Ancient Greece may be the birthplace of outdoor drama, but prize-winning Chapel Hill playwright Paul Green (1894-1981) invented the “symphonic drama of American history” when The Lost Colony (http://www.uncpress.unc.edu/chapters/green_lost.html) premiered on Roanoke Island in 1937, the 350th anniversary of the first English attempt to plant a permanent settlement on the North American continent. (Green won the 1927 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for In Abraham’s Bosom.)
The Lost Colony soon became a lucrative tourist attraction for the remote and sparsely settled Outer Banks. other Tar Heel communities took note and followed Manteo’s lead by commissioning their own outdoor dramas. This year, the State of the Arts will be home to 12 historical dramas, three plays by English dramatist and poet William Shakespeare (1564-1616), and one play by 18th century English playwright Oliver Goldsmith (1728-74).
I have lightly edited the thumbnail descriptions of the following shows from news releases and other information from the Institute of Outdoor Drama at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and UNC News Services, as well as information gleaned from the outdoor dramas web sites. This article provides basic facts about and contact information for all 21 outdoor dramas. For more information about the Institute and its director, Scott J. Parker, who retires July 31st after 17 years as head of the 44-year-old advisory and research agency which serves 110 outdoor theatre companies in 40 states, see http://www.unc.edu/depts/outdoor/ [inactive 9/09]. To read Parker’s article on how outdoor dramas became a national phenomenon, see http://www.unc.edu/depts/outdoor/scottarticle.html [inactive 9/09].
On its web site, the Institute of Outdoor Drama writes, “During [Scott] Parker’s service, the number of American outdoor theatre companies affiliated with the IOD has doubled, nationwide attendance has topped 2.5 million people every summer, and the economic impact on the U.S. travel and tourism industry has grown to more than $500 million annually.”
This summer, N.C. outdoor dramas include, in alphabetical order:
Amistad Saga: Reflections, African American Cultural Complex, Raleigh, NC. Ann Hunt Smith, playwright, and Reggie Jeffries, composer. The only outdoor drama written, directed (originally by Juanda Holley, now by Brian Davis), and produced by African-Americans chronicles an 1839 mutiny aboard a slave ship and the resulting U.S. Supreme Court case, with speeches, song, and dance. 8:30 p.m. Thursday-Sunday, July 19-22 and July 26-29. 919/250-9336. African American Cultural Complex, 119 Sunnybrook Rd., Raleigh, NC 27606-2424. 919/250-9336; group rates: 919/212-3598; or http://www.aaccmuseum.org/amistad_reflections.htm [inactive 1/09].
First for Freedom, Halifax County Historic Courthouse, NC. Max Williams, playwright. The drama traces events leading to the adoption on April 12, 1776, of the Halifax Resolves, which authorized North Carolina delegates to the Continental Congress to vote for independence from Great Britain. The unanimous vote by 83 state delegates at the Fourth Provincial Congress in Halifax was the first official action by a colony that called for independence. Friday-Sunday, June 29-30, and Wednesday-Saturday, July 4-7. Eastern Stage Inc., 14511 Hwy. 903, Halifax, NC 27839. 252/583-2261.
From This Day Forward, Fred B. Cranford Old Colony Amphitheatre, Church St., Valdese, NC. Fred B. Cranford, playwright. This is the story of the Waldenses, a religious sect that arose in southeast France in the 1100s, and their struggle to survive persecution in their homeland and their eventual arrival in North Carolina to establish a colony in 1893 at Valdese. The show, which will be directed this year by John Hogan, includes music and dance. 2007 is the show’s 40th consecutive season. 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, July 6-7, 13-14, 20-21, 27-28, and Aug. 3-4 and 10-11. Old Colony Players, Post Office Box 112, Valdese, NC 28690. 800/635-4778, 828/874-0176, or http://www.oldcolonyplayers.com/ [inactive 2/10].
Horn in the West, Hickory Ridge Homestead, Boone, NC. Kermit Hunter, playwright, and Peter MacBeth, composer. In North Carolina’s southern Appalachians during the American Revolution, frontiersman Daniel Boone and his settlers struggle against the British militia. Museum and homestead on site. 8 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday, June 22-24; June 29-July 1; July 3-8, 10-15, 17-22, and 24-29; July 31-Aug. 5; and August 7-11. Southern Appalachian Historical Association, Post Office Box 295, Boone, NC 28607. 888/825-6747 or http://www.horninthewest.com/.
The Lost Colony, Waterside Theatre, Manteo, NC. Paul Green, playwright. The original symphonic drama, in its 70th year, on the mysterious disappearance of the first English colony to settle in America, after its arrival on Roanoke Island in 1587. This year, the show will have a new “Plymouth” scene and a new sound system. The Lost Colony will be staged by British director Jane McCulloch and choreographed by Barbara Dare Hartwig, with production design by five-time Tony Award® winner William Ivey Long. 8:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday, June 22-Aug. 18. Note: Other shows include Cinderella by Jack Perry and Robert Neil Porter at 9:30 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, June 26-Aug. 16; and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific 8:15 p.m. Sunday, July 22 and 29. Roanoke Island Historical Association Inc., 1409 National Park Rd., Manteo, NC 27954. 800/488-5012, 252/473-3414, or http://www.thelostcolony.org/.
The Montford Park Players, Hazel Robinson Amphitheatre, Asheville, NC. William Shakespeare, Edmond Rostand, and William H. Logan, playwrights. Romeo and Juliet, Much Ado About Nothing, and Henry VI, Parts 1, 2, and 3 by Shakespeare; Cyrano de Bergerac by Rostand; and The Signature by Logan will be performed during the 35th season of North Carolina’s longest-running Shakespeare Festival. 7:30 p.m. Friday-Sunday, June 22-Oct. 14: Romeo and Juliet (June 22-July 8), directed by Jason Williams; Cyrano de Bergerac (July 20-Aug. 12), directed by Mary Landingham; The Signature (Aug. 17-Sept. 2), directed by playwright William H. Logan; Much Ado About Nothing (Sept. 7-20), directed by Michael Coghlan; and Henry VI, Parts 1, 2, and 3 (Oct. 5-14), directed by David Mycoff as part of the Montford Park Players’ “Stripped-Down Shakespeare” Series. Note: Admission is free. Montford Park Players, 246 Cumberland Ave., Asheville, NC 28801; 828/254-5146 or http://www.montfordparkplayers.org/.
Moonshine and Thunder — The Junior Johnson Story, Forest Edge Community Amphitheatre in Fort Hamby Park, 1534 S. Recreation Rd., Wilkesboro, NC. Moonshine and Thundertells the story of the early years of running ‘shine and racing in the mountains of NC and its evolution to NASCAR. It is a story steeped in Scotch-Irish culture and tradition and doused with moonshine! Set and performed in Wilkes County, the play focuses primarily on one man and his family—a man that went on to be a NASCAR legend—Junior Johnson. The play takes Junior Johnson through his early years as a moonshiner to his early years in NASCAR, documenting the beginnings of a living legend. Performances begin at 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Sunday, Oct.18-21 and 25-28. Wilkes Playmakers Inc., Post Office Box 397, North Wilkesboro, NC 28659. 336/838-7529 or http://www.wilkesplaymakers.com/.
Shakespeare on the Green, Greenfield Lake Amphitheater, 1941 Amphitheater Dr., Wilmington, NC. William Shakespeare, playwright. 8 p.m. Friday-Sunday, June 22-24. For the festival’s 14th season, Katherine Vernon will direct the classic comedy As You Like It. Note: Admission is free. Shakespeare on the Green, 208 N. 17th Street, Wilmington, NC 28401. 910/762-6393 or http://www.myspace.com/shakespeareonthegreen.
Strike at the Wind, Adolph L. Dial Amphitheater, 638 Terry Sanford Rd., Pembroke, NC. Randolph Umberger, playwright, and Willie French Lowery, composer. This 31-year-old drama depicts the life and mysterious disappearance of North Carolina Lumbee Indian outlaw Henry Berry Lowrie, whose exploits in the years after the Civil War earned him a reputation as the American Robin Hood. 8:30 p.m. Friday-Sunday, July 7-10, 14-17, 21-24, and 28-31 and Aug. 2-5, 9-12,16-19, 23-26. Carolina Arts Network Inc., Post Office Box 1350, Pembroke, NC 28372. 910/521-6287 (tickets); 910/521-0835 (group rates); or http://www.strikeatthewind.com/ [inactive 4/09].
The Sword of Peace and Pathway to Freedom, plus Jesus Christ Superstar, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and The Emperor’s New Clothes, Snow Camp Historic Amphitheatre, Snow Camp, NC. Sword of Peace, William Hardy, playwright: During the Revolution, Cane Creek Society of Friends defends belief in non-violence. 8 p.m. June 28-30; July 12, 14, 20, 26, and 28; and Aug.3, 9, 11, and 17. Pathway to Freedom, Mark Sumner, playwright: Slavery opponents and free blacks help hundreds of escaped slaves flee north before the Civil War. 8 p.m. July 5-7, 13, 19, 21, and 27; Aug. 2, 4, 10, 16, and 18. Jesus Christ Superstar, the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice rock opera is based on the political and personal struggles of Jesus and Judas Iscariot, will be performed 8 p.m. Wednesdays, July 11, 18, and 25 and Aug. 1, 8, and 15; and Tuesday-Saturday, Aug 21-25. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, an adaptation of Washington Irving’s short story, set in the 1790s, in which schoolteacher and a thug compete for the hand of beautiful young woman and the teacher disappears mysteriously amid ghost stories about a headless horseman, will be performed 8 p.m. Aug. 21-25. A children’s show, The Emperor’s New Clothes, will play at 10 a.m. June 30; July 14, 21, and 28; and Aug. 7, 11, and 18. Snow Camp Outdoor Theatre, Post Office Box 535, Snow Camp, NC 27349-0535. 800/726-5115, 336/376-6948, or http://www.snowcampdrama.com/.
Tom Dooley: A Wilkes County Legend, Forest Edge Community Amphitheatre in Fort Hamby Park, 1534 S. Recreation Rd., Wilkesboro, NC. An 1868 Wilkes County love triangle results in the murder of one woman and subsequent hanging of Tom Dula (pronounced “Dooley”). Legend has it that he confessed to the murder to protect is true love. People nationwide have been fascinated and intrigued with the Tom Dooley story for over a century. The murder of Laura Foster in the Elkville community, now known as Ferguson, in North Carolina was one of the nation’s first highly publicized crimes of passion. Tom Dooley hanged for the crime but many questions were left unanswered. The Kingston Trio catapulted Tom Dooley to fame again in the 1960’s with the song “Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley”. Visitors still travel from far and wide to visit the graves and tour the countryside where the story took place. The seventh season of this drama will be performed outdoors at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday, June 22-24, June 29-July 1, and July 3-7. Wilkes Playmakers Inc., Post Office Box 397, North Wilkesboro, NC 28659. 336/838-7529 or http://www.wilkesplaymakers.com/.
Unto These Hills … A Retelling, Mountainside Theatre, Cherokee, NC. Hanay Geiogamah, playwright, and Dennis Yerry, composer. Unto These Hills tells the history of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee, with a new script and score and more Native American actors, dances, customs and legends, written and directed by Hanay Geiogamah, Kiowa/Delaware, theater and American Indian studies faculty member at UCLA. 8 p.m. June 23 and 25-29; July 2-7, 9-14, 16-21, 24-28, and 30; and Aug. 1-4, 6-11, 13-18, and 31. Cherokee Historical Association, Post Office Box 398, Cherokee, NC 28719. 866/554-4557 or http://www.cherokee-nc.com/unto_these_intro.php [inactive 1/08].