Lost Colony (play)
The Lost Colony is a historical play by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paul Green about Roanoke, the first English colony in North America. The play is based on the historical accounts of Sir Walter Raleigh's failed attempts to establish a permanent settlement in the 1580s in part of what was then the Colony of Virginia. The Lost Colony has been performed since 1937 in an outdoor theater located on the site of Sir Walter's colony on Roanoke Island in the Outer Banks region near present-day Manteo, North Carolina. The original music for the play was provided by acclaimed American composer and conductor Lamar Stringfield. As of 2012, it is the United States' second longest running historical outdoor drama, behind The Ramona Pageant.
|This section is empty. You can help by adding to it. (June 2012)|
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 new Hammond electric organ provided musical accompaniment. (By the late 1960s this particular instrument was in a local Catholic church.)
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.
Before Jamestown and Plymouth, a group of about 120 men, women and children established one of the first English settlements in the New World on Roanoke Island in 1587. Shortly after arriving in this New World, colonist Eleanor Dare, daughter of Governor John White, gave birth to Virginia Dare. The Governor's granddaughter was the first English child born in North America.
However, life on the island was difficult. Low on supplies and facing retaliation from the Native Americans they had displaced, the colonists sent Governor John White back to England in the summer of 1587 for supplies. Because of the impending war with Spain, Governor White was unable to return to Roanoke Island until 1590. When he arrived, the colony had vanished, leaving one tantalizing clue as to their whereabouts: the word "CROATOAN" carved on a post. The fate of those first colonists remains a mystery to this day and is one of America's most intriguing unsolved mysteries!
Costume shop fire
On September 11, 2007 a resident of Nags Head, North Carolina spotted a fire across the sound on Roanoke Island and called 9-11. All fire departments north of Oregon Inlet responded to find part of The Lost Colony’s Waterside Theatre in flames. The fire crews worked to control the blaze, and to save the men’s dressing room structure nearby. In spite of their efforts the maintenance shed, Irene Smart Rains Costume Shop, and a small storage building were completely destroyed. No cause has been determined.
Except for a few costumes stored at the dry cleaners and others on display at the NC Museum of History in Raleigh, the productions costumes suffered a total loss. The destroyed costumes include vintage costumes by Irene Rains in the 1940s and 1950s; all of Fred Voelpel’s costumes made in the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s, and the costumes designed by Tony award-winner William Ivey Long.
Another fire is a part of the production's past. Sixty years before on June 24, 1947, a late afternoon fire destroyed most of the theatre. However, the costumes in the 1947 disaster escaped the flames and the theatre was rebuilt in six days and resumed production that summer. American actor Andy Griffith was in the company at the time and assisted with the rebuild.
Recovery from the 2007 tragedy involved assistance from federal, state, and local sources in additions to donations from individuals and foundations. The costumes were replaced and the building was rebuilt for opening night on May 30, 2008.
|This article relies on references to primary sources. (October 2009)|
- Green, Paul and Laurence G. Avery (2001). The Lost Colony: A Symphonic Drama of American History. Chapel Hill: University Press of North Carolina. ISBN 978-0-8078-4970-5.
- "Marker H-94: Lamar Stringfield 1917-1959"North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources
- Powell, William S. (1985). Paradise Preserved: A History of the Roanoke Island Historical Association. Chapel Hill: North Carolina University Press. ISBN 978-0-8078-0975-4.