North Carolina Is Home to Legendary Outdoor Dramas

North Carolina Is Home to Legendary Outdoor Dramas

The Lost Colony in Manteo on the Outer Banks

North Carolina is the birthplace of American outdoor drama, having entertained and educated generations of summertime visitors to our state. The “curtain” went up for the first time on The Lost Colony back in 1937. Performances of Unto These Hills began in 1950, and Horn in the West came on the scene shortly afterward in 1952. And these legendary performances continue to this day.

The Lost Colony

Set on the legendary Outer Banks, 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. Left to survive when their ship went back to England for supplies, the colony disappeared into the mists of history, becoming known as “The Lost Colony.”

One of the colony’s settlers, the daughter of appointed governor John White, gave birth to a baby girl named Virginia Dare who made history as the first English child born on American soil Aug. 18, 1587. In 1937, the residents of Roanoke Island commissioned a play to commemorate her birth. The play opened to a packed house July 4, 1937, and welcomed Franklin D. Roosevelt to a performance on Aug. 18, 1937. Today, it is distinguished as the longest-running symphonic outdoor drama in America.

The Waterside Theatre, home to every performance of The Lost Colony, has also been a strong survivor. It suspended performances during World War II so its lights would not attract the attention of German U-boats. It was rebuilt after a fire in 1946, and a hurricane in 1960, both times by locals led by the theater’s original designer Albert Quentin “Skipper” Bell.

The drama’s talented playwright and native North Carolinian, Paul Green, was celebrated time-and-time again throughout his life. Among Green’s seven Broadway plays, In Abraham’s Bosom won the Pulitzer Prize in Drama in 1927. His prolific writing career also produced 17 outdoor dramas, Hollywood screenplays, short stories and several non-fiction books.

In 2013, the Tony Awards honored The Lost Colony for its rich history and contribution to arts in America. As you sit in the audience and disappear into the story, you will agree it is a true national treasure.

Unto These Hills

Staged in the sacred mountain land of the Cherokee, Unto These Hills unfolds as members of the Cherokee nation first encounter explorer Hernando de Soto in 1540. This tale of tragedy and triumph follows their story through their tragic removal from their ancestral North Carolina home and forced march along the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma.

After the play’s visionaries decided that an outdoor drama would best tell the Cherokee’s story, work began in 1948 on the ideal venue for staging it. The site for Mountainside Theatre was chosen for its quiet seclusion and excellent acoustics in the scenic and culturally rich town of Cherokee. You’ll love the way the setting’s lush vegetation and a rising moon still provide a dramatic backdrop to the action on stage. During the years, Unto These Hills has showcased the talents actors such as Morgan Freeman and Michael Rosenbaum.

Dr. Kermit Hunter, who graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, reworked his master’s thesis to create the original script in the late 1940s. In 2006, the EBCI Tribal Government decided to update the story, and engaged several playwrights to bring the story to its more accurate present-day portrayal.

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. The story follows Daniel Boone and the Stuart family as they migrate westward into the Blue Ridge Mountains. Under oaks as old as our nation, you’ll be swept away into the spirit and perseverance 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, has enjoyed continuous summertime runs that have attracted nearly 1.5 million visitors.

Many people believe the magnificent theater is worth the price of admission alone. The Daniel Boone Amphitheatre sits amid 35-acres of rugged Watauga County terrain. Giant rhododendrons were moved to block out views of the parking lots and maintain scenic beauty. Today, the grounds are also home to the Daniel Boone Nature Garden, which will make your visit even more special.

In addition to our three longest-running dramas, visitors to North Carolina can see nine other outdoor dramas produced every summer throughout the state.


There’s much to see and do in North Carolina, so read on.

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