About Us

LC Photo Shoot 2013-46 wideMillions have seen the compelling story that celebrates the 117 English men, women, and children whose dream still lives on in this American original.

First staged in 1937, The Lost Colony it is the nation’s premier and longest-running symphonic drama. Written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paul Green, The Lost Colony’s 77th anniversary season opens May 30 and plays through Aug. 22, 2014 at Manteo’s Waterside Theatre, on North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

The Lost Colony 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.

LC Photo Shoot 2013-54Over 200 actors, technicians, designers and volunteers rehearse each May 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. You will be seated in the center of the stage area with action happening on three sides of you and even sometimes right next to you in the aisle. 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. There is music, laughter, romance and dance. The Lost Colony is widely acknowledged as the precursor to the modern American Broadway Musical.

Arrival

You should plan on arriving one half hour prior to your first scheduled event. For example if you’re doing the backstage tour at 7:00, arrive by 6:30. This gives you plenty of time to park, pick up your tickets, take some pictures, etc. Parking is very close to the box office but there is about a 150 yard walk from the box office into the theatre, so plan accordingly.

Pre Show

The theatre opens for seating one half hour prior to curtain, but the rain-shelters are open at 6:00. Restrooms, gift shop and concessions are available.

Curtain

The play begins promptly at 8:00 (7:30 on Mondays). Late arrivals may be held from going to their seats at the discretion of the house manager.

Length

The drama is performed in two one hour acts with a 15 minute intermission.

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.”

1941 Catherine Moran

Catherine Moran 1941

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.

Christening 1939

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 70 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, Terrance Mann, William Ivey Long, and Senator Marc Basnight. 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.

Waterside Theatre

Ariel view of the Waterside Theatre

The House that Skipper Bell Built

Roanoke Island’s Waterside Theatre, the star-canopied home of The Lost Colony, sprang from the mind and talent of a cigar-chewing personality known affectionately as Skipper.” Albert Quentin “Skipper” Bell, a tall Englishman from Yorkshire, relocated to Canada then to North Carolina in the late 1920s. When asked why he chose northeastern North Carolina as his new home, he replied, “I thought the place was bloody tropical.”

In the early 1930s Bell was working in Edenton as a landscaper when Frank Stick, an artist and historical researcher, enticed him to move to the Outer Banks. Stick had designed a small, log-structured village to represent the 16th-century “Cittie of Raleigh,” obtaining Works Progress Administration (WPA) funds to build it on Roanoke Island.

A product of the Yorkshire Trade School system, Bell was adept at the little-known skills of thatching and constructing log buildings. He soon became the supervisor of construction for Stick’s project, which was raised on the grounds of what is now Fort Raleigh National Historic Site.

In 1936, before Bell could even think of returning to Edenton, Bradford Fearing, chairman of the Roanoke Colony Memorial Association (RCMA), convinced him to work on another project—the construction of an amphitheatre for a play about America’s lost colony. Bell, working closely with playwright Paul Green, supervising director Fred Koch and stage director Sam Selden, began work on the design. Then, using labor from the Civilian Conservation Corps camp and materials supplied through WPA funding, construction followed. About six months later, Bell and his team completed the daunting task.

Waterside Theater 1937

Waterside 1937

The original Waterside Theatre provided simple, backless bench seating for 3,500 patrons. Rain shelters, restrooms and concession stands were yet to come. Drinks and snacks were sold by barkers who peddled their products from the aisles of the house. Bell referred to the main stage as his permanent set—a log-structured settlement area that included a chapel, four cabins and ramparts. His house-right and house-left stages were transition areas that softened the proscenium walls, allowing the audience to feel close to the performance.

The house-right stage accommodated a choir loft for singers and the organist, and a small performance area Bell dubbed the “Queen’s stage,” created for the performance of the intimate Queen’s chamber scene. The house-left stage featured the historian’s box and another small performance area called the “Indian stage,” used as the setting for King Wingina’s camp.

Under Bell’s watch, Waterside Theatre remained remarkably intact for 10 years, despite hurricanes, erosion and the unrelenting Outer Banks sun. But on July 24, 1947, disaster struck when a fire broke out in the backstage area. Cast, crew, local residents and fire departments battled the flames to no avail. The damage was immense. The entire main stage, left wing, two dressing rooms and the scenery docks were destroyed. The only items saved were the costumes, tossed into the sound by costumer Irene Smart Rains, and the assembly bell, which refused to burn.

WatersideThere was no possibility of a performance that night, so the company and local residents solemnly gathered on the main stage amid the smoking embers of the theatre. The season would have to be cancelled. Or so they thought. Bell pulled actor Bob Armstrong (John Borden) aside and told him he could rebuild the theatre in five or six days if he had the manpower. New logs were no problem; he needed helpers. “Skipper told me to go out there and be John Borden,” Armstrong said. “Get him a work force. And I did. That was the night I really became John Borden.” True to his word, Bell and a volunteer crew of hundreds of actors, technicians and residents rebuilt the theatre. Six nights later, the lights went up on one of the most emotional performances of the show ever witnessed.

But disaster was to strike again.

Following the close of the 1960 season, Hurricane Donna roared over Roanoke Island with 100 mph winds. A storm surge destroyed one side of the backstage area and seriously weakened the main stage. Once again, Bell came to the rescue. Over the course of the next two years, he disassembled the remaining stage structures and rebuilt the entire theatre, completing enough of the structure to open in 1961.

Waterside PanoramicA few years later, after cleaning and securing the theatre he built—and rebuilt—Bell passed away on Sept. 11, 1964. In 1967, a plaque in his memory was unveiled at Waterside Theatre. But one of the most lasting memorials to the legendary architect, whom North Carolina author and journalist Ben Dixon MacNeill called “the English-born doer of miracles on Roanoke Island,” is the theatre itself. Bell’s timeless design is still present to greet every audience member who attends a production of The Lost Colony. He understood, as the Queen did, that to create and sustain any project or dream, it is necessary to “make its first foundations strong, then build atop of it.” As long as there is a Waterside Theatre, Bell, the “tamer of darkness, fire and flood” will be remembered.

The theatre in 2012

The theatre in 2012

Paul Green writing in the John White Cabin

Paul Green writing in the John White Cabin

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.

Sitting for William Hipp in 1976

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

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.

Paul Green watches over each performance.

Paul Green watches over each performance.

The following is a visual guide through what goes into designing one of our productions. This particualr content is from our 2008 and 2009 productions.

Photographs and production credits:

  • Directed by Robert Richmond
  • 2008 Choreography by Mira Kingsley
  • 2009 Choreography by Sean Kelly
  • Production Design by William Ivey Long
  • Lighting Design by Jim Hunter

p-colony1

David Carter as King Wingina (center), and from left to right, Michael Campion as Wanchese, Jimmie Lee Brooks, III as Uppowoc, Nathan Bennett as The Historian/Sir Walter Raleigh, Clay White as Manteo, Ian Potter as Sir Phillip Amadus – “Amadas and Barlowe” Mr. Carter’s cape by Penn and Fletcher and William Ivey Long; Mr. Campion, Mr. Brooks, and Mr. White’s costumes by Robyn Coffey; Mr. Bennett’s costume by Tricorne, LLC.; and Mr. Potter’s costume by Donna Langman; wigs by Paul Huntley Photograph by Duane Cochran

 

Nikki Ferry as Queen Elizabeth I – “Queen’s Garden” Ms. Ferry’s costume by Carelli Costumes, Inc., wig by Paul Huntley, jewelry by Larry Vrba Photograph by Duane Cochran

 

LEFT: Portrait of Sir Walter Raleigh and son artist unknown, c. 1590. RIGHT: Brian Clowdes as Sir Walter Raleigh – “Queen’s Chamber” Mr. Clowdes’ costume by Tricorne, LLC. Embroidery by Penn and Fletcher Photograph by William Ivey Long

 

Zechariah Pierce as John Borden (far right) and Red Soldiers – “Arrival” Mr. Pierce’s costume by Werner Kulovits, Euro Co. Costumes, Inc.; Red Soldiers’ costumes by Timberlake Studios, Inc.; Armor and swords by The Armor Shop and By the Sword Photograph by Duane Cochran

 

Nikki Ferry as Queen Elizabeth I and Terry Edwards as Governor John White – “Queen’s Chamber” Ms. Ferry’s costume by Carelli Costumes, Inc.; wig by Paul Huntley; and jewelry by Larry Vrba Mr. Edwards’ costume by Jennifer Love Costumes, with millinery by Ignatius Hats Photograph by Duane Cochran

 

Zechariah Pierce as John Borden and Madeline Hamer as Eleanor Dare – “Large Assembly” Mr. Pierce’s and Ms. Hamer’s costumes by Werner Kulovits and Janet Bloor, Euro Co. Costumes, Inc. Photograph by Duane Cochran

 

Zechariah Pierce as John Borden and Madeline Hamer as Eleanor Dare Mr. Pierce’s and Ms. Hamer’s costumes by Werner Kulovits and Janet Bloor, Euro Co., costumes, Inc. Photographed at the Elizabethan Gardens in Manteo, North Carolina by William Ivey Long

 

Nikki Ferry as Queen Elizabeth I (center), Nathan Bennett as Sir Walter Raleigh (center, right), and the courtiers of Queen Elizabeth I Ms. Ferry’s costume by Carelli Costumes, Inc., wig by Paul Huntley, and jewelry by Larry Vrba Mr. Bennett’s costume by Tricorne, LLC., embroidery by Penn and Fletcher, and millinery by Ignatius Hats Courtier costumes and millinery by Carelli Costumes, Inc., with jewelry by Larry Vrba Red Soldier costumes by Timberlake Studios, armor by Knights and Armour and By the Sword Master of the Queen’s Ceremonies (far left) costume by Schneeman Studios, Inc., millinery by Ignatius Hats, and jewelry by Larry Vrba Photographed at the Elizabethan Gardens in Manteo, North Carolina by William Ivey Long

 

Nikki Ferry as Queen Elizabeth I, with her counselors Ms. Ferry’s costume by Carelli Costumes, Inc.; wig by Paul Huntley; and jewelry by Larry Vrba Counselor costumes by Tricorne, LLC.; Jennifer Love Costumes, Inc.; and Donna Langman Red Soldier costumes by Timberlake Studios, armor by Knights and Armour and By The Sword 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 Mr. Rooney’s costume by Janet Bloor, Euro Co. Costumes, Inc., with millinery by Ignatius Hats 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 Mr. Sneed’s costume by Joan Brumbach 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 Ms. Richardson’s costume by Joan Brumbach, Millinery by Mariah Hale 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 Mr. Eteuati’s costume by Robert Surratt, millinery by Ignatius Hats, sword by By The Sword 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 Ms. Kirk’s costume by Joan Brumbach, Millinery by Mariah Hale 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 Mr. Clark’s costume by Mariah Hale 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 Ms. Polera’s costume by Martina Livingston, Faire Ladies, Faire Lords 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 Mr. Korn’s costume by Martina Livingston, Faire Ladies, Faire Lords 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 Ms. Gawron’s costume by Martina Livingston, Faire Ladies, Faire Lords 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 Mr. Terry’s costume by Martina Livingston, Faire Ladies, Faire Lords 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 Mr. Sebren’s costume by Robert Surratt, millinery by Ignatius Hats; Mr. Pierce’s costume by Werner Kulovits, Euro Co. Costumes, Inc.; Mr. Potter’s costume by Mariah Hale, millinery by Ignatius Hats; Mr. Terry’s costume by Martina Livingson, Faire Ladies, Faire Lords, millinery by Ignatius Hats 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 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 by William Ivey Long and Robyn Coffey Photograph by William Ivey Long.

This content was originally published at the  William Ivey Long website and is reproduced here with his kind permission.

Literally tens of thousands of 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:

Andy Griffith

Colleen Dewhurst

Chris Elliott

Carl Cassell

Steve Kazee

Rory O’Malley

Peter Paige

Lynn Redgrave

George Grizzard

Terrance Mann

Joe Layton

William Ivey Long

Duncan Noble

Fred Voelpel

Betsy Friday

Eileen Fulton

Marc Basnight

Mavis Ray

Derek Keeling

Brandon Wardell

Adam Perry

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