Queen Elizabeth of the Outer Banks
Elizabeth R and the Queen
The Queen seems ubiquitous on the Outer Banks. That would be Queen Elizabeth I, seemingly everywhere in full regalia, her regal presence lifting even the most mundane celebration to new heights.
It is not, of course, Queen Elizabeth, who if it was the queen in the flesh would be somewhere around 570 years old. Rather, the Outer Banks personification of the Queen, as performed by Ms. Barbara Hird, a remarkable British actress who calls Manteo her home.
The performance is courtesy of Elizabeth R and Company, an equally remarkable Outer Banks organization that has been bringing historic reenactments of famous English women to the stage for over 20 years.
She no longer performs in The Lost Colony, but for 10 years beginning in 1986, Ms. Hird had been performing the role of Queen Elizabeth.
Hird’s performance as the Queen came to the attention of Labame Houston, a native of Manteo who has a long history with the play. Her history with the play goes back to its founding through her mother, Mabel Basnight. Basnight was the box office manager from the play’s first performance in 1937 until she passed away in 1992.
Houston has always been active in theater and has continued a strong connection and is today the historian for The Lost Colony.
In 1993 Houston was organizing an overview of the history of 1587 attempt to establish a settlement on Roanoke Island that had attracted an international cast of historians. According to Houston, she felt the symposium was too staid and called for something to liven it up and she decided a theatrical performance featuring the queen was needed
It took her three days to write Elizabeth R, a one-person play telling the story of Elizabeth I. Play written, she approached Hird with the idea of performing the play starring Queen Elizabeth I.
The rest, as the saying goes, is history.
The history, however, did not stop there. Recognizing that they had created something special, Hird and Houston created the nonprofit organization Elizabeth R and Company.
Hird continued to perform. Often as Elizabeth I in Elizabeth R but other plays were added to the repertoire. And the play has also traveled. Hird and Houston have taken the play to a number of cities on the East Coast as well as to the British Isles.
Elizabeth R and Company has evolved and become far more than one play, one actress and one producer.
The website describes their mission as, “…Dare County’s singular resident professional theatrical company. The Manteo based 501(c) 3 non-profit organization showcases stage, video and audio productions centered on periods in history. The company also promotes research, symposia, seminars, and theatrical interpretations of historical events.”
They hold very true to that mission.
In October of 2017 the organization sponsored one of the largest gatherings of international and American historians to examine the available evidence concerning the fate of the Lost Colony.
Elizabeth R and Company has also continued to be very active in promoting the arts, especially live performance.
Recognizing that Tshombe Selby, who grew up in Manteo, had an exceptional voice and a willingness to work, Elizabeth R made the decision to give him a scholarship to study opera in New York City five years ago. They have continued that support.
Since that time, Selby has performed throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe and is gaining a reputation as a gifted lyric tenor.
To showcase those talents, Elizabeth R had hoped to bring Verdi’s La Traviata to the Outer Banks for a performance at First Flight High School. Selby was to play Alfredo, the male lead, and the cast and staging were through the New York Opera Studio. Unfortunately, Hurricane Florence forced a cancellation of the performance, although there is hope that it will be rescheduled.
La Traviata is probably the most ambitious project the organization has undertaken, but it was by no means the only theatrical undertaking, including a retrospective of the music of Patsy Cline and a remembrance of the Nags Head Casino.
In spite of all their activities, Elizabeth R and Company seems to have flown under the artistic radar of the Outer Banks…hardly noticed at all. Until, of course, the Queen arrives.