Behind the Scenes at the Lost Colony
Featured image courtesy of The Lost Colony Instagram @thelostcolony
Behind the Scenes – Why the Lost Colony Is Great Theatre
After 81 years, the Lost Colony is still going strong. First produced in 1937, it is the oldest continually produced outdoor drama in North America. And even after all those years and all those shows, the play is still incredibly engaging, interesting, and fresh.
There’s a number of reasons for that. Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paul Green’s script is compelling. Although there are some stretching or facts here and there for entertainment purposes, for the most part, Green got his history right.
The acting has always been excellent. Quite a number of well-known actors got their first taste of professional theater performing in The Lost Colony.
Over the years, the play has been updated and tweaked, making it more appealing to modern audiences. The pacing, in particular, has been moved along, but that is by no means the only change to how the play is presented.
In Green’s original script, Manteo and Wanchese speak a form of pidgin English, sounding a lot like Tonto in the old Lone Ranger TV show.
Director Ira David Wood, in a recent interview, pointed out that Manteo and Wanchese were the two Native Americans that returned with Governor White to England and spent two years in the country. It was his view that they would have had a much better grasp of the English language, and he adjusted the dialogue accordingly.
Wood’s contribution is an example of an extraordinary wealth of talent that is involved in the production of the play, and it demonstrates that the behind-the-scenes staff is as important to the success of The Lost Colony as are the actors or the script.
Director – Ira David Wood
Wood began his career in theater as an actor, with his first professional experience at The Lost Colony, performing two of the most prestigious roles: Sir Walter Raleigh and Old Tom.
He continued to act for some time, landing roles in a number of movies, but his passion seems to be directing.
Wood has directed The Lost Colony for the past six years, bringing a wide range of experience to the production. In his hometown of Raleigh, his impact on outdoor theater was so great that a park was renamed “The Ira David Wood III Pullen Park Theatre.”
He is not afraid to take chances, and that risk-taking shows up in small ways that have helped to create a better play.
Authenticity is an important part of a play like The Lost Colony, and to add to that, he researched the Algonquin language that the 16th century Indians would have been speaking, teaching words to the actors. As a result of this, in the opening scene where the Native Americans are talking among themselves, they are speaking Algonquin.
Production Designer–William Ivey Long
William Ivey Long is a big name in the world of theater. He has been awarded the Tony six times, has won seven Drama Desk Awards, and has been elected to the Theatre Hall of Fame.
He also began his career in theater at The Lost Colony—as a child actor, since his parents were involved with the original production, and later as an assistant to costume designer Irene Rains.
“She’s the reason I’m a costume designer,” Long once said. “I learned how to design at Lost Colony.”
Long has built his reputation on the authenticity of his costumes. The Elizabethan style of the clothing the actors wear is based on extensive research he did to recreate the look.
Long’s most recent major productions are for live TV and include the Fox TV show Grease and A Christmas Story.
Lighting Designer – Joshua Allen
One of the most apparent changes that have been made to The Lost Colony is the lighting, and that is where Lighting Designer Josh Allen is key.
Allen has an international reputation for his work in lighting design and has created lighting effects for everything from the Broadway stage to architectural design.
Over the past 10 years, the entire lighting system of Waterside Theater has been redesigned to take advantage of modern technology. Quite a number of improvements were made to the existing infrastructure to handle the new lights.
The original lighting towers were wooden; they still are, but now they have been strengthened and are 20’ higher allowing better coverage with spotlights.
But the real change is in lighting effects that the audience may not even recognize. Director David Wood noted in a recent interview that because of Allen’s skill with lighting, the heavy makeup that had been used for the Native American actors is no longer necessary.
Fight Director – Robert Midgette
A great story about the local kid who made good, Robert Midgette is about as local as it gets.
Born and raised in Manteo, Midgette has spent 43 years with The Lost Colony, including 26 years as Chief Manteo. When he wasn’t on stage, he taught PE and was a coach at Manteo High School.
Midgette clearly knows what he is doing. The fight scenes are some of the most physically demanding and difficult parts of the play, and the realism and action have continued to improve.