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All About Avery

August 04, 1996|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"I am a human being filled with wonder," proclaims Avery Brooks, best known to Trekkers around the world as the intelligent, compassionate Capt. Benjamin Sisko on the syndicated series "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine."

The series, set on a remote space station in the mid- to late-24th century, blasts off into its fifth season this fall. The original "Star Trek" series celebrates its 30th anniversary on Sept. 8.

"My imagination is fertile," Brooks adds. "My mind races all the time. It is fueled by curiosity and wonder about the world. It doesn't matter where I am."

That curiosity and wonder have propelled Brooks, 45, to one of the most eclectic careers of any actor working in TV today.

He holds the distinction of being the first African American to earn a master of fine arts degree in acting and directing at New Jersey's Rutgers University. He's been a tenured professor of theater at Rutgers' Mason Gross School of the Arts for the past 14 years.

Since 1982, he's toured the country in Phillip Hayes Dean's play, "Paul Robeson," receiving rave reviews for his portrayal of the famed actor-singer-political activist. And he has sung with such jazz artists as Jon Hendricks and Butch Morris.

Brooks, who starred as the mysterious "enforcer" Hawk on "Spenser: For Hire" and "A Man Called Hawk," also has been the artistic director of the National Black Arts Festival for the past three years, a prestigious biennial event celebrating Africa and African American culture. On Monday, Brooks hosts a one-hour TBS special, "The Ark of the Spirit," which highlights the music, dance and theater presentations of this year's festival, which took place from June 28 to July 8 in Atlanta and which includes excerpts from the acclaimed play "Having Our Say" along with a tribute to Louis Armstrong.

During a lunch break, the intense, eloquent Brooks sat down on an empty "Deep Space Nine" sound stage at Paramount to talk about "Star Trek," his passions and the National Black Arts Festival. He never removed his sunglasses during the 30-minute interview.

Is it difficult with your theatrical background to do a TV series, which is shot in bits and pieces and out of sequence?

There are lots of obstacles. But it is also interesting because I think in circles anyway. It wouldn't be so bad if it didn't take 14 or 15 hours to do. That is concentration. That's discipline. I come to work and do the best that I can. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn't.

****

You seem to be very passionate about your career.

If life is synonymous with passion, then yes. My life, my work, my career, it's all one thing.

Gordon Parks said you must make a choice of weapons. Choosing a weapon, what does that mean? The combination of fire, iron and steal and gunpowder in the hands of someone who is not interested in life is a dangerous thing and therefore a weapon, something to fear. A plow in someone's hand who is interested in growing and feeding their family, if not the nation, in that person's hand, that has to do with life.

My mind is a tool given by God. My voice. All of these things. How do I use it? I must be involved in a conversation with people who are interested in life saving, life giving. I am not interested anymore talking to people who are not going to talk about that. I will go on and use these things I have been given. Theater is a tool. It is a choice. A way to talk about the world. Why? I am compelled by history--my own, my people's, my nation, my world, our world--to say these things.

My primary responsibility for some time now is making sure that my children can grow. That's it. I have already done the most profound thing I will ever do or participate in and that is being a part of bringing life into the world. That's it.

****

Tell me about the National Black Arts Festival.

I have been artistic director since 1993. I said [when I started], "This is what we are going to do during my tenure here: We will examine the past. We will try to find some order for the present and then we will make some map--we will try to chart the future or learn to navigate again." It is not a theme but a focus. We can never exhaust the history in linear fashion, especially in eight disciplines in 10 days.

****

How many people participated?

I'd say we are talking about 1,500 artists. On the Saturday morning we opened the outdoor component of the festival, there were drummers from all over the world, from 18 countries, including North America natives.

The festival began in 1988. There is not another festival in this century that has lasted this long that seriously considers the presence of African people in the world. That's odd. I am not talking about showcases and concerts; I am talking about a discussion of culture, which includes everything--the mental, physical, spiritual health of a culture.

We say [it is] the National Black Arts Festival, but you cannot talk about African people without talking about the world. There is a relationship between you and I. What happens to me affects what happens to you and vice versa. It is an American festival.

****

What are your feelings about the upcoming 30th anniversary of "Star Trek"?

I am not a Trekkie [but] I am not trying to belittle it or diminish it or evade. What we know is the enormous impact in the world of this thing: That's the people speaking.

"Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. on UPN. "The Ark of the Spirit With Avery Brooks " airs Monday at 5:05 p.m. on TBS.

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