Though the department wasn’t founded until 1984, its roots stretch back to the earliest days of the College. Training in public speaking was part of the curriculum; rhetoric and elocution were required courses for every Colby student for more than 100 years.
The earliest recorded dramatic production was She Stoops to Conquer, a benefit for “athletic interests” directed by Instructor of Elocution and Gymnastics William Battis in 1890. Eight years later students founded the Dramatics Society, which for the next two decades produced plays for the town and campus communities with the help of drama coach Exerene Flood of Waterville.
By 1926 the Dramatics Society, under the guidance of Prof. Cecil A. Rollins’17, had become Powder & Wig, which merged with the women’s drama club, Masque, a few years later. In 1933 Rollins began to teach a workshop that sought to give students “training in the arts of the theater.” It was a very unusual course for its day because in the 1930s the applied arts were not yet regarded as a legitimate area of study.
Eugene Jellison ’49, Rollins’s successor and theater director during the 1950s, brought a new energy and creativity to theater at Colby and laid the groundwork for Irving Suss, generally regarded as the founder of the College’s modern Theater & Dance Department.
In 2000, the department substantially revised the requirements for both the major and minor, striving to meet an even balance between the theoretical and practical elements of the curriculum and to better ally itself with the rest of Colby’s degrees of study. As part of the revision, the department name was changed from Performing Arts to Theater & Dance, which more accurately reflects the courses offered.
A Theater and Dance Interdisciplinary Computation major was added in 2010, which is a stage design-based program focusing on the relationship between computation and performance scenography and the multiple applications of software technologies to stage design.