By JACKIE MOE
Broadway and television actor, singer and songwriter Terron Brooks will return to his Orange County School of the Arts roots on Sept. 7 to perform at the school’s Season Premiere 2019.
The special performance will be presented at the Balboa Bay Resort and feature 25 musicians from OCSA’s Popular Music Conservatory, a collegial-model program that prepares students for a career in commercial or contemporary music. The night will feature a beachfront dinner and concert.
Brooks is best remembered for his critically acclaimed portrayal of Eddie Kendricks in the Emmy Award-winning NBC mini-series “The Temptations.” His Broadway performances include the roles of Simba in “The Lion King” and Seaweed in “Hairspray.” He has shared the stage with artists such as Stevie Wonder, David Foster and Smokey Robinson, and his voice can be heard in numerous television and film soundtracks.
Currently residing in Los Angeles with his wife and two children, Brooks talks fondly about growing up in Orange County. Terron chatted with Backstage SoCal about his OCSA days, old stomping grounds in OC, and advice for those pursuing the entertainment industry.
You wear a lot of “hats” — Broadway and television star, songwriter, motivational speaker — can you tell us why each is special to you?
Brooks: Yes, I have worn many hats. Broadway, television. I’m a singer, songwriter, motivational speaker. I’m an author. Very, very glad to be able to do a lot of different things in the entertainment business. None of them is particularly more special than the other, but the main thing is that I’m able to be an inspiration and I try to put inspiration into anything that I’m going to create, any art medium that I’m going to be a part of. I make sure that it is something that will be inspirational and uplifting for people. That’s how I make my choices of even participating in anything that’s coming across my table. Probably the most personal is songwriting, because that is something that is my own experience as opposed to acting, which is someone else’s words per se. But when I song write, these are my experiences, my words put to paper, and puts a melody that people can be inspired by. And it’s more of an authentic version of me, a creative version of me. And it’s probably my favorite medium out of all of the things that I do, along with the motivational speaking and life coaching, because it’s all about helping people.
Growing up in OC, what were your favorite “hot spots” or things to do in the area?
Brooks: I went to Los Alamitos High school, which OCSA resided in. When I went to OCSA, it was not a separate school, so it was fun to be a part of the OCSA program, as much fun as it was being a part of the things that went on at Los Alamitos High School. I had many different friends that did different things. I enjoyed that personally. I know it’s different now, but we always went to Volcano Burger right across the street. That’s a famous iconic place. We always went to claim jumper on Los Alamitos Boulevard. It’s actually not there (anymore). Anytime we could go to a Denny’s, we went to a Denny’s. Second Street in Long Beach was a great place to hang out. Bolsa Chica beach, we would go there. So those were a few places that I remember loving when I was younger in Orange County. Now I live in Los Angeles, but I go down to the OC a lot because my parents still live down there.
How did attending the Orange County School of Arts (OCSA) play a role in your career?
Brooks: OCSA played a huge role in my career… I came to OCSA in my sophomore year. And it just afforded me a sneak peek into what I’m doing now because I was just singing. I just wanted to win a Grammy and sing and get a record deal. That’s all I cared about. And then OCSA afforded me the opportunity to learn the craft of acting and dancing and musical theater and storytelling, which even today really helps me communicate as a singer. It’s important not just to rely on your talent and your voice, but also the skill of communicating what you want people to feel from what you’re doing. And OCSA really brought that out. I was really, really shy. So OCSA helped me with coming out of my shell and interacting with other mediums that I would have never thought. I never thought I would be on Broadway dancing. But OCSA does make those dreams a reality. The dreams that we dream and some of the dreams that I had never even thought of. And that was a great place to explore.
What inspired you to get into musical theater?
Brooks: I would say that OCSA was definitely an inspiration for me to get into musical theater because I wasn’t really thinking about the theater aspect. I also would say seeing ‘Once On This Island’ and seeing a play called ‘Sarafina!’ really, really inspired me as an African American actor, singer as a child. I needed to see people on stage that looked like me. When I saw ‘Once On This Island,’ I saw myself and I said, ‘I could do this.’ There was something for me; before that I really hadn’t known if there was a possibility for someone that looks like me to be on stage and what that would look like. So those were pivotal musicals for me. And thank god that in OCSA, I had the opportunity to play many characters that were not necessarily black. And even today I have a great representation that always looks for that diversity where the character may or may not be African American and may still fit my personality and my skill… and casting now is very, very diverse and looks beyond that now, which is really, really exciting.
Musical theater just became a hybrid of communicating the song in a theatrical way, in a bigger way. Which is why I love live theater, live performing. As much as I love TV and film, there’s nothing like that live energy of a crowd; feeding what you’re giving them and feeling it. Being able to feel that and making that really authentic and in the moment. Because TV and film is a little bit more technical than live theaters.
What does it mean to you to return to your alum OCSA to perform?
Brooks: OCSA had a great, great impact on me in becoming a musical theater performer today. So it means a lot to go back to OCSA to inspire the generation that’s there and to be a face for minorities that go to OCSA now too, so they could see someone that maybe looks like them to encourage them. Sometimes young people really want to see people who are really doing it and hear their experiences. Because there is the school aspect of what they can expect. But when someone’s actually gone through the rejection and is enduring the business — it’s really great that I can answer questions or just shine a more real light on what happens and what to expect and also what success really looks like, and trying to define that for yourself cause it looks different for so many different people; and how to put that on yourself and really find the joy in what you’re doing. So being able to perform with the students is a great way to rub shoulders and show them the possibilities and to kind of remind me where I came from as well.
What will the audience experience at the OCSA show?
Brooks: The audience for this show is going to expect a Motown joyful celebration of that music from the 60s. The music that is nostalgic for everybody. And I know that firsthand by being in ‘The Temptations’ movie; Motown’s pretty much my legacy.
What has been the most iconic moment in your career? How did this moment impact your career?
Brooks: Being able to be a part of that mini series, which is probably the most iconic thing that I’ve ever done because it’s the most I’m most recognized for (playing Eddie Kendricks in the Emmy Award-winning series). And I’m, I’m very proud of it. All over the world, people have seen this film and I’ve been accepted by those singers from Motown. Being able to work with a lot of those singers and even the family of Eddie Kendricks and being able to be accepted by them has been incredible. So that’s probably the most iconic thing. And I would say the reason is because I was young when I got that part and I had no resume. And every time I think I can’t do something or it’s too hard or I want to give up, I’m always reminded of that extraordinary opportunity that kind of just fell on my lap. So anything is possible and ‘The Temptations’ represents that for me, even today.
What advice would you give to those pursuing arts and entertainment?
Brooks: The advice that I would give to young people is to just investigate what makes you happy and what makes you whole and try to be a whole person, before you are an incredible performer. So my advice would be that if this is something that you want to do, make it what you do and not who you are. And also don’t let anybody define what success looks like for you. Be open to change and grow. And really be careful of the people that are around you; (make sure) that they are positive influences on you. And as you move up and try to decipher what you’re going to do in your career, that you have people that are invested in you and that love you and support you for you; not necessarily for what you’re going to be or what you’re going to become. And just to see the realistic; make sure that it’s realistic for you. Do you have not just the talent but the faith and the endurance, the perseverance, and the strength to get knocked down and then get back up again?
What do you want people to know about you and your career?
Brooks: I want people to know about my career is all my talents are God-given and I am just a servant to try to use the gifts that I’ve been given to support and uplift people. I’m very passionate about my music and what I’m doing and people can listen to my music. I’m on iTunes and they can listen to music there. They can buy my books ‘Something Good On the Table’ on Amazon.com for inspiration there. And they can follow me on Instagram or Facebook if they want to just follow me, because I do answer questions and interact with my fans on social media. I just want people to know that I’m authentic. Kind of what you see is what you get. And that’s really important to me.
Orange County School of the Arts’ Season Premiere 2019 feat. alumnus Terron Brooks
Where: Balboa Bay Resort, 1221 West Coast Highway, Newport Beach
When: Saturday, September 7. 5:30 p.m. Cocktail Reception; 6:15 p.m. Dinner and Performance
How much: Table sponsorships with premium seating for 10 guests are available for $3,000. To sponsor or syndicate a table, please contact Elizabeth McKibbin at Elizabeth.McKibbin@ocsarts.net or (714) 560-0900 ext. 5531. Individual tickets go on sale August 1, and can be purchased for $250 each at www.ocsarts.net/SeasonPremiere.