Dennis O'Bannion

Growing up in Northern California and having dreamt of becoming a professional performer for most of my life (I started dancing at four-and-a-half years old), there was something my father said that always stuck with me: Get into the union. He was a member of the Teamsters Union and he knew firsthand how important it was to have that community, support and voice. When I earned my Equity Card in 2007, I was excited about the opportunities a union membership would provide.

I moved to New York City for college and, luckily, started working right out of school at Paper Mill Playhouse and then Tuacahn Center for the Arts. Those were my first professional jobs and I learned so much about our industry during that time. I would ask my fellow castmates how the earned their Equity card, when the right time to take it was and a multitude of other questions about the union. I didn’t know when or how I would receive my card, but I knew I was ready.

I remember hearing that if you worked at Paper Mill twice as a non-union actor, at the end of your second contract there was potential to receive your Equity card. After doing their production of Hello Dolly! with Tovah Feldshuh and choreographed by Mia Michaels, I was able to return the following year and swing again for their production of Meet Me in St. Louis. The wonderful team of Mark Hoebee and Denis Jones were creating that show. Upon starting that job, I was excited and thrilled to know that during the last two weeks of the contract I would become an official member of Actors’ Equity.  I just had seven or so weeks to go.

Something happened the last day of our run-through at New 42 Studios that changed the timeline. Unfortunately, our dance captain was injured and could no longer perform the run with us.  They needed an Equity dance captain immediately. I vividly remember Mark and Denis coming up to me (probably with my swing book and notes in hand) and saying how they would like me to become the dance captain – which would mean making me Equity that very night! Within a day or so, I went from being a non-union swing to an Equity dance captain and swing for our production. It was the kind of contract I had been waiting for. And it was now time for the ceremonious new union member drink and cheers with my fellow castmates. I’m forever grateful to them and to Paper Mill for not only being the theater that made me union, but for believing in me to do the job that led to my card.

Since 2007, I’ve been a proud Equity member.  My card has opened up so many doors, working throughout the country regionally or on tour and even on Broadway. It’s made me a part of such an incredible and fearless community of artists and I couldn’t be more thankful for that.