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LACC Theatre Academy Wins Renowned Kennedy Center Awards

In early February, the Theatre Academy’s production of Our Lady of 121st Street travelled to St. George, Utah to perform in the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival National Awards. Last week, the Kennedy Center announced that the LACC production had walked away with seven national awards!

Over 18,000 students from 600 colleges across the nation competed in 17 categories in the annual competition. This is the fifth year in a row the LACC Theatre Academy has won one of the most prestigious awards of the festival: Distinguished Performance and Production Ensemble. In addition, LACC Theatre Academy alumnus William Knight, a graduate from LACC’s Theatre Academy in 1960, won an award for his performance, as a guest artist-in-residence.

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The National Awards Ceremony for the KCACTF will be held on Saturday, April 18 in Washington, D.C. Student Martel Higgins, winner of the Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role, will be in attendance to represent the LACC Theatre Academy and accept all seven awards.

Department chair, Leslie Ferreira stated, “I want to thank the cast and crew–and all of the faculty and staff. In addition, we owe a big thanks to the Administration and the Los Angeles City College Foundation for their support. Everyone shares in these awards. It was another strong showing for the Theatre Academy, and we should all be proud of this accomplishment and recognition”.

The full list of the LACC awards are as follows:

Distinguished Costume Design:
Zeynep Fisenk
Distinguished Performance of an Actress in a Supporting Role:
Tamisha Estrada and Christelle Baguidy
Distinguished Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role:
Ali Ahmad
Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role:
Martel Higgins
Distinguished Performance of a Guest Artist-in-Residence:
LACC Alumnus William Knight
Distinguished Performance and Production Ensembles
LACC Theatre Academy

Many of the Theatre Academy students are supported by the LACC Foundation Norman Mennes Scholarship. Norman Mennes, a well-loved former Chair of the Academy donated his estate upon his passing to help LACC theatre students with scholarships and support. Below are the stories of two Mennes Scholarships awardees and their LACC journey.

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Christelle Baguidy

Christelle Baguidy moved to Florida from her home in Haiti when she was just six years old. At her new school in the U.S., she was introduced to theater and immediately fell in love; however, it wasn’t until her senior year that Christelle finally gathered the courage to audition for a play and landed her first role. She remembered the first moment she stepped onto stage in front of an audience and felt “nourishment”. From that point on, Christelle knew she was where she belonged.

Making the decision to come to Los Angeles to purse her dream of acting was a tough decision for Christelle. Both of her parents received little more than a grade school education, working from a young age to provide for the overall family. Her parents chose to move to the United States in order for Christelle and her five siblings to receive a quality education and a better life, both working a variety of jobs to make ends meet. However, when Christelle made her intentions known that she wanted to purse acting, her parents admired Christelle’s passion and gave their blessing for her to purse her dream.

The dream did not come easy. After years of looking for work, Christelle finally found LACC, but shortly after her living situation fell through and Christelle found herself homeless and couch surfing. Luckily, after finding an apartment in North Hollywood, Christelle received the Mennes Scholarship through the LACC Foundation. The scholarship funds helped provide two months’ rent, which was vital in allowing her to get back on her feet and concentrate on school.

Christelle credits her role as Nasty Norga in Our Lady of 121st Street as her breakthrough, and says she was able to draw from her struggles in Los Angeles to connect with her character. Christelle said, “I saw and understood the pain she was going through. I was able to not only play Nasty Norga as the playwright had written, but also bring out a more personal side to her through my own experiences.”

After its run at LACC, the cast performed at the Odyssey Theatre. Christelle’s mother, who has never travelled outside of Haiti and Florida before, flew to Los Angeles to finally see her daughter perform on stage. “It was an incredible night for the both of us” Christelle said.

Christelle’s performance of Nasty Norga at the Kennedy Center competition earned her a spot to audition for Next Step, a program that provides scholarships for summer training programs, and was awarded a spot. The summer, Christelle will be spending the month of July in Turin, Italy studying Commedia dell’Arte, Italian slap-stick, in a program sponsored by California State University.

Currently, Christelle has a commercial agent and has booked two commercials. Her goal is to find a theatrical agent and pursue her career on stage and screen. However, she also intends to continue learning and perfecting her craft every step of the way.

Christelle credits Department Chair Leslie Ferreira for believing in her, when she didn’t yet believe in herself. “He opened me up, both as a person and an actor. He also helped me analyze each character to better understand them; I have realized his genius in directing.” Christelle also thanks Professor Jennifer Braintree for helping her become a more authentic performer. “I am so grateful for LACC and my professors. Before coming here, I had no formal training. Everything I know as a performer is because of LACC”.

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Ali Ahmed

The youngest of 12 children, Ali grew up in a military family and has moved ten times in twenty years, mostly around Southern California and Illinois. While Ali had always enjoyed singing and dancing, he instead focused on sports and became a track star in high school. However, after taking a required acting course, Ali says his life plan changed forever. After graduating from High School in Riverside, California, he was accepted in the CAL Arts summer program.

As part of the program students go to 2-3 performances throughout Los Angeles each week. One of those performances was Anton’s Uncle, produced and performed by LACC’s Theatre Academy. He was so moved by the quality of the production that he asked a LACC faculty member about the school. The following week Ali auditioned, and that fall began his studies as a member of LACC’s Theatre Academy.

Last year, Ali was awarded the Norman Mennes Scholarship. The scholarship funds helped him pay his living expenses while adhering to the intense Theatre Academy schedule, which often keeps him in class from 10am to 9pm six days a week. Despite his packed schedule, Ali says he has learned something “deep and profound” from all his LACC professors, and credits his role LACC’s production of 1984 as the performance that helped him grow the most as an actor, since he never left the stage during the entire play. “It was the greatest emotional and physical arch I have ever experienced while performing, I had such a massive load on my shoulders for the entire performance. It was after this that I realized that I could turn my passion into a career.”

Ali will be graduating from LACC this June and plans to spend the summer studying in New York City and then continue on to England for additional acting training.

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One Response to “LACC Theatre Academy Wins Renowned Kennedy Center Awards”

  1. Warren Obluck says:

    As someone who studied with and performed under Norman Mennes at the old Poly High on Washington Avenue and later graduated from LACC (in journalism), I know how proud he would be of Christine and Ali — and all the other students in the Drama Academy. We had a marvelous drama department in those days headed by the estimable Jerry Blunt. It’s inspiring to realize that the tradition continues, perhaps even stronger, today. All the best to everyone who competed in St. George. Break a leg! Warren Obluck