We had the good fortune of connecting with AJ Danna and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi AJ, we’d love to hear what makes you happy.
As an artist, one thing that makes me happy is the connection shared by creators and their audiences. Be it live theatre, theme parks, television, or film, storytelling presents a precious opportunity for communal experience. Actor and filmmaker Ethan Hawke once described entertainment venues as spaces we go “to share stories, to generate empathy together, to broaden our views, and be together.” It makes me happy to be part of industries which help generate enjoyment and shared experience for audiences everywhere. From large screens in a movie theatre, to a small screen connected to a streaming app, it’s an honor to be part of creating those connections with an audience. I am grateful to have experienced this feeling many times over, both as a creator and as an audience member. Performing for children, and contributing to family entertainment in general, have always been particularly magical storytelling experiences for me. I remember what it was like to be a child: dreaming about the movies and television shows I was watching at the time, creating drawings and scripted plays based on stories I read in school. As an actor, I’ve been fortunate to work with a number of family entertainment brands, including Disney, Universal Studios, and JoJo Siwa. Seeing the happiness that my work helps generate for today’s young audiences is definitely a thing that makes me happy.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
As an actor, I am in the business of creating memories through emotional connections. I get to be part of bringing audiences into other worlds and experiences. I am most proud to be part of creating family entertainment that may end up positively influencing future generations, similar to how I was influenced by entertainment as a child. Pursuing a full-time career in the arts has not always been the easiest path, but is certainly the most fulfilling path for me. I am grateful to be part of a variety of entertainment mediums (live theatre, theme parks, television, film, etc.) and brands. One valuable lesson I have learned along the way is the importance of nurturing and understanding my authentic self. I encourage all artists to dig deep, and discover that the path to meaningful work is found by remembering why you do what you do. Your art may eventually outlive you, so I find it important to create timeless characters and art that can spark an emotional connection with audiences for generations to come.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
There is a wealth of history (and entertainment-specific history) to be discovered in Southern California. Having been born and raised in Los Angeles, I always enjoy experiencing the variety of the city I call home. From visiting notable filming locations, to shopping small businesses, to screaming through SoCal’s Halloween events, my “hang out with AJ in LA” itinerary might look something like this: – Visit publicly accessible filming locations from beloved stories, perhaps including John Carpenter’s Halloween neighborhood in South Pasadena, The Brady Bunch house in Studio City, the Martini house from It’s a Wonderful Life in La Cañada Flintridge, and the plethora of authentic historic locations across Los Angeles featured in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. – Experience pop culture-related retail and entertainment businesses, perhaps including Amoeba Music (Hollywood), It’s a Wrap Production Wardrobe Sales (Burbank), Blast from the Past (Burbank), Dark Delicacies (Burbank), Alamo Drafthouse (Downtown LA), and SugarMynt Gallery (South Pasadena). – Attend a variety of Halloween events and experiences. Some of my personal favorites, past and present, have included Knott’s Scary Farm & Knott’s Taste of Fall-O-Ween (Buena Park), House of Spirits LA (Harvard Heights), The Strangers Experience (Hollywood), Midsummer Scream (Long Beach), Monsterpalooza (Burbank), and Mickey’s Halloween Party at the Disneyland Resort (Anaheim). Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I probably wouldn’t have become an artist without the positive influence of the others who came before me. My journey as a performer started with my mother, whether or not she realized it at the time. I was fortunate to experience a wealth of television and films under her influence, becoming aware of classics that other people my age weren’t necessarily engaged with. I grew up watching timeless television stories like Gilligan’s Island, The Brady Bunch, Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, The Twilight Zone, and Dark Shadows. The first three movies I was introduced to were Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, Mary Poppins, and The Wizard of Oz. It doesn’t get much more magical than that! I decided to pursue theatre at a young age thanks to Kenny Ortega’s Disney Channel Original Movie High School Musical. The ensemble cast featured in Disney’s Suite Life of Zack & Cody sitcom also heavily influenced my desire to play comedic characters. I also discovered a natural fit for my talents in the voiceover industry, largely thanks to seeing Fred Newman perform on an episode of LeVar Burton’s Reading Rainbow. Veteran voice actor Corey Burton also helped me develop some of the mechanics and characters I use in my performances. I don’t think I’d be quite the same without the direct influences of my mentors and inspirations, including my teachers and children’s theatre directors. I’m also grateful to have connected with my most recent teacher, AJ Langer, whose guidance and shared wisdom stick with me. I do what I can to give back, as thanks for all the help I’ve received along the way. There are so many names I could go on to list… which is truly an amazing and beautiful thing.