BMCC Contingent Garners Honors at Kennedy Center Theatre Festival

January 30, 2020

A group of 13 Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC/CUNY) students led by Theater Professor Charles Burks attended the Region 2 Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, also known as “Festival 52,” January 14 through 18 at the University of Maryland in College Park, Maryland — and garnered honors as finalists and semi-finalists in many categories.

“BMCC is killing it!” said Professor Burks, on their return. “The Kennedy Center Theater Festival is like the ‘theater Olympics.’ We were a small representation compared to other schools but earned a lot of recognition.”

The students and recent BMCC alumni who attended the festival include Jeffrey Archelus and Naeli Charles, who qualified for the Irene Ryan Acting Competition semifinals; Maryann Ceron, who presented an original piece for the festival’s monologue slam; Maya Faye Gordon, who was a top-three finalist for the Musical Theatre Intensive Competition; James Jones, who was selected to perform in the festival’s cabaret competition and Lexi Ramos, who won the Kennedy Center Heart of the Art Award for best makeup design, as well as Sadi BimwalaAinna Cuizon, Moriah Glover, Michael Martines, Alexis Natalie, Dianna Polite Warren and Dawn Ressy.

Students are energized by “vast potential of theatre”

The Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival is a conference experience over four and a half days, full of workshops, invited productions, special events, auditions and programs in every aspect of theatre from acting to design to scholarship, explains Bill Gillett, chair of the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival, Region II, and associate professor and chair of Theatre, Dance and AV production at Howard Community College in Columbia, Maryland.

“BMCC students participated in workshops, attended panels, and were able to meet and interact with students and faculty from 2-year and 4-year colleges from around the mid-Atlantic region,” says Gillett. “As a faculty member of another 2-year college in the region, I find that not only is the festival an opportunity for my students to learn and grow through interactions not possible within the confines of my campus, but as a result of attending, the students are energized by exposure to the vast potential of theatre. They bring this energy back to their college, focusing their efforts towards future growth and fostering a greater commitment to their programs of study. The festival reveals the greater community of theatre arts, and inspires students to what they could do next.”

In addition to joining a larger theatre community, the BMCC contingent was prepared for and mentored at the festival by Professor Burks, who also volunteered as observer for the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship Competition and participated on the panel, “Race, Equity and Inclusion: The Public Narrative.”

Building on decades of experience as a performer, director and writer — his original musical, To Catch a Fox, a hip-hop retelling of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrewfeatured at the BMCC Tribeca Performing Arts Center — Burks also led a well-attended Hip Hop Shakespeare and Adaptation Workshop at the festival.

An opportunity for networking and building skills

What students brought back from the Region 2 Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival varies from practical experience to inspiration.

Sadi Bimwala (Theatre, ’09), said attending the festival helped him “tackle scenes differently, and gave me ideas on how to add in transitions. When I was taking part in the competition, I noticed a lot of smooth transitions in other people’s monologues.”

Bimwala, who is both a writer and actor, says he is comfortable in roles ranging from “intense to comedic.” He plans to start his bachelor’s degree in 2021 and meanwhile will continue to hone his craft. “I was so happy for my fellow classmates who placed as finalists in the festival competitions,” he said. “We all learned a lot.”

Lexi Ramos, who earned an associate degree in Theatre at BMCC and is now attending the City College of New York, CUNY, says the festival provided a setting for both learning and networking.

“I was able to make contact and exchange numbers and information about internships so that was really interesting,” says Ramos. “I took festival workshops including a spear-fighting workshop, and I did the makeup for that one.”

Having won the Kennedy Center Heart of the Art Award for best makeup design, Ramos says she is interested in pursuing a career doing theatrical or television makeup. “One of my specialties is special affects makeup. For the festival competition I did a lot of research on how to prepare a person’s face to make it look burnt. I looked at so many scar tissue injuries online. I wanted it to look as real as possible.”

The festival, which took place at the College Park campus of the University of Maryland, gave the BMCC contingent a close-up look at a four-year campus outside New York City. “It was fun,” says Ramos, who grew up in East Harlem. “I got lost on campus a few times. It’s huge.”

She attributes her start in theatre to a class she took at BMCC, when she was working on her associate degree. “It was a Makeup I, practicum class, and I learned there are so many crazy different kinds of makeup. I enjoyed doing it. I found I had a hidden talent.”



  • Thirteen BMCC students and recent alumni attend Region 2 Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, January 14 through 18 at the University of Maryland
  • They emerge as finalists and semi-finalists in cabaret, makeup design, acting and other categories
  • Contingent is mentored by Theater Professor Charles Burks, who presents workshop on adapting Shakespeare plays into hip hop versions

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