The Three Stars Of NC Outdoor Drama
All of North Carolina’s outdoor dramas are stars in their own right, but there are three that shine a little brighter. “The Lost Colony,” “Unto These Hills,” and “Horn In The West” are the oldest and longest-running outdoor dramas in the nation, each delighting audiences for more than 50 years.
The Lost Colony
Set in Manteo on the legendary Outer Banks and written by Pulitzer Prize winner and native North Carolinian Paul Green, “The Lost Colony” tells the story of America’s first unsolved mystery. Twenty-two years before Jamestown was settled, colonists from England tried to carve out a home on North Carolina’s Roanoke Island. Instead, they disappeared into the mists of history.
One of the settlers, the daughter of appointed governor John White, gave birth to a baby girl. Virginia Dare, who was born on August 18, 1587, became the first English child born on American soil. In 1937 the residents of Roanoke Island, who have always been proud of their place in American history, commissioned a play to commemorate the 350th anniversary of the birth of Virginia Dare. From this simple request was born the first outdoor symphonic drama and the current longest running outdoor drama in America.
The Lost Colony
Despite the hardships of the Great Depression, the play opened to a packed house on July 4, 1937. Though only slated to run for one season, the drama received national attention when Franklin D. Roosevelt attended a performance on August 18, 1937. “The Lost Colony” has performed every summer since, with the exception of four years during World War II when lights along the North Carolina coast had to be extinguished at night so not to draw the attention of German U-boats. Over 5,000 actors and technicians have trained at the theatre including Andy Griffith and Terrance Mann, and more than three million people have attended the production.
Albert Quentin “Skipper” Bell designed and supervised the construction of the Waterside Theatre in 1937. A fire destroyed most of the structure in the summer of 1947. Bell, along with a group of cast members and residents, restored the theater in six days. The theater was rebuilt by Bell again in 1960 when a hurricane severely damaged the structure shortly after the summer season closed. Bell died in 1964; he will always be known as the “tamer of darkness, fire and flood.”
Unto These Hills
In the sacred mountainous land of the Cherokee, “Unto These Hills” brings to life hundreds of years of history. From their first encounter with Hernando de Soto in 1540 to their removal from their ancestral home and forced march along the “Trail of Tears”, this tale of tragedy and triumph unfolds. It was decided in 1946 that an outdoor drama would be the best way to tell the unique story of their land and heritage. Work began in 1948 on Mountainside Theatre in the scenic and culturally rich town of Cherokee. The site was chosen for its quiet seclusion and excellent acoustics. Crews were careful to build the theater in a way that made it blend in with its natural surroundings; lush vegetation and a rising moon provide a dramatic backdrop to the action on stage. “Unto These Hills” opened on July 1, 1950 and is currently the second longest running outdoor drama in the U.S. Over six million tickets have been sold and actors such as Morgan Freeman and Michael Rosenbaum are alumni of the production.
Unto These Hills
Dr. Kermit Hunter, who graduated from the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, reworked his Master’s thesis to create the original script in the late 1940s. The script remained untouched until 2006 when the EBCI Tribal Government decided it was time to update the story. It took a few years, a few playwrights and a few versions but the end product is a more accurate portrayal of Cherokee history that brings the story to the present day.
Horn In The West
One of North Carolina’s most famous sons takes center stage in “Horn In The West,” the country’s oldest Revolutionary War drama. Follow Daniel Boone and the Stuart family as they migrate westward into the Blue Ridge Mountains. Under oaks as old as our nation, experience the colonial spirit of Boone and like-minded settlers who spark our westward expansion and fight to maintain their freedom against British Loyalists during the Revolutionary War. The play, written by Dr. Kermit Hunter, opened in 1952 and has run every summer since. Over 1.4 million people have made the trip to Boone to see the production and experience the magnificent theatre, which many people feel is worth the price of admission alone.
The Daniel Boone Amphitheatre was constructed in 1952 in just three months. Built on 35-acres of rugged Watauga County terrain, special care was taken to preserve the natural beauty that surrounded the space. Giant rhododendrons were moved from the seating area to the edges of the space to block out views of the parking lots. Today, the grounds are home to the Daniel Boone Nature Garden, a nod to the care taken to preserve the area’s landscape and vegetation.
Although these are North Carolina's oldest and brightest stars, many other outdoor dramas are produced every summer throughout the state. Check out the complete list of the state's productions.
added: April 30, 2010
updated: May 5, 2010
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