Chris Medina has heard all the jokes about '80s hip-hop artist Tone Loc's chart-topper. He still relishes them.
So when the 29-year-old artistic director, actor and CIVA Charter High School ASL teacher stepped into a musty storage space filled with boxes and costumes to try to envision a black box theater, his first thought was, "Man, funky little space. I love it." And before long, Funky Little Theater Company made the leap from Medina's imagination to flesh-and-blood actors in an honest-to-god theater on North Hancock Avenue, near the Colorado Springs Senior Center.
Medina has done his homework, saving up and talking to others who succeeded in their own start-ups. And though the likes of TheatreWorks, THEATREdART, Springs Ensemble Theater and Star Bar Players already populate this city of half a million people, Medina — who's acted with most of the above, in addition to running the biannual 24SEVEN 24-hour theater project — intends to carve his own niche.
"I want to find a way to bridge the gap between community theater and professional theater," he says.
With that in mind, he plans to recruit high school students as interns and assistants to the professionals of the company, introducing them to the culture and business of theater. (He works closely with the theater program at District 11's CIVA charter school, which focuses on the performing arts.) The students will learn the craft at the elbows of stage managers, sound technicians and lighting designers.
While high school theater has its merits, there's no denying that its directors tend to play it safe, conscious of the concerns of parents and administrators. Medina's plan — which includes one annual show cast entirely with high schoolers — will give students the opportunity to try something darker and more contemporary.
"[It's] not that Neil Simon and Shakespeare are not challenging," Medina says, "but I want to stretch [students] outside of their comfort zone, giving them something a little more contemporary or relatable."
The high school outreach program is only one part of Medina's efforts to bridge gaps. He also wants to make theater an inclusive experience that encourages conversations with the audience.
So it's not enough that FLTC's first production, Neil LaBute's In a Dark Dark House, is a Colorado premiere, or that it takes on the very "anti-summer" topic of cyclical sexual abuse and childhood trauma, with two adult brothers excavating their past. ("Everyone's like, 'Why would you want to do that for your first show?'" he says. "It's heartwarming in a weird way. It's like watching slasher flicks on Valentine's Day.") To deepen the theatergoing experience, Medina has asked TESSA, a local agency providing help to victims of domestic and sexual abuse, to lead a panel with the actors and audience after the show.
"I think [we're] showing that we're serious and we're not afraid of ... a production as challenging as this is," Medina says. "... I have high hopes that I'm not 100 percent crazy."