Colby Fringe Festival Returns, Front and Center


Now under the umbrella of the Arts Office, the festival represents the College’s effort to integrate the arts on campus and across the community

Visiting artist Tom Truss and Visiting Assistant Professor of Performance, Theater, and Dance Matthew Cumbie rehearse for a performance of Rewritten in 2021 at Arrowhead, the Herman Melville House, in western Massachusetts. The play, co-created by Cumbie and Truss, explores the relationship between Melville and Nathanial Hawthorne and will be presented as part of the Colby Fringe Festival.
By Bob KeyesPhotography by Roma Flowers
April 15, 2022

After a promising debut in 2019 followed by two years of pandemic-related interruptions, Colby’s Fringe Festival returns with new energy.

Originated and conceived by the Department of Performance, Theater, and Dance, the festival now falls under the umbrella of Colby’s newly established Arts Office and includes about 30 free events from April 18-30 on campus and in downtown Waterville. Colby Fringe 2022 encourages experimental artmaking in low-risk situations and includes plays and dance performances by students, faculty, and community partners, as well as movies, music, exhibitions, and other performance-related activities.

Founded in 2020 as part of College’s initiative to use the arts to spur economic development, the Arts Office, located in the Greene Block + Studios in downtown Waterville, promotes interdisciplinary collaborations on campus and across the community. The festival offers the Arts Office the opportunity to use its leverage to create a bigger event involving more people with more points of contact across the community.

“When the Department of Theater and Dance did the festival previously, it was perceived as a theater-and-dance initiative and not a Waterville-wide initiative,” said Tyler French, program manager for the Arts Office. “We are working to shift that perception and to capture all of the creative cultural work taking place at Colby and in Waterville. The goals are to extend the celebration on campus to highlight all the creative work in Waterville as a whole, with Colby and beyond Colby.”

Off campus, events will take place at the Greene Block, Head of Falls, and Railroad Square Cinema. On campus, events are scheduled in theaters, at the Colby Museum, on the lawn outside the Runnals Building, and in Lorimer Chapel, among other locations.

Fringe festivals, which occur by the hundreds across the globe, give artists the chance to create experimental and sometimes edgy work that is free of expectation. Today’s festivals share roots with the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, which began in 1947 as an alternative to the invitation-only Edinburgh International Festival. A group of artists who were not invited to the festival presented their work in non-traditional venues, and the idea stuck—and grew.

Colby’s festival evolved from the ethos of giving artists the chance to experiment with new work in non-traditional settings. The latest iteration is a natural outgrowth of the original idea, said Marjorie Gallant, associate chair and production manager of the Department of Performance, Theater, and Dance.

“We were trying to create a space where students could own projects they wanted to try out, and the fringe model was a low-risk way to work out ideas and stage them and see what comes from them,” she said. “We wanted to get out of the proscenium setting and get into different places on campus, inside and outdoors, and do things in non-traditional places.”

The festival got off to a promising start in 2019, but the pandemic forced the cancellation of the festival in 2020. It returned last year at a smaller scale. With the backing of the Arts Office, this year’s festival will be the biggest yet. For all events, the idea is to stretch and experiment, Gallant said. “It’s all in the spirit of trying things out, and maybe even failing.”

Student-artist Katherine Spence ’25 created the logo for the festival during a Jan Plan course about graphic design for the music industry. Spence came up with a graffiti-inspired look, taking her cue from the artists who tag subway cars and urban infrastructure. “Despite the modern negative connotation and the vandalism vs. art debate, I see graffiti as a form of artistic expression, similar to murals, that can unite groups of artists,” Spence said. “Colby’s Fringe Festival unites artists to ‘tag’ our campus with visual and performance art, so I wanted to connect that parallel.”

The Colby Fringe 2022 logo designed by student-artist Katherine Spence ’25.

She will also participate in the festival as a dancer, performing a self-choreographed hip-hop piece and with the Colby Dance Company at 7 p.m. April 29-30 at Strider Theater.

“I always emphasize expression and performance quality with my dances, so there’s a lot of dynamic visuals and communicative group-work nestled in the choreography,” Spence said. “We already performed this piece once in early March, and it had a largely positive crowd reception. I think the piece will look even cooler on a larger stage, and I am super excited to perform it with my team.”

Fringe will feature a range of work

Co-conceived by Colby Visiting Assistant Professor of Performance, Theater, and Dance Matthew Cumbie and visiting artist Tom Truss, the play ReWritten is a work-in-progress that weaves together dance, music, text, and other elements to reimagine what Cumbie calls “an intergenerational queer love story” about the relationship between the writers Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne. 

Based on letters between the writers, the play fills in the gaps of history and presents the relationship in the realm of lovers. In 2020, before he was hired as a visiting assistant professor and after he had begun early work on what would become ReWritten, Cumbie taught a Jan Plan course, Moving Toward Change: Dance and Civic Engagement, that utilized his skills in theater and dance. As it happened, the Colby College Museum of Art was showing work by Alex Katz around the theme of Melville’s 1851 novel, Moby-Dick.

Intrigued by the Alex Katz/Moby Dick exhibition at the museum, Cumbie mentioned his project to Elizabeth Finch, now the Lunder Chief Curator of the Colby College Museum of Art. Finch, in turn, introduced Cumbie to Katherine Stubbs, associate professor of English, who specializes in American literature and had given a talk about Melville at the museum in relation to the Katz exhibition.

Since that introduction, Stubbs, Cumbie, and Truss have become collaborators. Stubbs serves as dramaturg for ReWritten, and she and Cumbie have co-taught courses that straddle English, theater, and dance.

Visiting Assistant Professor of Performance, Theater, and Dance Matthew Cumbie rehearses for a performance of Rewritten in Herman Melville’s barn, in western Massachusetts, flanked by projections by Roma Flowers.

ReWritten is still evolving, and this year’s enhanced Fringe provides a perfect venue for the performance, said Cumbie, who stars in the performance with Truss. “Fringe felt like a real chance to showcase and share some of the interdisciplinary work and the relationships among the faculty,” he said. “Colby is what brought Katherine and I together and where we have had the chance to collaborate in other aspects of the creative process.”

ReWritten is scheduled for a performance at 7:30 p.m. April 22 at Strider Theater.

Award-winning poet Marianne Boruch, the Jennifer Jahrling Forese Writer-in-Residence, is working with students to create a devised theater piece about climate change and human indifference. This fully collaborative piece about Australia brings to life some of the characters in Boruch’s 11th poetry collection, Bestiary Dark (Copper Canyon Press, 2021). The animals struggling for survival include the bowerbird, platypus, wombat, and a roadkill emu back from the dead. Also crucial to the play: a very snarky archangel, the ancient Roman historian Pliny the Elder, and an Indigenous Australian elder.

Boruch and the Colby writers and actors will present their work—The [Outback, Roadkill, Animal Uprising, Dreamtime, END OF THE WORLD?, Kiss Your Ass Goodbye] Chronicles—at 2 p.m. April 28 in the Cellar Theater at Runnals.

Other highlights:

  • Eshani Chakrabarti ’21 has created a radio play called Dominos, available at 4 p.m. April 30 by tuning into WMGB 89.7-FM. The radio play tells the story of a boy who dies when he is struck by lightning and is told as a series of monologues by the people he encounters during his fateful day.
  • Conceptual artist Natasha Marin opens the exhibition Black Powers: I Got Black Girl Magic, And You Don’t at 6 p.m. April 30 at the Greene Block. Through the spring semester, Marin has worked with a cohort of artists, including Terri Nwanma, Jess Xing, Maimouna Cherif, Kay Wesley, Anosacha Peete-Meyers, and Samah Mohamedzein, to create an exhibition that asks questions about identity, self-perception, and what constitutes a safe and loving world.
  • In Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind (7:30 p.m. April 22-23, Page Commons Room in Cotter Union), the student ensemble Powder & Wig will attempt to perform 30 short plays in about 60 minutes.

To learn more about all events, visit