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In 1937, The Lost Colony, Paul Green's dramatic retelling of the founding and mysterious disappearance of the Roanoke Island colony, opened to standing-room-only audiences and rave reviews. Since then, the beloved outdoor drama has played to more than 3 million people, and it is still going strong. Produced by the Roanoke Island Historical Association at the Waterside Thea In 1937, The Lost Colony, Paul Green's dramatic retelling of the founding and mysterious disappearance of the Roanoke Island colony, opened to standing-room-only audiences and rave reviews. Since then, the beloved outdoor drama has played to more than 3 million people, and it is still going strong. Produced by the Roanoke Island Historical Association at the Waterside Theater near Manteo, North Carolina, The Lost Colony has run for more than sixty summers almost without interruption. (Production was suspended during World War II, when the threat of German submarines prowling the coast made an extended blackout necessary.) The model for modern outdoor theater, The Lost Colony combines song, dance, drama, special effects, and music to breathe life into shadowy legend. This rendering of the play's text, edited and with an introduction by Laurence Avery, brings this pioneering work back into print.


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In 1937, The Lost Colony, Paul Green's dramatic retelling of the founding and mysterious disappearance of the Roanoke Island colony, opened to standing-room-only audiences and rave reviews. Since then, the beloved outdoor drama has played to more than 3 million people, and it is still going strong. Produced by the Roanoke Island Historical Association at the Waterside Thea In 1937, The Lost Colony, Paul Green's dramatic retelling of the founding and mysterious disappearance of the Roanoke Island colony, opened to standing-room-only audiences and rave reviews. Since then, the beloved outdoor drama has played to more than 3 million people, and it is still going strong. Produced by the Roanoke Island Historical Association at the Waterside Theater near Manteo, North Carolina, The Lost Colony has run for more than sixty summers almost without interruption. (Production was suspended during World War II, when the threat of German submarines prowling the coast made an extended blackout necessary.) The model for modern outdoor theater, The Lost Colony combines song, dance, drama, special effects, and music to breathe life into shadowy legend. This rendering of the play's text, edited and with an introduction by Laurence Avery, brings this pioneering work back into print.

36 review for Lost Colony: A Symphonic Drama of American History

  1. 5 out of 5

    Paul Haspel

    The Lost Colonists of Roanoke Island marched out of their endangered settlement and toward an unknown fate sometime in the late 1580’s, forging in the process a mystery that endures to this day. What actually happened to Sir Walter Raleigh’s “Lost Colony” on the coast of present-day North Carolina? Did they build their own makeshift ships and perish in a storm? Were they killed in battle with hostile Native Americans? Were they executed by Catholic Spaniards who would have regarded the English P The Lost Colonists of Roanoke Island marched out of their endangered settlement and toward an unknown fate sometime in the late 1580’s, forging in the process a mystery that endures to this day. What actually happened to Sir Walter Raleigh’s “Lost Colony” on the coast of present-day North Carolina? Did they build their own makeshift ships and perish in a storm? Were they killed in battle with hostile Native Americans? Were they executed by Catholic Spaniards who would have regarded the English Protestants as “heretics”? North Carolina playwright Paul Green, in response to the blandishments of Depression-era businessmen hoping to bring tourists to the Outer Banks, forged his own speculative answers to those questions in his 1937 play The Lost Colony: A Symphonic Drama of American History - a play that has proved singularly long-lasting and influential. All that Green knew regarding the colonists’ fate was what anyone else knew: An English ship left Roanoke Island in 1587, carrying with it the colony’s commander, John White, who planned and promised to return quickly with desperately needed supplies; but the Spanish Armada’s 1588 attack on England meant that Queen Elizabeth needed every available ship and crewman to repel the Spaniards’ prospective invasion. The Roanoke Island colony, Elizabeth decided, would simply have to wait; and it was not until 1590 that a ship returned to the island. All that the would-be relief expedition found was an abandoned settlement, with no sign of the colonists’ possible whereabouts except for the word “CROATOAN” carved into a tree – a previously-agreed-upon signal that the colonists were leaving Roanoke Island to make a new settlement on nearby Hatteras Island. The expedition’s pilot was not willing to sail to Hatteras in search of the Lost Colonists, and so no search was made. The Lost Colony would remain forever lost, and Paul Green would have the imaginative freedom to set forth his own solution to the mystery. The alert reader will already have noticed that Green gave The Lost Colony the subtitle A Symphonic Drama of American History. Green meant for this play to be the beginning of a new kind of theatre, a “people’s theatre” that would grow organically out of the American experience in regions across the United States of America, rather than being restricted to the rarefied but deracinated precincts of Broadway. And as Laurence Avery of the University of North Carolina points out in a helpful foreword to this UNC Press edition of the play, “The Lost Colony was a child of its era. At no other time could it have been gotten together in just the way it was in 1937. With its grassroots origin, community spirit, and celebratory aim, the production was precisely the sort of effort to attract national attention during the New Deal phase of the Great Depression” (p. 3). Avery, whose introduction "At The Lost Colony" situates him and the reader at a 2000 performance of the play at Waterside Theatre, emphasizes that “the play has evolved over the years in response to audience needs and growing realizations of its artistic potential” (p. 24). In the drama of The Lost Colony, Sir Walter Raleigh quickly emerges as a heroic figure. He is first seen in Act I as “a tall, handsome man in his early thirties” who is “accompanied by the two Indians, Manteo and Wanchese” (p. 50), who have traveled across the Atlantic with Raleigh, after one of Raleigh’s initial reconnaissance voyages, to be presented to Queen Elizabeth I. The Queen is depicted as dismissive of Raleigh’s New World dreams; she smilingly refers to Raleigh as “you strange and proud and dreaming man.” Elizabeth, preoccupied with the threat posed by King Philip II of Spain, dismisses Raleigh’s dreams of a New World colony, citing the absolute need to husband every resources for use against the Spanish enemy – “and yet my nonpareil of valor, my fretful child, walks in his sleep, talks in his dreams of one thing only – the new world beyond the sea” (p. 51). Elizabeth’s preoccupation with a nearby foreign enemy that threatens to invade and occupy her kingdom is understandable; but the Lost Colony playgoer is invited to sympathize rather with Raleigh and his New World dream as Raleigh says, with a dramatic gesture, “I have a dream – so let it be, but still it will persist until I die….There in the sun that riseth strangely in the west I see the expiring phoenix of Spain” (p. 51). The saga of the Lost Colony is conveyed in part through the convention of “the Historian,” a sort of choral figure who provides necessary exposition for viewers who may not already know fully the story of the Roanoke Island colony; as Act II Scene 1 begins, for example, a chorus of colonists, newly landed at the island, sings a prayer of thanksgiving, while the Historian helpfully notes that “After a long and stormy voyage the colony arrived at Roanoke Island on July 23, 1587” (p. 80). As with the upward-moving title-card screen crawls that begin the Star Wars movies, there must always be a way to help the audience get caught up with the action that is being staged for their benefit. Once the Roanoke Island colony has been established, two major areas of conflict emerge. The first has to do with the English colonists’ relations with the local Native American population; while Manteo remains friendly toward the colonists, Wanchese becomes alienated from them because of earlier English violence against the Roanoke natives. The second has to do with differences of personality and outlook between two of the leading colonists – Ananias Dare and John Borden. Between them, they embody the differences between British and American culture; Ananias Dare approaches life with the privileged arrogance of the British upper class, while John Borden, a hard-working and practical man, embodies the emerging American democratic mindset and meritocracy. Moreover, both men love the same woman – Eleanor White, the daughter of the colony’s governor, John White. As Green recounts it, Eleanor White married Ananias Dare because she was supposed to: he was noble and upper-class, and marrying a man like him was what a woman of her station was expected to do. But it is clear, as the colony’s misfortunes mount, that Eleanor White Dare is drawn to John Borden. Indeed, author Green had to do a bit of rewriting on The Lost Colony to make it clear that nothing in the way of a relationship between Eleanor White Dare and John Borden could possibly have begun until Ananias Dare was killed by hostile Roanoke Indians. Before his death, Ananias Dare did manage to father a child – Virginia Dare, the first child of English parents born in what would one day become the United States of America. Playwright Green makes much of this event, with Reverend Master Martin praising God at Virginia Dare’s baptism for “sending us a token of his favor and marking this settlement with the sign of permanence”, and adding, “Conscious we are of this great event – to be marked and set down in history for all time to come….This the first English child to be born in the new world!” (p. 99) Anyone who has visited the Elizabethan Gardens on Roanoke Island, and has seen the statue of Virginia Dare as a classically beautiful grown woman, knows how important Virginia Dare is as a symbol for the people of the region – whether the real Virginia Dare actually grew to womanhood or not. Of course, everything in The Lost Colony that takes place in the Roanoke Island colony after Governor White departed for England is strictly a matter of conjecture on the part of playwright Green: Queen Elizabeth denied the impassioned requests of Sir Walter Raleigh and Governor White to send relief to Roanoke Island, citing the need for every available ship and man to defend England against attack by the Spanish Armada. And the colony was left to its own devices. The scenario that Green sets forth for the unknown fate is a reasonable one, with the colonists battling hunger and privation, facing encroachments from hostile Roanoke Indians, and enduring internal division. Even as the play moves toward the final decisive event that will precipitate the colonists’ flight from Roanoke Island – Green’s own proposed solution to the “CROATOAN” mystery – John Borden embodies the colonists’ American pioneer spirit, vehemently telling Eleanor that “Even if we die, we win….Somehow a destiny, a purpose moving deeper than we know has brought us both together here on this lonely land…to make us worthy of the heritage we hold for those that shall come after us” (p. 125). Generations of patriotic U.S. playgoers at the Waterside Theatre have responded positively to this invocation of the emerging American spirit; while most of the outdoor dramas of that time have long since been retired, The Lost Colony keeps on going strong, playing to sellout crowds summer after summer after summer. In a highly effective way, Paul Green’s The Lost Colony combines an invocation of the American spirit with an intriguing approach to a 400-year-old, and still-unsolved, historical mystery.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Kaethe Douglas

    The Lost Colony is an amazing thing: a symphonic historical drama (the first outdoor drama) set on a huge stage, and drawing large numbers of people to Manteo every year. Fun fact: the stage is so big that women have to be over 5'6" to play adults, men have to be over 6'. The Lost Colony is an amazing thing: a symphonic historical drama (the first outdoor drama) set on a huge stage, and drawing large numbers of people to Manteo every year. Fun fact: the stage is so big that women have to be over 5'6" to play adults, men have to be over 6'.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    The 1980 edition of the play--very useful if you're going to be attending. Also has some neat behind the scenes tidbits. The 1980 edition of the play--very useful if you're going to be attending. Also has some neat behind the scenes tidbits.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Glynnis

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jeannette

  6. 5 out of 5

    Michael

  7. 4 out of 5

    Deanna

  8. 4 out of 5

    Glenn Crabtree

  9. 5 out of 5

    Joshuah Laird

  10. 5 out of 5

    Evelyn Decota

  11. 4 out of 5

    Keith

  12. 5 out of 5

    Paiten

  13. 5 out of 5

    Melissa

  14. 5 out of 5

    Julie

  15. 5 out of 5

    Chas

  16. 5 out of 5

    Lana

  17. 5 out of 5

    Karen

  18. 4 out of 5

    Cat

  19. 5 out of 5

    Haraldur Karlsson

  20. 5 out of 5

    Alison Law

  21. 4 out of 5

    Nathan

  22. 5 out of 5

    Keogh Paulson

  23. 4 out of 5

    Lo Morgan

  24. 4 out of 5

    Chris Ford

  25. 5 out of 5

    Kara

  26. 5 out of 5

    Elliott Bennett

  27. 5 out of 5

    Florencia

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jenna Rasmussen

  30. 4 out of 5

    Sara Aranha

  31. 5 out of 5

    Ashley Davies

  32. 4 out of 5

    Musee

  33. 5 out of 5

    Allison Ruvidich

  34. 5 out of 5

    Emily

  35. 4 out of 5

    Paul Scala

  36. 4 out of 5

    Keith Havens

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