One Thousand Performances and a Lost Colony Family with a Drawer full of Ragged Company T-shirts
Written by Don Bridge
I had the good fortune to play ‘Old Tom’ in The Lost Colony from 1992 through 97. Old Tom has many moments in the show – some funny and some poignant. But there is a moment, actually more than a moment, that few people realize. Old Tom spends a great part of Act One laying in the bushes. At the beginning of the Queen’s Garden scene, he goes into the bushes next to the Queen’s Stage and stays there through the approximately twenty-minute scene, to emerge when the fireworks are set off.
So, I spent twenty minutes of every performance for six years laying in the bushes. I totaled that time spent in the bushes and it comes out to 7,800 minutes or five and a half days. What did I think about while I laid in the bushes? To be honest, mostly about the possibility of snakes, and whether or not it was going to rain. But once those worries were appeased, I thought about other things and I often wondered what it was about The Lost Colony that made it such an enduring attraction.
Those six years were very special. Not only was I in the Colony, but so was my family. My wife Lisa started in the choir and then played midwife Dame Colman for two seasons. Soon Lisa was promoted to the role of Queen Elizabeth for what would become a seven-year reign. Our two children, Max and Alice, were also in the show as Colonist children. Max did a two-year stint as Native American child Wano.
In 1995 my family relocated to Manteo full-time and the Bridge Family remained a part of the Colony till 1997. After those “five and a half days” in the bushes my question of “What makes The Lost Colony such an enduring attraction?” was still largely unanswered. As it turned out, my time with the Colony wasn’t done yet and I would still have time to ponder those thoughts.
In 1999 I got a last-minute call to play the role of Ananias Dare, father of Virginia Dare and part of the intriguing love triangle between Eleanor, Ananias and John Borden. Every night, I died spectacularly face-first into the sand. In 2003 I was once again called in at the last minute to play Governor John White. And, as if the stars had aligned – that year my wife was Queen Elizabeth I. It was a blast to play opposite my wife, the Queen, that year!
Years passed until I once again heard the siren call, luring me back to The Lost Colony. I returned in 2011 as Father Martin, shepherd to the colonist flock. Father Martin does have his significant moments in the show. But, he becomes very sick during the second act and spends about twenty minutes laying in his cabin bed – hobbling forth every now and then to say “Amen!” Though I didn’t have to worry about snakes or rain – I feared heat stroke on those sweltering summer nights from the authentic bear skin blanket over me! After surviving three seasons as Father Martin, I racked up three more days of time thinking about The Big Show (as we call it) and why it is so special.
Another a couple of years later I returned once again in the role of the Historian/Storyteller. That is the role I am currently playing again in 2019 – yes that is me out there on the stage. This is my fourth year in the role. So – over the course of 27 years I have played five principal roles under five different directors. At some point this summer I will deliver my 1000th performance.
Why is The Lost Colony such an enduring attraction? Paul Green’s The Lost Colony is history doubled – or history squared as I like to call it. The story it tells of England’s early attempts to colonize the New World is a riveting tale, but the makings and history of The Lost Colony production is itself a remarkable story! For over 80 years it has been performed at the Waterside Theatre, surviving wars, hurricanes, depressions and societal upheaval. It is history playing history!
The roots of Mr. Green’s Symphonic Drama are many. Written at the height of the Great Depression, the threads of popular entertainment are woven together with Mr. Green’s ideologies of equality. It’s right out of the movies of the 1930s! Imagine Tyrone Power as Borden, with Vivian Leigh as Eleanor Dare and Walter Brennen as Old Tom! Mr. Green even threw in a heaping helping of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show (the most popular outdoor attraction of the early 20th century). The Big Battle scene is lifted from Buffalo Bill’s “Attack on the Settler’s Cabin.”
This is a uniquely American story, made up of American storytelling style and presentation and composed of elements that are distinctly American. Mr. Green may have included what Mark Twain called ‘stretchers,’ but that makes for good storytelling and keeps the tale fresh.
I realized from my time in the Colony, that we need The Lost Colony to keep us grounded and remind us where we came from and why we keep going. We need The Lost Colony to continue to tell this important story. We need The Lost Colony to teach young actors how important their parts are to the story even if they are lying in the bushes or under a bear skin. It’s an American story that needs to be told.
From Kevin Bradley, RIHA Chairman:
‘We are deeply saddened by the loss of Don Bridge. Don was an amazing performer and a wonderful man whose light shined brightly. Don’s life will have a lasting effect on everyone who knew him. The Lost Colony family will miss Don Bridge immensely.’