Danny Burstein

I grew up in New York City and dreamt of making a living as an actor for as long as I can remember. When I was 14 years old, I was lucky enough to have been accepted into the famed High School of Performing Arts to study acting. It was there that I learned what it actually took to be a professional actor. Oh, how I longed to be one. During my high school years, I did lots of community theatre and even did non-union summer stock in Keene, New Hampshire, where I made – and this is the truth – $200 for the entire summer. We figured it out: We were making about 8 cents an hour! But it was all valuable groundwork and, for me, solidified the fact that if I was willing to do all of that, I was in it for the long haul.

I signed my first Equity contract (a bright pink chorus contract) in 1984 when I was 19. I was going to Queens College and my musical theatre professor was the brilliant Edward M. Greenberg. Ed became my mentor and great friend. He was the Executive Director of The Muny in St. Louis and offered me a contract to spend the entire summer of 1984 performing in three shows: The Music Man with Jim Dale and Pam Dawber, Funny Girl with Juliet Prowse and Larry Kert and the premiere of a new version of Sleeping Beauty.

It was at The Muny that I first got a taste of the benefits Equity had to offer me. I felt protected, respected and was happy to be well compensated for all my hard work. I remember distinctly thinking that it would be nice to start saving for my pension at such a young age. (I’m not so young anymore and am quite grateful I got such an early start.)

I learned so much that summer and made many great friends. Friendships that continue to this day. I went back to The Muny for several summers after and eventually grew into character roles. One of those later summers, I worked with Tony Randall, who eventually offered me my first Broadway contract. We’d had a great time working together, and one day he mentioned his National Actors Theatre Company to me. I said, “Well, if you ever get it up and running, give me a call.” He said, “I’ll do that.” Cut to a few years later, he calls me – out of the blue – with a job offer to be a company member in his new Broadway troupe.

The Muny was a magical place for me. A home away from home. I owe Ed Greenberg a huge debt of gratitude for taking a chance on a gawky, teenaged, theatre nerd who was so terribly green. He gave me the confidence to fly. Thank you, Ed, wherever you are. I miss you. And thank you, Equity, for looking out for me and always insuring I will be properly taken care of. I’m so honored to be a part of such a great union.

Originally published in Equity News, Spring 2016.