Experiencing The Lost Colony has become a tradition for many. Come see epic battles and Indian dances. Experience the sorrow and heartbreak of tragedy and loss. Witness the pageantry of the Queen and her court and celebrate the birth of Virginia Dare, the first English child born in America. There is music, laughter, romance and dance.
Over 120 actors, technicians, designers and volunteers gather each spring to begin rehearsals to bring The Lost Colony to life for another summer season. The production is enormous. The stage itself is over three times larger than most Broadway stages in New York City. You will be seated in the center of the action with the show happening on three sides of you and even sometimes right next to you in the aisle.
The Lost Colony outdoor drama is the “grandfather” of all outdoor dramas and is produced by the Roanoke Island Historical Association (RIHA), a non-profit whose mission is to celebrate the history of the first English colonies on Roanoke Island, North Carolina, and to honor the founders of The Lost Colony symphonic drama through drama, education, and literature.
First staged in 1937, The Lost Colony is the nation’s premier and longest-running outdoor symphonic drama. Purchase your tickets today to the 85th Anniversary of 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.
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.
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
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’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.
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
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.
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: