't realize that that's what's correct. You know what I mean? It's hard to know everything that happens on stage, but as an understudy, make sure someone knows that it's like... I know, I know, I mess that up. And they'll be like, Great, that's totally fine. And then if you keep being like, I'm so sorry I did that again, and I'm like, Girl, that was like four scenes ago, you have a big song coming up, think about that! I started to be like it’s okay stop... And if there's one thing that I always tried to do as an understudy that I would suggest to other understudies and swings is you might be pooping your pants, but try not to let the other actors know that. You know, 'cause to say to your scene partner right before you go on stage, oh my god I'm so nervous. It makes them go like, Oh God, what's gonna happen? And all of a sudden, they get nervous and you wanna seem… people are like, “you seem like you're so calm, cool and collected” ... And I'm like, great! I'm so glad I seem that way! That’s the important part, because it's hard. Again, it's that mental game that nobody really warns you about making your fellow actors feel comfortable and trust you as an understudy, and it's hard because there's a big game with that trust.
Letting them know, I know what I'm doing, so they can feel like they know what you're doing. It's the same thing that if you see swings never really watching the show or doing that, sometimes people start to be like, “have they watched it recently, this whole thing has changed. Do they know about it?” And everyone just wants everyone to do a good job, and so if you can just be calm, cool, collected around your other actors, it just makes it easier for you because when other people think you're nervous, then they start doing extra things and they're like, Oh, ill move this for her because she's nervous, so she might not do it, and then I'm like, Now you moved that and like, now I don't know what to do, why did do you do that? You know what I mean?
D: Wow! Are you the only original Broadway on the tour?
J: Yes, we have two other members from Broadway, but both of them came in later.
D: You were from the lab. You were like, you are the encyclopedia of that show! That's just so amazing.
J: One of our stage managers was a PA for the lab out of town in Broadway, and is now a Stage Manager on tour, so the two of us have really been in it together.
D: How lucky they are. How lucky they are. There's a question about college auditions, juggling college auditions and your Senior year, how did you decide which college?
J: Yeah, that's a hard one. I always remember thinking, college auditions, we should just have a period reserved in school, it's like another AP class, I'm like, I'm just doing another class with all of these essays and all of these applications, and then I'm auditioning for everything, and I remember people being like, I finally submitted all of my college auditions and I was like, Great, I have six more auditions to go! I was like, your essays are done. And I did my essays too, but I have the most terrifying part of my life coming up and so it was really hard.
The summer before my senior year, I did a college prep workshop. So by the time I kind of got into everything, I had my material down, again, sing songs that you like singing, that you're good at singing, remember college, it does not have to be for a specific show, so don't choose something in a genre that you're not good at! And work on it and sing it and prepare. It's like probably the scariest audition of your life, but yeah, you have to do it.
And also from college auditions was when I began, you start to meet everyone else who's gonna be in your world for the rest of your life, and some of those people I saw at auditions, I saw the next summer at summer stock auditions, and I was like, Oh, my gosh, what school did you end up going to? And they're like this, and I'm like, Oh, I’m at Syracuse. And so that was really fun because then it makes... Just feels like Auditions, just start to feel like a big reunion, and even from college audition to college audition, I would see a couple of the same people at each one 'cause you're all doing them. But yeah, it was very hard. I applied to twelve schools. A bunch of them were UC, because im from California, I got into six I...I didn't get into a lot of the ones that I wanted to get into, but I got into Syracuse.
And I also want to really make sure students know, high school students know that, listen to what the colleges are telling you because you are auditioning them as much as they are auditioning you, and don't be flustered by the name of the school or their alumni list because if their curriculum doesn't fit with what you need or what you want, then it's not gonna help you and you're not gonna be happy when you get there. The people who are un-happiest at these programs, and you'll hear them, they'll be like, Oh, I went to this school, and it was, it was horrible, I hated it there, and there are people who will say that about Syracuse too, but it's because again, they had different expectations or they weren't ready for that kind of training, or they didn't understand what it would be. So think about what you want, do you want a study abroad opportunity, do you want... Most schools, and I would encourage you to look at the schools who don't let you perform freshman year, there's too much going on for you to perform freshman year, and usually you're relearning everything you thought you knew about theater and about acting, and that is not the time to try to apply it to a show.
I think it's a very smart thing. I also enjoyed that my acting classes were with acting majors, all of our theater... All of our dance classes were just with the Musical Theatre department. Do you want to be able to take classes with the dance department? Syracuse didn't have a dance department that was big. And so do you want Greek life, do you want student life, do you wanna go to sports games? Think about it and I... It's okay to choose the school for those reasons as well as a get well one you gotta get in, so that was part of my decision-making skills, but... So in some of the schools, I was really like, Wow, this school is so amazing, they'd be talking to us before the audition, telling us about their school, and I feel like, Oh really? I was like, Oh, that sounds... That's a little iffy, but I guess it will be okay. You're gonna spend a lot of time and probably a lot of money. So make sure you like where you're going and that it's good for you. So that's my college spiel.
D: Have you written a book? I may I please help you write your book because this advice is all gold. It’s just gold!
J: Whenever they're in New York, I try to go back and I help lead the dance auditions for Syracuse, and the head of our department always loves to show me off, haha, little show pony, but also I wouldn't be where I am without them.
D: Is there a wing named... Is there Jonalyn Saxer wing?! I mean like, come on, success story! Just a statue? Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh, you guys were winding up, I can't be leave how quickly this went... I can't believe it.
A question from Julie about, you said you were taking lots of classes during this time, is there anything that you do either during this time or while you're performing that feeds your soul? That you turn to as far as keeping your spirit healthy?
J: Yeah, I think what we talk a lot about is self-care, and I think it comes in a lot of different forms for me, sometimes it's just watching a good TV show, it feeds my soul! And dancing. For me, a Tap class is more meditative than a yoga class. But I also, I've become a big workout person, which I never was before, and I feel much better after I work out, if anything, during workouts, you usually have to put your phone away for an hour, and sometimes that can be the most helpful thing to do.
And sometimes I love essential oils and they really help me stay calm during crazy moments, but also what I used to say, especially during Cats, people will be like, how do you take care of yourself? And it's like, Oh, some people are like, I get my acupuncture and I get massages, and I take ballet class. And they also... It's like, yeah, some weeks that works, and also sometimes I really just need to get a drink with my friends, and that's how I stay sane.
And so, quarantine for me has been a bit of the same as when I was in a show, sometimes it's tapping in my garage for an hour and a half, or working out, or taking a ballet bar, and sometimes it's having a Zoom with my friends. It has really re-inspired my spirit, so I... So yeah, so I think it's always a balance, I think whatever works for you in that moment, you never have to be like, Well, this is what I do to keep my spirit up, it's like... It's whatever you need to do at that moment, and sometimes it's watching six hours of TV, and sometimes it's eating cookies, and sometimes it's working out!
D: That’s, it's amazing. Well, you’ve re-inspired us! I know that! So let's start those thank yous everybody get those comments in! We need to say goodbye to Jonalyn, so you show your love and there's so many hearts and you're gonna clap and do all the things that you do. I just can't thank you enough for being so inspiring... Always. And then coming to visit us in Canada, I was just so nice of you. You're just such a nice person.
J: What can I say, David, that you are just such an incredible heart! For First Wives Club, which is where we met, I had auditioned for that show and I didn't get it, I didn't get the job, and then one of the girls who was doing the of town couldn't do the lab, and luckily a casting director trusted me and was like, Jonalyn just do the lab, I know you have another job, you'll just do this lab, and so that's not a very comforting place as a young actor to walk into a rehearsal room being like, I'm here temporarily. I'm not really here. And you were just so kind and considerate and supportive, I have nothing but good memories of that and how much fun you were and how special that was, so I'm so happy I had that experience to bring me to you.
D: Likewise! Some people just stick, you know, they just stick that I feel like you just stuck here and I'm just so grateful. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you everybody. Thank you. Everybody loves you. Are you teaching at all?
J: Yeah, I’m doing coaching sessions. I actually raised enough money, I just donated about $300 to my good friend Amanda and Nick’s Go Fund Me and to BCFA.
D: He’s Candian! Nick is Canadian!
J: So I'm doing that mostly so I can donate back to people who need it, but yes, I'm doing coaching or doing Tap privates, really have been going great. If you're interested in getting into tap dancing, I am a tap nerd. And so I take bookings through firstname.lastname@example.org. Yeah, it's been fun! It's actually... any of my tap students will say, I just started talking about tap and I'm just such a nerd about it!
D: Go get some friends! You heard that! Hit this lady up for all that talent and passion, and again, generosity! Just one of the most generous people. Thank you, stay well! Stay well!
J: You as well. And please keep doing this! You’ve gotten some really fierce people! How amazing.
D: The community is... I've never felt more connected. It's a silver lining, for sure! So thank you for being part of our community Jonalyn!
J: My pleasure! Of course!
D: Thank you! Bye!