An Opportunity to be Creative – Bill Coleman and The Lost Colony
It’s winter, and as The Lost Colony gears up for its 81st season, Bill Coleman (CEO of the theater), knows that the next few months will decide how successful the longest running outdoor drama in the United States will be.
“It’s (the success of the play) directly reflected by what I’m doing between January and May. It’s a dead sprint now until May,” he said.
Bill has spent almost his entire adult life involved with the performing arts. He has a BA in Theater from the University of Kentucky, Knoxville, and he has acting credits under his belt.
He was living in Nashville when the soap opera General Hospital was filming episodes there. Working for the Grand Old Opry management didn’t stop him from auditioning—and was hired as the man behind the desk.
“I was in a couple of episodes of General Hospital. I was a five or less,” he said, explaining that if he had more than five lines, he had to be paid more. “I kept trying to insert lines, but they didn’t like that.”
He also was in a some commercials in the Nashville area early in his career, but he didn’t seem to view what he needed to do to be successful the same as some of the other actors he knew.
“I wasn’t this person who had a burning desire to move to New York,” Bill said.
He was discovering that as he became more experienced working behind the scenes he could have a greater impact on what went on the stage.
“I feel like ultimately the person who is producing it has the opportunity to be the most creative,” he noted.
There were a number of steps along the way—Grand Old Opry, Director of Marketing for the University of Tennessee Theater, Executive Director of a ballet company, and finally outdoor theater.
“I was running the Stephen Foster Story in Bardstown, Kentucky,” Bill said. “And that was my first outdoor theater. I was there for almost 10 years. It was fun, but I kept swearing my next theater will have a roof,” he added, referring to the weather. “It’s the most stressful part of the job, because you have no control over it.”
When Bill stepped away from the performing arts, he stepped far away from it.
“I was in Nashville working with men coming out of prison working in transitional housing,” he said. “It was a rough life for them. It was eye opening for me.”
He did find a way to get the men a job though. “I worked with some Vanderbuilt students and we were able to print some T shirts.”
Six years was enough, and when a friend who he had worked with in the past told him,” They’re looking for somebody at the Lost Colony, are you interested?” Bill decided, “It just seemed the timing was right.”
For anyone who has seen The Lost Colony more than once, there are some differences that have evolved over the past few years. The only change in script has been the addition of a Park Ranger as a narrator at the beginning. The other changes are in the pacing of the play, the lighting, and the special effects.
Bill is cautious in describing the changes, emphasizing that, except for the Park Ranger, the script has not changed.
“I don’t want to say we’ve updated. There’s some things that have happened that seem to have made it more accessible for the audience. And that has to do with David’s direction,” he said referring to director David Wood.
The technical staff that Bill has attracted is amazing—as good as any Broadway show. In fact, Production Designer William Ivey Long has won numerous Tony’s. Lighting Director Josh Allen has taught lighting design at the university level and has worked with New York City and international companies.
The heart of the production though, continues to be the actors, and maintaining a tradition that has given innumerable performers their first paying job, The Lost Colony brings college students to the Outer Banks.
“Everybody is between 19 and 22. This could very well be their first paid gig,” Bill said. “We equate it to a Broadway experience. You’re going to do six shows a week over the course of the summer. They’ve been in college doing two shows a weekend and they’ve been rehearsing three weeks or four weeks or five weeks. We rehearse for 19 days and then the train leaves the station.”
That train is scheduled to board on May 25 this year—as always, the Friday before Memorial Day. The 81st season wraps up on August 22.