Profile: The Lost Colony
For the first time since 1944, The Lost Colony drama did not light up the stage on Roanoke Island. This long running outdoor theatrical production is beloved by the island’s community, but due to COVID-19, theatre officials felt it was their responsibility to protect the health and safety of not only the actors and production team, but of the residents of Manteo.
What would have been the 83rd season, The Lost Colony is an extravagant historical pageant about the English colonists who mysteriously disappeared upon arrival to Roanoke Island in 1587. Colonization was seemingly going well when Governor John White sailed back to England to retrieve more supplies. His return trip was delayed by three years due to a naval war between England and Spain, and his ship was recruited to defend the country. When he finally arrived back at Roanoke Island in 1590, all proof of life was gone, except for the letters CRO carved into a tree and the word CROATON carved on a palisade post. Croaton was the name of the island south of Roanoke, in which the tribe by the same name lived. Unable to sail around the area due to stormy weather, White returned to England, and the fate of The Lost Colony is unknown to this day.
With such rich and mysterious history, 1930s Roanoke Islanders utilized the story to bring tourism to the area, despite the Depression. Playwright Paul Green was commissioned to write the play, and Green himself describes the show as ‘people’s theatre’, because the play was written to evoke emotion within the audience. He did not, however, stop evolving the story after its first summer in 1937. Green continually tweaked the ending; the show originally concluded with a sense of the fate of the colonists. Some tried to sail back to England and were killed by Spainards who were engaged in the naval war against England, others simply died in the forest, while others sought salvation with the Native Indians. As the years went on, Green began to add mysterious elements to the endings, and left it more and more open ended. By his final script in 1980, the play became a naturalistic drama rather than a romantic tragedy. The fate was up for the audience to decide rather than plainly laying out the options within the script.
The story of The Lost Colony intrigues new and old audiences every year, hence their successful 83 year run. While World War II and COVID-19 halted production, the pageant is famous for performing outdoors rain or shine, and islanders cannot wait until the day the show lights come up once again.
The Lost Colony is feeling confident that they will once again return to the stage in summer 2021. Visit https://www.thelostcolony.org/ for more information.