July 29, 2013

History of The Lost Colony

Last week I posted an article about the 76th production of Lost Colony. The piece didn't say much about the play's history, so I didn't go into it.

But someone asked me about it, so I looked into it further. The play has an interesting history that's worth noting.

The Lost ColonyThe 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.

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.
And: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.
Below:  "Andy Griffith played the role of Sir Walter Raleigh in The Lost Colony, annual outdoor drama pageant in Manteo from 1947-1953."

‘The Lost Colony’ to receive a Tony Honors Award Saturday

By Brooke CainThis weekend is shaping up to be one of the most significant in the 76-year history of “The Lost Colony.”

The nation’s longest-running symphonic outdoor drama, which has been in production nearly every summer since 1937 on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, will receive a Tony Award on Saturday.

The award–the Tony Honors for Excellence in Theatre–is given each year to individuals or organizations who have made major contributions to American theater but aren’t eligible for regular Tony Awards.

Charles Massey, the marketing director for “The Lost Colony,” emphasized that the award is a big deal for theater in this state.

“We are the only theater group in North Carolina that has ever won such an honor,” he said. “The Tony is the Academy Award of theater, so we’re in good company. It’s theater people saluting their own.”
Popularity of 'Lost Colony' could be lost if historians find the answers

The popularity of long-running production of the ‘The Lost Colony’ could vanish if historians solve the mystery.

By Roy C. Dicks
Recent news that a map in the British Museum offers a tantalizing clue to the location of “The Lost Colony” was a boon for historians, but it may be less welcome for producers of the drama about the 1587 English settlement on Roanoke Island.

That’s because the settlers’ unknown fate is the key attraction in the nation’s longest-running historical outdoor drama, which opens Friday in Manteo for its 75th anniversary season. The mystery of what happened to more than 100 men, women and children, missing when English ships returned in 1590, has captivated audiences since 1937 and has helped cement North Carolina as the capital of outdoor drama. Nine other outdoor dramas ring up a new season in the state this summer, including the 62nd year of Cherokee’s “Unto These Hills” and the 60th of Boone’s “Horn in the West.”

A key draw for these productions is that most are located at or near the spot where the historical events being depicted took place. At “The Lost Colony,” audience members heading to the Waterside Theatre walk through the area where the missing colonists actually lived. Yet, even with a possible solution pending, the production has many aspects to keep audiences coming.

“My folks brought me and my brother here and it was a life-altering experience, because it was live and it was history,” said Charles Massey, marketing director for “The Lost Colony,” who remembered leaving the show with many more questions than the show answered. “I think if a family sees it together, they are invested in it and it can be a point of departure for other history lessons, as well as family activities such as reading, research and travel.”
Comment:  Would they actually rewrite the play if the facts proved its fiction wrong? Somehow I doubt it, but I'd be impressed if they did.

For more on Roanoke, see Lost Colony of Roanoke Found? and Roanoke Play Must Go On.

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