Dominic Colon makes movies, runs a theater troupe and has appeared on Third Watch, Malcolm in the Middle and Law & Order.
Now Colon is “Manny Spamboni,” a tech-savvy “Prankster” on public television’s updated children’s series, The Electric Company. Wacky and educational, The Electric Company premiers in its new, hip hop incarnation Friday, January 23. The original series, which featured Morgan Freeman and Bill Cosby, ran 1971-1977.
But Colon owes his success to the Kips Bay Boys & Girls Club in Castle Hill, where his sister took ballet. Although Colon was a swimmer, he longed to twirl and shake. He watched the girls dance jealously.
One day, his sister’s ballet teacher asked Colon to join. He never looked back.
“I really enjoyed it,” Colon said. “That teacher changed my life.”
Colon auditioned for a Kips Bay musical, Annie. More musicals followed. He played the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz. Colon emerged from Kips Bay a talented actor. Like singer Jennifer Lopez and actress Kerry Washington, he blossomed as a member of the Kips Bay performing arts program.
“That Boys & Girls Club means the world to me,” said Colon, who still lives in the Bronx. “Growing up, it was my second home.”
Colon was accepted by New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. The only Latino in his NYU studio, Colon hit on a second passion – education.
“NYU was rough because I didn’t come from privilege,” said Colon. “But I learned so much technique-wise, and I discovered teaching.”
Colon has visited New York City high schools, hospitals and detention centers to teach acting and playwriting. He spent time at Satellite Academy’s Bronx campus and South Bronx High School.
Colon also directs a youth theater company in Brooklyn. , Teatro El Puente includes a handful of Bronx students. They perform sketches about HIV, drug abuse, relationships and violence.
Typecast as a thug, Colon was thrilled to play a mentally challenged character for the award-winning On the Outs in 2004. The film follows three young women through Jersey City’s juvenile justice system.
“On the Outs spoke to me because I’ve taught in juvenile detention centers,” Colon said. “You see these glamorized Hollywood versions of urban America, portraying city kids as monsters. But no one is born to sell drugs or carry a gun.”
Colon enjoyed making On the Outs because he found the film inspiring. That’s why he’s excited about The Electric Company, too.
Colon’s PBS character in a mischievous genius. He annoys the show’s four reading heroes, who form The Electric Company.
“We cast Dominic because he’s hilarious,” said Karen Fowler, The Electric Company’s producer. “He inhabits this ridiculous villain character, but he’s not scary or corny.
The Electric Company is a literacy show. A favorite with children during the 1970s, it targets kids too old for Sesame Street. When Freeman and Cosby were involved, The Electric Company’s tagline was “Heyyy, you guys!”
The 2009 version will introduce special effects and guest star Whoopi Goldberg, Tiki Barber, Common, Wyclef Jean, Sean Kingston, Ne-Yo, Jimmy Fallon and Mario. It was filmed in 2008, on The Lower Eastside and in Washington Heights.
“Kids will like the show because we have authentic people like Dominic,” Fowler said. “The Electric Company comes from the street.”
Colon didn’t watch The Electric Company as a child, but he can’t wait for a second season. Colon will watch the series this winter with his eight nephews.
“It’s a great show,” he said. “It’s loud, fast and fun. I’m excited to help young people learn how to read. I’m excited to share this with my community.”
Colon’s latest project, the HBO movie Taking Chance, debuts this month at the Sundance Film Festival and airs in February.