Symphonic outdoor drama
The symphonic outdoor drama is a kind of historical play, set outdoors on the very site depicted in account. It combines music, dance, and drama in a unique way to tell the story.
It is most like historical pageantry performed in Europe in the Middle Ages. The best known example of a religious pageant in this style is at Oberammergau, Germany. Many big, spectacular stage events became popular in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These pageants were not exactly plays, but they showed a series of scenes in which historical events followed one another.
The pageants leading up to the 1937 production of The Lost Colony were influenced by the event at Oberammergau. People in eastern North Carolina were encouraged to share the history of the lost colony of Roanoke - which had been largely forgotten. The residents of Roanoke Island thought that staging a pageant themselves would share the story with the world.
Southern playwright and Lost Colony author Paul Green had a lifelong fascination with theatrical elements, such as dance, language, music, and lighting, and a desire for drama to make a difference in American social life. Under the tutelage of Frederick Koch, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Green was deeply influenced by his ideas about “folk drama” and a concern for ordinary people and their experiences. He was also a close collaborator with musician Lamar Stringfield who published a book of arrangements of Appalachian folk songs with Bascom Lamar Lunsford in 1929 and founded the Institute of Folk Music at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1930. Stringfield provided the original music for the Lost Colony.
- "By 'people's theatre', I mean theatre in which plays are written, acted and produced for and by the people for their enjoyment and enrichment and not for any special monetary profit."
Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Green wrote those words about The Lost Colony in 1938, a year after its debut. By then, America's first outdoor symphonic drama was a critical and popular success, proof that "people's theatre" could work. But it wasn't always a guaranteed success.
In addition to receiving the 1927 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his Broadway play In Abraham's Bosom — remarkable for the time in its serious depiction of the plight of African Americans in the South — Green created and spread this new dramatic form.