‘Setting the Stage’ at the Gordon Center


The Gordon Center for Creative and Performing Arts puts out the welcome mat for a Colby and community open house

The Gordon Center for Creative and Performing Arts welcomes the entire community to its open house this Friday and Saturday. (Photo by Gabe Souza)
By Bob Keyes
September 12, 2023

Teresa McKinney, the Diamond Family Director of the Arts, hopes that students, faculty, and members of the community who enter the Gordon Center for Creative and Performing Arts feel a sense of welcome that activates the creative energy within.

Most of all, she wants the Gordon Center to be a space of imaginative possibility. “It will be a dynamic space where students, artists, and scholars can convene and create. We want people to know that access to the arts isn’t outside their reach,” McKinney said.

“When students enter the space, we want them to experience the creative and performing arts at a deeper level. We want them to feel welcome. So—welcome to this new, innovative space, where students can engage in creative exploration. It is a space that will be dynamic and welcoming to all.”

The welcome mat goes out this weekend when the Gordon Center for Creative and Performing Arts hosts a campus and community open house with events on Friday and Saturday. The building, named in honor of lead donor and Life Trustee Michael Gordon ’66, has opened gradually since the start of the academic term, first to faculty and students and now to the larger community with two days of free public events that highlight the flexibility and possibility of the new space.

This week’s activities will be followed by the building’s grand opening, which will happen Oct. 19 and continue through Homecoming Weekend.

The newly opened Gordon Center for the Performing Arts is designed for students and visitors to feel a sense of welcome that activates the creative energy within. (Photo by Gabe Souza)

One aspect of the Gordon Center that people may notice when they enter the building is the lack of a box office. Technology and electronic ticketing have rendered the traditional box office obsolete, so there are no physical barriers to entry. 

Then again, the Gordon Center is an academic building first and foremost. It features performance spaces that are designed to engage the public with exceptional acoustics and comforts, but the heart and soul of the building are the classrooms, studios, and incubator labs that encourage creativity and collaboration. The largest academic building project in Colby’s history, the Gordon Center is the new home of the departments of Music, Cinema Studies, and Performance, Theater, and Dance. It includes innovative and flexible spaces for teaching, performing, and experimentation across artistic disciplines.

The weekend at hand is all about introducing the space and its potential.

Liz Lerman, a MacArthur “genuis grant” winner and a choreographer, performer, writer, teacher, and speaker, will be in residence at Colby Tuesday to Saturday and will co-host a community workshop and take part in conversation about her community-based work. (Photo by Christine Johnson)

Setting the stage

“This weekend we are welcoming the campus and community to the Gordon Center and setting the stage and setting the tone,” said Tyler French, associate director of artistic planning and community engagement for the Arts Office. “The artists we are featuring exemplify many different aspects we want to promote at Colby Arts, including civic and community engagement, interdisciplinary work, and arts and activism. All the work is boundary pushing, innovative, and interdisciplinary.”

Matthew Cumbie, visiting assistant professor of performance, theater, and dance, will be among the very first to test the flexibility of the space, as both a professor and performer. He described this as “an exciting time at Colby” with the Gordon Center representing new possibilities and potential for students, faculty, and the wider community. “It’s really about beginnings. It’s the beginning of a brand-new facility and a brand-new home for the arts in Waterville,” he said.

This weekend’s activities include building tours, performances of works in process by Colby artists, and performances, conversations, and mini-residencies by nationally recognized artists. Those include MacArthur “genius grant” winner Liz Lerman, a choreographer, performer, writer, teacher, and speaker who will be in residence Tuesday to Saturday and will co-host a community workshop with Cumbie at 4:30 p.m. Saturday in the Gordon Center’s Studio 3. As part of her residency, Lerman will also join Cumbie for a conversation about her community-based work, and show some video, at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Greene Block + Studios in downtown Waterville. All are welcome to attend for free and encouraged to RSVP at purplepass.com under the search term “Colby Arts.”

Boundary-breaking theater artist Kristina Wong, who is both a Doris Duke Artist Award winner and Guggenheim Fellow, as well as a Pulitzer Prize finalist, will perform at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Studio 1. French has followed Wong’s career for many years, first becoming intrigued when he learned about her piece Kristina Wong for Public Office, her real-life satire about her successful adventure in local politics in Los Angeles, where she serves on a neighborhood council. “The way she weaves together storytelling and performance—and humor—while dealing with weighty subjects and connecting them to the real world is really interesting,” French said.

Kristina Wong, a boundary-breaking theater artist, will perform at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the Gordon Center’s Studio 1. Wong is both a Doris Duke Artist Award winner and Guggenheim Fellow, as well as a Pulitzer Prize finalist.

The Warp Trio, a “genre-obliterating” classical music ensemble, will perform a program titled Rhapsody at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Studio 1, joined by vocalist Raina Sokolov-Gonzalez and New York City-based modern dancer Emily Haughton. They will present a program rooted in jazz and R&B.

Featuring Colby artists

Lyons Arts Lab Director and Associate Professor of Performance, Theater, and Dance Annie Kloppenberg will introduce and moderate a demonstration and discussion about works in process by Colby artists from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Friday in Studio 1. Cumbie and a team of collaborators of students, faculty, staff, and community members will feature vignettes from the dance-theater piece Of This Place, which will premiere at the Gordon Center in February 2024. Cumbie described Of This Place as an “origin piece,” part reflecting on origin stories of Colby and Waterville, part reflecting on origin stories of individuals in our community and including as many people from campus and community life as possible.

Arisa White, associate professor of English, will present a snippet of her work-in-process, Post Pardon: The Opera. White wrote the libretto for the piece and brought her collaborators to Waterville this summer to further develop it. Some of them will return to showcase its evolution. The Gordon Center will also host the premiere for Post Pardon: The Opera in spring 2025. 

After the demonstrations, White and Cumbie will be in conversation with their collaborators about their work and Colby’s role in its development.

Matthew Cumbie, visiting assistant professor of performance, theater and dance, works with performers on the community-based performance project titled Of This Place, snippets of which will be shown during this weekend’s open house. (Photo by Ashley L. Conti)

Cumbie has a unique perspective on the Gordon Center and its development. At Kloppenberg’s invitation, he first came to Colby in 2017 as a visiting artist to talk about and lay the foundation for what would become Of This Place. 

During that visit, he also heard nascent talk about what would become the Gordon Center. To now serve as a visiting assistant professor at Colby as the Gordon Center comes online is both exciting and exhilarating, he said.

“One of the things that drew me to Colby was the commitment to civic engagement. I believe the arts should play an important role in how we imagine, explore, and practice civic engagement. Coupled with the exciting opportunities to work collaboratively across disciplines, this new building is one visible and tangible acknowledgment of the central role the arts can have in civic and campus life at Colby. It’s all about exploration and experimentation,” he said.

It’s also about finding our way in the world. The arts offer a way forward during uncertain times because they connect us in humanistic ways.

“We are living at a time when things move with speed,” Cumbie said. “We don’t always know what is going to happen. The arts can give us tools and ways to be OK and grapple with not knowing. And I think that is important to remember as we move into a new building, a new year, and a new moment in time here in Waterville. I think we are all excited to test our sea legs and see what kind of stride we can hit together.”