The Lost Colony

Experience the Spectacle of Outdoor Theater at its Finest

The Lost Colony – A History of Making History

About the Play

About The Play

Catherine Moran 1941

“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.

Commissioned by Roanoke Island residents, who had a long tradition of celebrating their place in American history, The Lost Colony was born out of a desire by locals to commemorate the 350th Anniversary of the birth of Virginia Dare in 1937.

North Carolina’s Paul Green penned the production, which was a unique combination of drama, song, and dance, while Roanoke Islanders set to work building the magnificent Waterside Theatre on the very spot where the colonists settled. On July 4, 1937, The Lost Colony opened to a packed house, despite the economic hardship of the Great Depression.

The show was intended to run only through the end of that summer. But when Franklin D. Roosevelt attended on August 18, 1937, the nation’s eyes were fixed on the production, assuring that there would be subsequent seasons.

The Lost Colony 1939

Since then, the production has seen its share of challenges and outright disasters. World War II brought the lights down on the show for four years as German U-boats prowled the sea just off the Outer Banks. In 1947, Waterside Theatre burned to the ground, only to be quickly rebuilt by local residents. And in 1960, Hurricane Donna roared over Roanoke Island, sweeping most of Waterside Theatre into the sound. The Theatre was reconstructed in time for the 1961 season.

Over 80 years in production, The Lost Colony has evolved into a statewide and national treasure. It has served as the training ground for over 5,000 actors and technicians, including such famous personalities as Andy Griffith, Terrence Mann and William Ivey Long. It has entertained over three million people from all walks of life since its debut in 1937.

But, in the end, The Lost Colony belongs to the people of Roanoke Island who have cherished and nurtured the drama from its infancy.

Author Paul Green

Author Paul Green

Sitting for William Hipp in 1976. You can see this bust at the top of the Waterside Theatre.

From childhood, his deep convictions about the immoralities of racial discrimination, capital punishment and military conflict colored everything Paul Green did and wrote. In addition to receiving the 1927 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his Broadway play In Abraham’s Bosom – remarkable for its time in its serious depiction of the plight of the American Negro in the South – Green formulated and propagated a new dramatic form, the symphonic drama, a particular form of historical play, usually set on the very site depicted in the action, and embodying music, dance, pantomime and poetic dialogue. Following the first of these was The Lost Colony. He wrote sixteen more. It has been said that America has contributed two important new dramatic forms, one being the musical and the other being the symphonic drama, of which over 50 are in production around the country.

Paul Green watches over each performance.

Paul Green’s total literary output included not only symphonic dramas, but other plays of various types, essays, books of North Carolina folklore, several novels, and a number of cinema scripts for such prominent stars of the 1930s as Will Rogers, Bette Davis, Janet Gaynor, and others. One of his Broadway plays, an early precursor of his symphonic drama form, was the 1936 anti-war play Johnny Johnson, whose music by Kurt Weill was Weill’s first American effort after his arrival from Nazi Germany. In 1941 Green worked with Richard Wright in adapting Wright’s celebrated novel Native Son to the Broadway Stage.

Paul Green grew up on a cotton farm in rural Harnett County, N.C., learning the value of hard physical labor as well as the importance and beauty of literature and music. He read books in the fields as he followed a mule-drawn plow and taught himself to play the violin; he would later compose music for his own dramas. After graduation from Buies Creek Academy, Green taught school and played semi-professional baseball until he could earn enough money to go the University of North Carolina, but his college education was interrupted by World War I. After he returned to the University, he was a key figure in the early days of the Carolina Playmakers. Among his Playmaker friends was author Thomas Wolfe, and Green’s future wife, Elizabeth Lay. Green taught philosophy and drama at Chapel Hill until 1944, when he retired to devote his time to writing. In addition to his early Pulitzer Prize, his awards include two Guggenheim Fellowships, the National Theatre Conference Award, and nine honorary degrees. He was posthumously inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame in New York in 1993, and the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame in 1996.

Paul Green writing in the John White Cabin

All his life Green was active in the cultural life of North Carolina, being one of the founders of the North Carolina Symphony and the Institute of Outdoor Drama, which serves the large nationwide community of symphonic dramas that sprung up after the model of Green’s original The Lost Colony. His relentless battle against the death penalty has found its successors in a number of organizations active in this field in North Carolina. He traveled around the world on behalf of UNESCO lecturing about the drama and about human rights.

A year after Green’s death, his colleagues and family formed the Paul Green Foundation, whose purpose is to foster his principles in the areas of creative writing, human rights and international amity by means of a series of grants and awards.

Paul Green’s historical significance stems not only from his influence on the art of the drama, which he loved so well and long, but from his influence on the social values of the South during a period when he stood almost alone in preaching the equality of the races, the richness of Southern tradition as possible source of great literature, and the perfectibility of every person, even the condemned felon.

Authentic Costume Creation

Recreating History

Designer, historian, teacher, and storyteller are all titles that William Ivey Long fulfills as he brings history to life on the stage of the Waterside Theatre in Paul Green’s The Lost Colony. From concept to creation of the clothes that you see in each performance, Long’s design process begins with extensive research of the Elizabethan period. He is after all, creating costumes for people of many different classes, as well as the natives of the new found Roanoke Island. Museum portraits provided inspiration for the court of Elizabeth I, while the watercolors of Governor John White provided a first hand look at the Carolina Algonquians and their environs.

Nikki Ferry as Queen Elizabeth I, with her counselors; Costumes designed by William Ivey Long. Photographed at the Oak Room at Fort Raleigh in Manteo, North Carolina by William Ivey Long.
The Somerset House Conference By an unidentified artist Oil on canvas, 1604
Brian Rooney as Old Tom Harris. Costume designed by William Ivey Long. Photograph by William Ivey Long.
LEFT: Sketch for John Earnest Graphite, watercolor, gouache, and ink on Bristol Board, 8 ½ x 11 inches. RIGHT: Stimson Sneed as John Earnest. Costume designed by William Ivey Long. Photograph by William Ivey Long.
LEFT: Sketch for Colonist Woman Graphite, watercolor, gouache, and ink on Bristol Board, 8 ½ x 11 inches RIGHT: Sara Richardson as Colonist Woman. Costume designed by William Ivey Long. Photograph by William Ivey Long.
LEFT: Sketch for Richard Berrye Graphite, watercolor, gouache, and ink on Bristol board, 8 ½ x 11 inches. RIGHT: Eric Eteuati as Richard Berrye. Costume designed by William Ivey Long. Photograph by William Ivey Long.
LEFT: Sketch for Joyce Archard Graphite, watercolor, gouache, and ink on Bristol board, 8 ½ x 11 inches. RIGHT: Ellen Kirk as Joyce Archard. Costume designed by William Ivey Long. Spinning Wheel courtesy of the Poccosin Arts Center. Photograph by William Ivey Long.
LEFT: Sketch for Richard Taverner Graphite, watercolor, gouache, and ink on Bristol Board, 8 ½ x 11 inches. RIGHT: Travis Clark as Richard Taverner. Costume designed by William Ivey Long. Photograph by William Ivey Long.
LEFT: Sketch for Alis Chapman Graphite, watercolor, gouache, and ink on Bristol Board, 8 ½ x 11 inches. RIGHT: Michelle Polera as Alis Chapman. Costume designed by William Ivey Long. Photograph by William Ivey Long.
LEFT: Sketch for Anthony Cage Graphite, watercolor, gouache, and ink on Bristol Board, 8 ½ x 11 inches. RIGHT: Max Korn as Anthony Cage. Costume designed by William Ivey Long. Photograph by William Ivey Long.
LEFT: Sketch for Colonist Woman Graphite, watercolor, gouache, and ink on Bristol Board, 8 ½ x 11 inches. RIGHT: Sarah Gawron as Colonist Woman. Costume designed by William Ivey Long. Photograph by William Ivey Long.
LEFT: Sketch for Richard Shaberdge Graphite, watercolor, gouache, and ink on Bristol Board, 8 ½ x 11 inches. RIGHT: S. Justin Terry as Richard Shaberdge. Costume designed by William Ivey Long. Photograph by William Ivey Long.
David Sebren as Ambrose Viccars, Zechariah Pierce as John Borden, Ian Potter as Henry Rufoote, and S. Justin Terry as Richard Shaberdge. Costume designed by William Ivey Long. Photograph by William Ivey Long.
LEFT: A Weroance or Great Lord of Virginia by John White Watercolor, 1585. RIGHT: Jake Cooper as Roanoke Chief. Costume designed by William Ivey Long and Robyn Coffey. Photograph by William Ivey Long.
Alexander Long, Jake Cooper, Dan O’Brien, Jessica Naimy, and B.J. Gruber as Roanoke Indians. Costumes designed by William Ivey Long and Robyn Coffey. Photograph by William Ivey Long.

Notable Alumni

More than five thousand artists have graced the stage of the Waterside Theatre. Here are just a few of the folks who we are proud to have called our own: