Paul Green's Dramatic Outdoor Legacy
Outdoor drama is a melding of literature and landscape. North Carolina – with its scenic beauty, history and love of storytelling – is its birthplace. Many outdoor dramas take to the North Carolina stage every summer and most are historical in nature, depicting actual events near the site where history happened.
Cinematic in scale and production quality, outdoor dramas are staged in huge amphitheaters with mountains, rolling hills and beaches as backdrops. They feature music and dance, huge casts of extras, special effects like pyrotechnics, beautiful costumes, battles and even horse-drawn wagon trains.
Our legacy of superb outdoor drama would never have been established without the talents and innovations of one man. Pulitzer Prize winner and North Carolina native Paul Green gave birth to outdoor drama when he wrote “The Lost Colony” in 1937, the nation’s oldest and longest-running outdoor drama.
Green grew up in verdant Harnett County, a little south of Raleigh. He spent much of his youth reading in the fields behind the mule-drawn plow that churned up the soil on his family’s cotton farm.
A self-taught violin player, Green would later use his musical gift to compose the scores for some of his own dramas. The young Green took up teaching and semi-professional baseball after graduation from Buies Creek Academy so that he could raise enough money to go to college. He headed to the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, but World War I soon interrupted his education. He returned to Chapel Hill from the war in 1919 to finish college. He had only read two plays in his life before writing his first as a student. It was the first play he ever saw on stage.
In 1927, Green’s first Broadway play, “In Abraham’s Bosom,” won the Pulitzer Prize in Drama. He followed that up with six more Broadway plays; numerous other plays, including 17 outdoor dramas; screenplays for Clark Gable, Greer Garson, Bette Davis, and Will Rogers; short-story collections; and several non-fiction books.
Green became a Chapel Hill institution teaching philosophy and drama there until 1944, when he retired in order to focus on his writing. In his own words, he was “haunted by the ideal of perfection.” This dream of perfection drove him, and won him accolades for his work. Green won two Guggenheim Fellowships, the National Theatre Conference plaque, an American Theatre Association citation, the Frank P. Graham Award, membership in the National Institutes of Art and Letters from 1940 and the North Carolina Award for Literature. The Paul Green Theatre at UNC adopted his name in 1978. North Carolina’s General Assembly named him state dramatist laureate in 1979. By the time the curtain fell on his life in 1981, he had won nine honorary degrees and was posthumously inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame in New York City.
added: April 30, 2010
updated: May 4, 2010
Ideas & What To Do
Take an arts-style vacation or weekend getaway anytime along North…
Outdoor drama is a melding of literature and landscape. North Carolina…
All of North Carolina’s outdoor dramas are stars in their own…
Every summer theater groups across North Carolina bring history alive…
Here are a few fun facts about the long and storied history of outdoor…