Monday, July 29, 2013

Showing Its Age: Tradition, Pageantry, and the Lost Colony

This past weekend, your Friendly Neighborhood Dramaturg had the opportunity to travel to North Carolina's Outer Banks (that chain of Islands off the Atlantic Coast) and spend some time on Roanoke Island and the town of Manteo.  While there, I also hit up Ft. Raleigh National Park and saw The Lost Colony, a massive outdoor dramatic spectacle that is presented there every summer and is now in its 76th season.

By way of history, Lost Colony is the second oldest outdoor drama in the United States, begun in 1937 with support of the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps.  Numerous American thespians are alumni of the program, including Andy Griffith, Terrence Mann, and Ted Tally.  Despite the pressures of the great Depression, Lost Colony lead to a tourist boom in Manteo and the Outer Banks.  In 2013, it was also awarded a Tony Award for Excellence in Theatre.

One of the interesting things about going to the drama, listening to the announcements made as people are getting seated, and flipping through the souvenir program, is that the Lost Colony experience is a combination of past tradition and future progress.  True to it's progressive roots, Lost Colony embraces its community outreach and has been recognized for excellence.  And the house announcements will proudly tell you of this.  Yet at the same time, alongside mentioning the Tony Award (which, I must say, strikes me as the epitome of modesty, I would have glued mine to my forehead), the announcements will proudly tell you about alumni of the show.  This year's director played both the roles of Poor Tom and Sir Walter Raleigh back in the 60's and 70's, one of the actresses has the distinction of being both the youngest and oldest person to play a particular role, etc.  The fact that actors and staff members return to the show repeatedly and in varying capacities seems to be a real source of pride for the production, and the town of Manteo itself.

This is not to say that everything is wonderful.  The script, written in the 1930's, is definitely beginning to show its age.  The treatment of the Roanoke natives is just a little too "heathen savage," complete with Tonto-esque "White-man.. go here.." speech patterns and a propensity for deerskin loincloths.  The treatment of the hostile leader Wanchese seems particularly simplistic, particularly when counterposed to the "pioneer spirit" of the almost completely virtuous colonists (though they do point out that much of the trouble was begun by Englishman Ralph Lane's killing of Algonquin leaders).

Despite this, The Lost Colony embodies much that is good in the tradition of American dramatics (something that the American theatre Wing and I actually agree on... take note, it doesn't happen often).  The establishment of a tradition of excellence and engagement provides a firm foundation for exploration and outreach. 

No comments:

Post a Comment