Lost Colony (play) - Longest-running Symphonic Outdoor Drama

Longest-running Symphonic Outdoor Drama

Meant only to last for one season, The Lost Colony has become a North Carolina tradition, produced for over four million visitors since 1937.

On July 4, 1937, The Lost Colony first opened. The drama underwent many conceptions before July 1937. First, there was as an annual picnic event, then a silent film, a pageant and finally a symphonic outdoor drama.

In the early 20th century, a group was formed to create a “pageant” of the story — an oratorio of the events using pantomime, music, and narration. W.O. Sounders, editor of the Elizabeth City Independent was a passionate proponent of these plans. But due to the national financial depression, the plans remained dormant until Roanoke Island native and Dare County School Superintendent Mabel Evans Jones awakened interest with a 1921 silent film of the historic events that she conceived, wrote and produced, and in which she starred. The finished film toured across North Carolina. It was the first silent film produced in the state.

After her successful film, Jones and other community leaders then create a dramatic pageant based on her film script. On Virginia Dare’s birthday in 1925 a lost colony pageant was performed “sound side” against the natural backdrop of the Roanoke Sound.

The “pageant” was very successful and organizers sought to build on their achievement in their preparations for the 350th anniversary of Virginia Dare’s birth. They approached North Carolina playwright Paul Green about developing a new pageant script.

Green envisioned a combination of music, dialogue, and dance that he called “symphonic drama.” Blending history with common themes, he gave voice to the lost colonists by creating a drama sympathetic to common ideals of freedom, struggle and perseverance—guiding themes for a nation in the grips of the Great Depression.

Using Works Progress Administration (WPA) funds, English-born architect Albert Quentin “Skipper” Bell began construction of the large-scale set with construction assistance from the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Bell had previously designed a log-structured village on the grounds of Fort Raleigh.

The drama’s first Director, Samuel Selden, was one of Green's associates in the UNC Playmakers of Chapel Hill.

WPA funds were used for salaries as part of a Theatre Works initiative to assist out-of-work Broadway actors from New York City. These talented performers were hired to fill the major roles along with the playmakers, Roanoke Islanders, and the CCC members.

Roanoke Island and the Outer Banks of North Carolina experienced a boom in tourism: hotels, motels and restaurants thrived despite the bleak economy. The village of Manteo was changed: the town’s streets were named from characters in the drama.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt saw the production on August 18 of that year and remarked, "We do not know the fate of Virginia Dare or the First Colony. We do know, however, that the story of America is largely a record of that spirit of adventure."

Many local Roanoke Islanders and North Carolinians have played a part in the drama. Among them, Manteo-born Sen. Marc Basnight (Dem., N.C.) who performed as a colonist child, Marjalene Thomas who first performed with the show in 1938 and throughout the years played every female role — with the exception of one, and Robert Midgette (The Lost Colony’s current fight director) who has been with the show 38 years. Actor Andy Griffith, who performed at Waterside Theatre from 1947 to 1953, liked Manteo so much he decided to live there permanently.

The production has served as a training ground for hundreds of alumni over the decades. Like Andy Griffith, notable actors Leon Rippy, Chris Elliott, Eileen Fulton, Terrence Mann and R.G. Armstrong got their stage legs at the Waterside Theatre. Academy Award-Winner Ted Tally spent a summer in the production long before winning top honors for his screenplay of Silence of the Lambs. His niece appeared in the 2008 production.

The current production is led by an artistic team, several of whom credit The Lost Colony for their own beginnings. Five-time Tony Award-winning Production Designer William Ivey Long and Emmy-nominated Executive Director/Producer Carl V. Curnutte III began their artistic careers with the show. Robert C. Richmond, the production’s current director staged William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing for a special reception at the White House for President George W. Bush.

The drama is performed nightly June–August at 8:00 pm Monday-Saturday.

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Famous quotes containing the words drama and/or outdoor:

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