Interview with Daniel Henning

One of my favorite things about being an author is getting to hear my books read by some wonderfully talented narrators. Teddy Spenser Isn’t Looking for Love released TODAY–and the audio narrator, Daniel Henning, has very kindly let me ask him some questions.

Keep on reading to learn more about this really interesting and talented man!

Can you begin by telling us a little about yourself?

I was born in Oakland CA, went to New York University and Circle in the Square Theatre School for college,. I managed the off-Broadway theater Circle in the Square before moving to Los Angeles for pilot season. In 1990 I founded The Blank Theatre in Los Angeles where I remain as the founding artistic director. I am an actor, director, producer, writer. I also have been recognized for my work supporting the LGBTQ community by the California state legislature.

You founded and are artistic director of The Blank Theatre in Los Angeles. What do you love most about doing that? What’s the most challenging aspect?

Honestly, what I love most about the work that we do at The Blank Theatre is that we are supporting future generations of theater artists. All of the work that we do at The Blank is about developing artists and their work. The amount of successful artists who had their work first presented at The Blank as writers or their first chance as an actor on stage is staggering. 

The most challenging part of that is that developing artists isn’t a cause celebre for funders and grantmakers. And certainly not for ticket buyers. We can’t make our funds at the box office for developing world premiere plays. We need to constantly raise money in order to keep our doors open. 

When did you know you wanted a career in theatre? 

When I was four years old I was cast in a silly little play of the story Stone Soup. I got to play the soldier that came up with a great idea to make soup out of a stone. I was hooked. 

My 17-year-old has been active in high school drama classes and productions. Now that she’ll be heading off to college soon—with a computer science major—what advice would you give her?

Study as much as you can. But I don’t mean that academically. Study the world. Look around. Notice what other people aren’t noticing. That will make you stand out in any field. 

How did you begin narrating audiobooks?

Four years ago, it occurred to me that I might enjoy narrating audiobooks. I had directed a play called Something Truly Monstrous by a playwright I adore named Jeff Tabnick. I knew Jeff had something to do with audiobooks. I asked him if he thought I might be good at narrating audiobooks and how I would go about getting a job. As it turns out he’s the casting director for one of the largest audiobook companies in the country Recorded Books Inc. He was brave enough to give me a shot. Since then, I have recorded 90 audiobooks. 

What’s your process for narrating a book? And what’s your studio like? 

I find that each book sort of creates its own process. Fiction and nonfiction are of course entirely different from each other. The nonfiction process is more about research of pronunciations and names, while fiction is more about creating the characters and conveying the story to the audience. Although I like to think of both fiction and nonfiction as storytelling. 

I have a recording studio with a Whisper Room isolation booth so the Los Angeles helicopters aren’t destroying my recordings. It is in my home. It makes me very comfortable and allows me the opportunity to be relaxed in my creation of audiobooks. And the booth itself is like my cocoon. I can go in there and snuggle up with a good book. 

What are some of your favorite books to read for fun?

I’ve done 56 audiobooks this year. I don’t really get to read for fun anymore. But I love reading. 

When you’re not working—and when there’s not a pandemic!—how do you like to spend your time?

I spend a lot of my time supporting The Blank Theater and its work. I enjoy spending time with my husband and our beautiful chow chow Betty. I adore Los Angeles so I love to explore what’s available for us here. And the sunshine. 

In 2018, you were honored by the California legislature. Can you tell us about that?

In 2017 I produced and conceived the 50th anniversary celebration for the Black Cat protest. New Year’s Eve 1966 to 1967 there was a gay bar on Sunset Blvd in the Silverlake part of Los Angeles called the Black Cat. At midnight that night undercover police started to beat and arrest the gays and drag Queens that kissed each other at midnight. Two males kissing in public was illegal. The Black Cat denizens fought back and a riot ensued on Sunset Blvd (2 ½ years before Stonewall). Six weeks later the first major LGBTQ demonstration in the United States occurred outside of the Black Cat. 500 people showed up to protest that night in 1967. 

In 2017, I recreated the original demonstration with actors in costumes and reproductions of the protest signs, and we recreated that night in 1967. Then as now the demonstration was followed by a political rally with speeches. In my celebration one of the original organizers of the demonstration in 1967 was there. And he, Mayor Eric Garcetti and the assistant chief of police all held hands and declared a new day for the relationship between homosexuals and LAPD. We had over 1500 people in attendance that night. The next year, the legislature chose me along with 15 others to be recognized for LGBTQ pride month at ceremonies in both the state assembly and the state Senate. 

Since you’re a Paul Smith fan, maybe Teddy Spenser’s love for fashion resonated a little with you. How would you describe your own personal style?

Oh yes, teddy’s love for fashion did resonate with me. As did so many other aspects of the story. I loved telling this story and I had a super great time. My personal style is a bit flamboyant, with classical elements. Paul Smith describes what he does as “classic with a twist”. That’s about right. I pretty much exclusively wear Paul Smith. He’s become a friend and our relationship certainly helped me tell Teddy Spenser’s story. One of my greatest personal moments was when Paul Smith asked if he could borrow some pieces from my collection (of his work) for his 25 year retrospective a few years ago. That was cool.

What’s one of the most unexpected things that’s happened during a performance?

I don’t think this is what you mean when you ask this, but this is my answer: I cry. When I am deep in a book and it gets to “those parts” (sad, happy, sweet, nostalgic) I often will cry. Sometimes heavily. When that happens, I have to stop, because no one wants to hear a reader crying, but I also want that emotion to show up in my voice without the crying. So I have to time it just right to get all the feels without the sniffling. 

I used to write (a lot of!) Buffy fanfic and I’m still a big fan of the series, so I was very excited to learn about your ties to the show. Can you tell us about them?

At the end of my college career, I assistant directed the world premiere of The Widow Claire by Horton Foote. There was an 8-year-old girl in that cast, Sarah Michelle Gellar. Sarah, her mother and I became friends and actually became more like family. When Sarah got her audition for Buffy, she asked me to coach her. So I did. And coached her on her callbacks etc. Through Sarah, I met most of the cast over the years, and in fact, many of them ended up performing at The Blank Theatre on numerous occasions. As a side note, my husband Rick Baumgartner ended up becoming the VFX Producer for Buffy and was nominated for an Emmy for his work on the finale “Chosen.”

If you could spend a week anywhere in the world, where would you go?

A warm tropical island, with good food, good friends, and peace all around. Can I stay there for longer than a week? I could probably record audiobooks from there!

What’s your dream theatre project? Your dream book to narrate?

I’ve been lucky enough to be able to do a lot of my Dream Theater projects. So I’ll be grateful and not piggy and leave it at that. But my dream book to narrate? Anything by John Irving.

What are you working on now?

Vacation. But I have several books lined up for just after the new year. So you can find me in my whisper room recording booth most of the time. 

What’s one random fact about yourself that you’d like to share?

When I was 12 years old Sir Alec Guinness (Star Wars’ Obi Wan Kenobi) made me promise never to see Star Wars again. No, really. And then he wrote about our encounter in his final memoir, A Positively Final Appearance. So, I became a world famous Star Wars fan. After becoming an audiobook narrator, I wrote my version of the story and made an audiobook of it too! It’s a nutty story. 

Amazon.com: Alec Guinness Hated Star Wars or How I Became a Famous Star Wars Fan: A True Star Wars Story (Audible Audio Edition): Daniel Henning, Daniel Henning, Buddy Pictures Press: Audible Audiobooks

For more about Daniel’s work and the Blank Theatre, check out his website.

And be sure to pick up Teddy in ebook, print, or audio format!