The Lost Colony was written and first produced by Paul Green in 1937 to commemorate the 350th anniversary of the birth of Virginia Dare, the first person of English descent born in the New World. It was intended to run only through the end of that summer, but when Franklin D. Roosevelt attended the production on August 18, 1937, the attention drawn to this "people’s theater" assured future runs.
The production was authorized by the Roanoke Island residents, who, as Paul Green wrote this unique combination of drama, music and dance, went about building the original Waterside Theater for The Lost Colony.
The Waterside Theater has had its share of drama, having been destroyed twice, once in 1947 by a fire and again in 1960 by Hurricane Donna. In both cases, local residents banded together to rebuild the theater in time for the next season. The Waterside Theater is located in the town of Manteo NC on Roanoke Island.
Over the years, The Lost Colony has served as a training ground for such luminaries as Andy Griffith and Terrance Mann, to name a few. It is estimated that close to 5,000 actors and technicians have performed as part of the crew of The Lost Colony.
The play tells the story of the 117 colonist sent to Roanoke Island by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1587 to establish the first English colony, with the blessing of Queen Elizabeth I of England. Raleigh asked John White to lead the team. Numbered among the colonist was John White's very pregnant daughter, Eleanor Dare and her husband, Ananias Dare. Soon after arriving on Roanoke Island, Eleanor gave birth to a girl she named Virginia Dare, the first person born of English descent in the New World. The timing of the colonist arrival was poor, as the growing season had passed; hence, the colony was in trouble from the very start.
John White returned to England in August 1587 to gather more supplies, not knowing it would be the last time he would see his daughter, grand daughter or the other colonist. He was set to return to Roanoke by the end of 1587, but due to an impending battle with the Spanish Armada, he was delayed. He did finally return in 1590 to find the settlement abandon and the words “CROATOAN” carved on the palisades built to protect the settlement and “CRO” on a nearby tree. It was understood by White that this was a message from the colonists that they had gone to Croatoan, which is what is known today as Hatteras Island, which was where Chief Manteo’s tribe was located. Due to weather, he returned to England.
Despite repeated attempts over the years, a firm answer as to what may have happened to the 117 colonist has never truly been answered. There are several speculations, from the colonists being killed by the Roanoke Indians to the colonists integrating into one of several different Indian tribes, but historians and archeologists continue to differ on a definitive answer to this historic mystery.
The Lost Colony is performed nightly at the Waterside Theater (an out doors theater) in the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site in Manteo. The play runs from the end of May through the third week in August, with ticket prices ranging from $10 to $22. The show begins at 8:00 and runs approximately two hours.
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