Our stage manager, Linda Marvel, was in my dressing room yesterday giving me some notes about pacing. She said that as a show enters its last weeks, there is a tendancy for actors to linger, savor, collagenize the moments. Gotta watch out for that.

What I have been noticing, and appreciating, is how Erik Steele, who plays Shindler, Beethoven’s assistant, is exploring new line readings. I enjoy watching him from the wings, too, because of the meticulous stage business he does–like the way he brushes lint off Beethoven’s overcoat and then dusts off his hands as he moves swiftly from upstage to his master’s side. Actually, I could go character by character and describe the details that I enjoy watching. We are often all on stage together–the past and the present, each freezing in place when it’s time for the others to take up their scene, so it is easy to hear all the nuances in their changes of delivery.

Then there are the stage gremlins that appear out of nowhere. In the first scene, I introduce Don Amendolia’s character, Diabelli, the man who wrote the original waltz on which Beethoven bases his 33 variations. Like all the characters from the past, I conjure him up, so there is no actual interaction between us (except when I hallucinate on morphine and Beethoven appears in my hospital room near the end and we have a good old time talking together). So, anyway, the other night, right at the top, Don comes out as Diabelli, the most famous music publisher of the day, and extends his invitation to the composers in Vienna to write one variation on the waltz he has just written and we hear his rather clumsy waltz played for the first time. I then say to the audience, “He was a …..” I was supposed to say, “he was a great music publisher. Not so great a composer.” But, oops, I forgot my line and ended up turning to him and saying, “what is it you do, anyway?— Oh yes, you sell music.” We had a good laugh about it between scenes. “I’m a figment of your imagination,” Don reminded me, ” so I couldn’t help you out there and remind you what I did.” I asked him if he thought the audience knew and he said “no,” but then, Don is always the most positive person I have ever known–and one of the most talented. Now, every night he whispers “I’m a great music publisher,” while we’re waiting to enter.

It is so weird how we can know our lines in our sleep and yet there are times when we go completely blank. It is terrifying, I can tell you. I start off both acts one and two with a monologue and it has happened that in both acts, I have gotten out there, opened my mouth, and totally forgotten what I am supposed to say. It feels like an eternity. Afterwards, the other actors say “not so, they probably didn’t notice,” but I now repeat my opening line many times right before the act begins.

Sometimes we can find our tongues deciding to get stuck somewhere between our teeth and our throats as we begin a major speech. Who knows why, but it becomes hard to get a word out. It has happened to most of us at one time or another. Sometimes we will choke on our own saliva. Sometimes we fart as we say something emphatic (the noise kind, not the lethal kind which would be really terrible cause there’s no dog to blame it on) and then wonder if the front row heard, not to mention our fellow actors. Sometimes we say our line before the other actor has finished her/his line. Well, maybe I’m the only one who does this–i mean.

Then there are the times when one finds oneself saying words the author never wrote. You’re making the same point–more or less– but in your own way, and you know it’s happening and you listen to yourself and ask yourself why this is happening and have no good answer. Moises has been in the audience a few times when this has happened to me and I have apologized. He’s never seemed too upset and I think it’s because he knows I know the lines and that the wierd stage gremlin that afflicts actors sometimes has gotten the better of me on that particular day.
Mind you, the gremlin only appears maybe once a week (though I have only heard it happen to Don and Susan once in four months).

I am en route to Montreal for a speech and I’ve brought with me all my videos of people with ALS to watch during the waiting time. I feel the need to refresh myself. I fear I am laboring the speech too much in the later scenes and have lost the unique nasal quality.

Michael Rudd is taking Tulea to the beach while I’m here in Canada. Wait till he sees how she gets when she’s in the sand! She races at breakneck speed, emitting a low growl (trying to appear ferocious, perhaps), turns on a dime and flattens herself in the sand only to do it all over again. Then she digs like she’s headed for China. Can’t wait to hear his tales.

Wish me luck tonight. And see you next time.

Share This Post
  1. Knew a minister once who always kept a copy of the Lord’s prayer in front of him on the pulpit. It seems that in his early years as a minister, he began to say it and could not for the life of him remember the first line.

    Good luck tonight!

  2. I wish you a most excellent night!
    May you find your unique nasal voice.

    Ya’ll are the brave warrior’s doing this show everynight.
    Gremlins have got noth’in on you!

    Jane, I really admire what you do and how you do it. Your truly an inspirational force in the world.

    The beach is so freeing. If I could only stop looking
    down for all the beautiful stones.
    And the ocean really gets those cobwebs out of the brain.
    Love & Light,

  3. I wish you luck. I bet the will miss you. I am going to miss this stories when the play is over.

  4. The best of luck and wishes…and once again thank you for sharing this part of your life with us.

  5. Haha, Tulea sounds like she acts the same way my dogs do at the beach. Good luck tonight!!!

  6. Dear Ms. Fonda,

    Good luck tonight! You will do great I am sure.

    I had the fortunate experience of seeing your performance this past Saturday and I must say, 33 variations was captivating. Being so close as you and your colleagues work on stage is magical and breath-taking. My husband chuckled a little as I showed him the goosebumps on my arms from being so excited about the experience. I couldn’t believe it – there was Jane Fonda!! What a treat!

    As for stage gremlins, thank you for sharing your anxieties about messing up a line or making a slight error. I appreciate your willingness to share the small insecurities you have from time to time. To me, it is normal in every profession, whether it is acting like you or teaching students in a school like me, to second guess yourself at times and make it up as you go. Granted, your situation is a little more obvious to more people if you do slip, but we all feel once in a while that we are tongue-tied or wish we could do something a little better at what we do. I assure you that we audience members don’t notice small mistakes. And even if we did, we are all human and it is part of the fun of seeing live acting!

    Again, I think you are great professionally and I admire your courage to speak up about what you are passionate about.

    Take care,

  7. Good Luck, Dear Jane. It happens to all of us. The other night I had a cough fit during a scene and possibly spit all over the actresse’s face – she wasnt impressed. I thought it was funny – embarassing funny. And then theres the day I forgot a major prop and had to go off stage to get it…

    Much love from New Zealand

  8. I wish you Luck tonight Jane,

    You seem to bring on interest in the area of learning and media how brain and information works . Not a new area of research or studies ,within acting but one of perhaps a revisit of a new view of the subject. Literature or the reproduction of a narrative expression is a moving away from the virtual reality of a setting or staged environment. I feel the human condition whats to create and change the reality , that is the art of being real. Words only represent the image that is in our world . We say : The apple is read , than wonder if it is red or has been read.Words are poor so we act out the reality, for a truth in our reality. If we change our truth we can change our reality, that is the actors role between truth and reality.

  9. How frightening for you, Jane, to forget your lines on stage. I have been there, myself, a few times. When I did “Twelfth Night”, in a park in Toronto, I kept blanking in the same spot, every night. One night, as part of my warm-up, I did all my monologues before the show, in a low voice but on the same spot where I would deliver them in the show.
    When I came to the part where I kept blanking every night, I felt a horrible energy move through my body and exit through my Crown chakra. It seemed to just be trapped energy or chi. Never again did I go blank for the rest of the run.
    I so wish I could see the show. Why don’t you bring it to Toronto?We all love you, here, and there are many large, well equipped theatres to rent if you could interest a producer.
    Good luck with the rest of the run.

    Philip Cairns

  10. Oh, Jane…this post was priceless….I love your honesty and description of those moments on stage. I’ve had them too and you just nailed it! You did the same thing when I saw your interview in “Searching for Debra Winger”…you described exactly the feelings of sitting in your trailer “waiting”…making that long walk to the “pool of light” on the set and then hoping and praying that all your prep will show up when “action” is called. I have NEVER heard anyone describe that experience for the actor with such incredible accuracy! I immediately told all my actor friends to rent that DVD and jto listen very carefully to what you had to say! I recently had the longest time between jobs ever…7 months….had all those thoughts we have…”it’s over, I’m done, must have lost it, guess I’m not as good as I thought I was, never gonna work again”…etc. And then the call came for an audition for “Mad Men” ….I was reminded by a dear friend that the reason I do this is because I truly love it (and I didn’t start til I was 43…was in the corporate world for 20+years and am now almost 60)…I love the craft of discovery of a character….so I only focused on that…and having a ball in the audition…if we don’t have fun doing what we do, what is the point, right? Anyway, I got the role and shot it last week….it was like being “home” being back on the set. How I LOVE the whole process. To say you are an inspiration in your 70’s still doing this and loving it and being so passionately committed to it is an understatement.
    Thank you, Jane, for ALL that you’ve shared through this process….I’ve read every word since Jan. 1. So proud and honored to share this amazing profession with you.

  11. Just wanted to say I read your blog several times a week, and quite enjoy it. Am also a fan of quite a few of your films: ‘Klute’ is one of the best detective films ever made. ‘Barbarella’ is a camp classic, and I also loved ‘They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?’. I guess the filming of it was fraught (Godard, Gorin, incomprehensible script, etc.) but I really enjoyed ‘Tout Va Bien’, as well.

    I live in Montreal, and really wanted to get down to see the play, but I won’t be able to make it, unfortunately. Maybe if you take it to London I’ll get to see it.

    BTW, I hope you make new films, and don’t be afraid of character parts. They’re often the most interesting aspect of a movie. I remember seeing Vanessa Redgrave in ‘Little Odessa’: she filmed her part in 2 days, and almost stole the movie.

  12. Jane,
    This is a wonderful entry. I love to hear about the “imperfections” of the theater. I think it makes it even more relatable and charming. I want to see this show so badly now, but unfortunately cannot make it to New York. Please post more entries like this. I love to hear the “inside story,” and I’m sure other readers do as well.
    Enjoy Montreal.

  13. This might just be your best entry yet. Thanks for telling us what it’s really like.

  14. Dear Jane, just want to thank you so very much for a wonderful two hours spent in your company last night at Place des Arts in Montreal!! I always admired you as an actress but admire you even more now since you shared some of your life experiences with us. Maybe you could blog a little about your experience in Montreal last night? That would be a great souvenir for those who attended last night! Best of luck with your upcoming knee surgery, I know it will go well. You are a fascinating and wonderful, strong woman! Viva the feminists! By the way, I just love your website! You share so much of you and your life here and I think it’s great!

    A fan from Montreal,


  15. Jane, you are so REAL! You seem so “down-to-earth” as you explain “bad” moments on stage or moments that are caused by the “weird stage gremlin”!! You reveal so much which is interesting!! Not many well known actors would want to reveal any of their faults or weaknesses, but you’re different! It reminds me of your acting in movies. You “show” everything! You “open” yourself for all to see with either joy or sadness or whatever the scene needs…..everything is raw and real! It’s really a beautiful thing! I guess that’s the difference between a good actor and a great actor. You sparkle, Jane! You’ve been given the gift of acting and you sparkle whenever you do it! There are no age limits to this! I think it would be wonderful to see you on stage….faults and all!!!!

  16. I so enjoy your posts about acting and finding your character. I hope to see your play before it closes.

    For Mothers Day, my sister took me to see Next to Normal.
    My own mother was bi polar and attempted suicide when I was 7. 2 years ago my husband who was also bi polar took his own life. I don’t know how much you have dealt with your own mothers suicide, but this musical Next to Normal is unlike anything I have ever seen.

  17. I know what you mean about the gremlins! When I do a show I read the entire script every day before the show to refresh myself and remember my cue’s and pacing…but it still goes wrong!! ha ha ha

  18. Hi Jane!

    My friend Kate was there at 33 and never noticed that you forgot your line. When I showed her your latest blog entry, she laughed! She believed it all, you as Katherine & most importantly, she didn’t notice.
    Who gives a shit if you or anyone else goes up on a line? The audience is there to experience something special, to transport them to some imaginary, special place. In my opinion, that’s what it’s all about.
    Theater ROCKS!
    Remember, you are enough. Thanks Jane!

  19. Hi Jane,

    I hope all went well in Montreal for you.

    I heard you last week in Mississauga and thought you were inspiring, very interesting and so real in sharing yourself. I do not know if you would remember but you and I discussed hip replacements.

    I was thinking of your next book on aging. Are you considering including end life issues in it? Dying is such a part of living and a concern to many individuals as they approach the latter part of their life. Dr. Michele Chaban, MSW, PhD, wrote an excellent book on the deception and validity of Dr. Kubler-Ross’s research on death and dying. The book is ” The Life Work of Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and Its Impact on the Death Awareness Movement”, 1998, Edwin Mellen Press. The writing is very insightful, thought provoking and offers some challenging ideas. Dr. Chaban is involved with palliative care in Toronto.

    Wishing you a wonderful day and performance. Congratulations on your Tony nomination.


  20. Boy, I can really relate to today’s post. I have a recurring dream of forgetting my lines in a play and yes, in my youth I was in a small number of plays. When I was in Neil Simon’s “oh god” I had a family crisis and yet still went on and regretted it since I was really preoccupied and forgot a cue. I hear you. The crisis was positively resolved and all eventually was well and the play went on and maybe they didn’t notice. It’s funny but “oh god” (I think that’s the name) was about the book of Job in humorous terms. I was definitely living the book of Job that year.

  21. My dog Sadie loves the beach as well and goes crazy for sand and digging. I hate to think of how the sand must feel inside that she eats.

  22. I was at that show in Montreal last night. You were amazing. I am 40 and every part of what you said resonated with mery part of what you had to say. I feel the need to start the research into what I’m all about and where I’ve been but I wonder… does one need to be in the 3rd act of her life… am I doing this prematurely?

  23. “Sometimes we fart as we say something emphatic (the noise kind, not the lethal kind which would be really terrible cause there’s no dog to blame it on) and then wonder if the front row heard, not to mention our fellow actors.” LMFAO, Jane! Has that actually happened?

    I think the main reason I chose not to get into acting (especially of the theatre variety) is because I’ve always feared forgetting what I’m supposed to say in front of a large group of people. In 4th grade we had to recite poems in front of the entire elementary and middle school, and of course I forgot midway through. All those eyes looking at me. Although, I know when you’re on stage you have the lights on you, and they are bright, so I’m guessing you see maybe the first two rows, yes? I felt like I had a thousand and one eyes on me, and that was absolutely terrifying.

    I give actors a ton of credit, especially stage actors, who can’t redo a scene; it’s a one-time deal per show, and if you miss your mark or forget a line or make any sort of mistake, that’s it. I’ve always feared that.

    I saw the show twice last weekend (Friday night and then Saturday afternoon) and I noticed only one change (that I can remember): when Katherine and Gertie are speaking at the cafe/restaurant, the first night you said “psychologist” and then at the matinee you said “therapist.” I love the subtle differences at each show, because each show is unique. Oh, the magic of thea-tuh!

    Really Jane, you all have done such a magnificent job with this show, and I’m rooting for every one of you at the Tony’s.

    This was an ultra cool post:) Thank you for sharing this sort of thing with us.

    All my best,

  24. Going to see “33 Variations” this weekend, the last weekend show as it turns out. (It’s fine with me if Tulea makes an appearance at some point. Maybe in your arms at the curtain call? After all, it would be her last Sunday on the stage as well, for a while.) Very excited and looking forward to Sunday; don’t know what to expect. There’s been so much written about the show. Before the show starts I will be sitting there looking around wondering where, exactly, that peephole is!
    Wishing all of you the best performances ever as the days wind down.

  25. Best of Luck Jane!!!!

  26. I love your blog…that you share the good, the bad and the gremlin in your work…it shows that you keep the risk alive. It reminds me of the W.H. Auden poem, “Leap Before You Look…”
    “The sense of danger must not disappear;
    The way is certainly both short and steep,
    However gradual it looks from here;
    Look if you like, but you will have to leap.”
    It feels like that when I “go up” on my lines…the abyss opens up and the safety net (“our dream of safety”?) seems a looonnnggg way down. The rush on recovery can be quite ecstatic. My own “oops’s” are rarely funny, but one night I was back stage making a quick change and a fellow actress was getting ready for her entrance…a great solo scene where she talks to the audience about her dual nature. She uses one word throughout her monologue to describe her youthful, energetic state and that word was nowhere in her head. She grabs me…pure panic…”What am I…frisky?!?!” …a beat that feels like eternity… “You’re zippy!” yes!… and she skips on stage. Well, you are zippy in my book, Jane; and I can’t wait to read YOUR book about aging. Thank you for continuing to push the envelope and shine the light! xoxo Laurel

  27. I have tickets for Sun., May 24, 3pm curtain. Is this show cancelled? Thank you.

  28. Your description of completely going up on your lines reminded me of that section in Elaine Strich’s ‘At Liberty’ when she gives up on ‘Ladies Who Lunch’ (I believe) & simply crams both hands into her mouth. She tells her director afterwards that it seemed like her best option at the time!

  29. oh..i didn’t know it was supposed to be all in your dream…one thing i remember from the play is that spittle sometimes came out of the actor’s mouths (not you) and glistened in the stage light in its elliptical trajectory towards the audience…and so i was glad i was in the third row, not the first…i had a math professor in college who lectured loudly to his seven students who he made sit in the front row and then the spittle bombs came…drinking water periodically might eliminate this problem…

  30. The farting bit made me LOL…because how many world-famous stars are gonna admit to THAT happening on Broadway? 🙂

  31. Who is Michael Rudd?

  32. Wow, what an experience live theatre is to watch–and must be to perform!

Leave a Reply