Teen actor Brandon Brooks has the kind of track record with auditions that established performers would kill for. Since he started acting four years ago, the 16-year-old has tried out for 11 parts. He has gotten 10 of them, from Young Max, the obedient pooch with the strange master in “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” to bratty antagonist Grand Duke Wilfred in “Dr. Seuss’ The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins.”
“Lucky, I guess,” he said last week to explain his success.
Brooks’ latest role is Jack, the orphan who becomes an aide to an effigy come to life in “The Scarecrow and His Servant,” which premiered Friday at the Children’s Theatre in Minneapolis. The show is adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher from Philip Pullman’s award-winning 2004 book and is directed by Peter Brosius.
“I can’t say enough about Brandon,” said Brosius, who has directed Brooks in several shows. “I think there was one season where I think he was in every single show we did. He has gorgeous timing, incredibly emotional access, and he’s a smart improviser who’s able to make adjustments. Watching him next to a veteran like Dean Holt, you would think he was an old vaudevillian.”
Brooks’ parents knew he was special early on. He displayed an aptitude for reading and comprehension that was beyond his years. And he was great at memorization.
“He was so far ahead of his peers we decided to home-school him,” said Bridget Brooks, his mother. “He’s always been just a clever, older-than-his age kid with an advanced sense of humor.” Brandon and his sister, Delaney, 10, have never attended regular schools. The family lives in Maple Grove, where Bridget Brooks works in the home tending to the educational and other needs of her family. Ron Brooks, the husband and father, works as a network security engineer for a major bank.
Brandon is an admitted introvert who throws himself passionately into a number of things. He plays piano, and has for five years, but that’s mostly for relaxation. He tried baseball, but that didn’t take.
“I didn’t have the athletic skills,” he said. Then, on Christmas morning four years ago, he announced that he wanted to take a drama class. His mother looked up Stages Theatre Company in Hopkins and found an audition. Brooks, who had never acted or taken any classes before, went in for “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing.” He got the lead role of Peter Hatcher.
“He came in and he was so present with me and so articulate,” director Jon Ferguson said. “At that time, he had the lovely quality of a kid who was not always included, which was perfect for Peter. He was able to deliver the text in the proper emotional rhythm.”
Since then, the parts have come one after another. Brooks, in fact, has had the schedule of a full-time actor for his years onstage.
“He’s a clever little one, that Brandon,” said Children’s Theatre actor Autumn Ness, who said Brandon has become a valued “little brother.” “It has been fun to watch him grow up onstage with us.”
While he juggles roles, Brooks also is able to stay on top of his classwork. An honor student, he is a junior in the Minnesota Virtual Academy, an online school that gives him the flexibility to pursue his dreams.
“I’ve always had a good memory, and I hope to use that as I become an adult actor,” he said. Brooks is applying for acting conservatories for college. He will go to Chicago for a combined audition soon. He also will look at the Guthrie Theater/University of Minnesota BFA program.
“I just want to be able to do it for a living,” he said. “It’s fun to work with people you idolize and to grow. This is not something I planned, but I’m all in.”
His parents, who drive thousands of miles a year and adjust their own schedules to support his pursuits, are pleased with the maturity and passion of their son.
“What impresses me is his dedication,” said Ron Brooks, who works flexible hours so that he can drop off and pick up his son at rehearsals and performances. “As a parent all you do is expose your kids to things and hope that something strikes their fancy. Brandon has taken us on a fantastic ride.”