Chris Bulbulia ’10 came to Grinnell College as a Posse Foundation scholar interested in theatre. He wanted to become a professional actor, but a wealth of support and experience combined with intellectual flexibility honed at Grinnell opened up an even richer path of discovery.
Two short years after leaving Grinnell, Bulbulia had already climbed from post-graduate intern to a full-time development assistant at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. One night at the urging of a friend he journeyed across town to see Congressional Chorus perform its annual cabaret at the historic Atlas Performing Arts Center. It changed everything.
“I’d seen ballet and opera. I’d seen lots of shows at the Kennedy Center,” Bulbulia says. “But I saw this show and my jaw fell to the floor. I was like, whoa, what is this? There was such a range of genres — a cappella singing, bands and dancing, soloists and ensembles. It was a wonderful production.
“I fell in love with Congressional Chorus the first time I saw the cabaret,” Bulbulia says. “I feel very proud to be part of the organization today.”
Congressional Chorus and American Youth Chorus — its full name — is a family of five choruses devoted to American choral music. It performs a full slate of concerts and special appearances each year in Washington, D.C., including The White House and Capitol Hill occasions.
Bulbulia became a Congressional Chorus singer in 2013. He quickly transitioned to become the organization’s director of marketing, production, and development.
“We have a performance style for everyone,” Bulbulia says. “You’re not going to get the same thing every time you come to a show, which really lends to a dynamic season that people enjoy.”
Far from being overwhelmed by his multi-faceted job, Bulbulia is energized by the integration of functions he came to appreciate as a theatre major at Grinnell, as a freelance fundraiser for non-profit groups, and as an intern and employee at the Kennedy Center.
“There is a whole other side to the arts besides being a performer,” Bulbulia says. “I’ve come to understand that relationships need to be built in order to sustain organizations. This job incorporates all of the elements that allow Congressional Chorus to be healthy.”
Bulbulia grew up in Maryland and Washington, D.C. He arrived at Grinnell as a Posse scholar through the College’s partnership with the Posse Foundation in his hometown. The Posse Foundation’s model is based on the idea that a small, diverse group of talented and carefully selected students can serve as a catalyst for individual and community development. It worked especially well for Bulbulia.
“I had a great experience at Grinnell because of my Posse’s support system, and also because the Posse Foundation correctly decided that I would be a great fit for Grinnell,” he says.
Bulbulia’s activities at Grinnell included two years with the Grinnell Singers. His participation with the Student Publications and Radio Committee (SPARC) gave him insights into fundraising, allocations, and non-profit relationships.
Shortly after graduation, Bulbulia worked as an overhire stagehand in and around D.C. while “doing the struggling actor thing.” He even went to bartending school. The plan shifted, he says, when opportunities at the Kennedy Center refocused his attention on arts management.
“The arts are in need of people who can bolster the craft and provide good representation for artists themselves,” Bulbulia said. That includes helping artists make sound financial decisions and building their marketing and technical skills to assist in the creation of their best productions and performances.
Bringing people together
Bulbulia continues to work in support of community organizations such as Afromoda Dance Theater, City at Peace, D.C. Public Library’s Punk Archive, and Funk Parade. He is a member and officer in the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, which is dedicated to the principles of friendship, love, and charity.
He also manages events and partnerships for the city’s largest online music magazine, DCMusicDownload.com, which provides in-depth coverage of the local music scene and hosts major music events at prestigious venues like 9:30 Club, Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the Howard Theatre.
“I have strong commitment to community and to bringing people together through fellowship,” Bulbulia says. “That is why I’ve been a part of all these organizations — to help communities grow and enjoy life together.”