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 he wrote The Lost Colony: A Symphonic Drama of American History, which 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, currently directed by Theatre in the Park founder and executive director Ira David Wood III of Raleigh, soon became a lucrative tourist attraction for the remote and sparsely settled Outer Banks. Other Tarheel communities took note and followed Manteo’s lead by commissioning their own outdoor dramas.
In 1947, the Western North Carolina Associated Communities approached the Department of Dramatic Art at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, seeking to create a new outdoor drama. The resulting play, Unto These Hills, the state’s second-oldest outdoor drama, premiered June 30, 1950, at Mountainside Theatre in Cherokee. Celebrating its 64th season this summer, the show, which is now produced by the Cherokee Historical Association, provides audiences with an authentic portrayal of the Cherokee Indians.
Some of the following production information was provided by the Greenville, NC-based Institute of Outdoor Drama (formerly the Institute of Outdoor Drama, based at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), … a public service. As the only national organization dedicated to the advancement of the outdoor drama movement, the IOT helps promote over 100 theaters nationwide. They also compile the annual Directory of Outdoor Drama in the United States, available at http://www.outdoor-theatre.org/member-directory/.
The following alphabetical list of North Carolina’s outdoor dramas is based on the IOT’s membership directory and information from the outdoor dramas’ websites:
First for Freedom in the 4-H Rural Life Center Amphitheater, 13763 Hwy. 903, Halifax NC 27839. SEASON: June 26th to July 12th. DESCRIPTION: “… First for Freedom … tells the story of the events leading up to the [April 12, 1776] adoption of the Halifax Resolves, the first official declaration of independence from England by any colony.” TICKETS/MORE INFORMATION: 800-522-4282.
From This Day Forward the Fred Cranford Outdoor Amphitheatre, 400 Main St. West, Valdese, NC 28690. SEASON: July 11th to Aug. 9th. DESCRIPTION: “… From This Day Forward, written by Fred Cranford, is the flagship show of Old Colony Players. The summer of 2014 will mark the 47th consecutive season of production. This drama tells the story of the Waldenses, a people from the area known as the Cottian Alps in Northern Italy near the French border, and the founders of the Town of Valdese.” TICKETS: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/from-this-day-forward-outdoor-drama-tickets-11376422185.
Horn in the West at 591 Horn in the West Dr., Boone, NC 28607. SEASON: June 27th to Aug. 16th. DESCRIPTION: “… [T]he nation’s oldest Revolutionary War drama, brings to life the famous frontiersman Daniel Boone [1734-1820] and the hearty mountain settlers in their struggle to preserve their freedom during the turbulent years of the War for Independence.” TICKETS: 828-264-2120 or http://www.etix.com/.
The Lost Colony at the Waterside Theatre, 1409 National Park Dr., Manteo, NC, 27954. SEASON: May 30th to Aug. 22nd. DESCRIPTION: “Come see epic battles and Indian dances. Experience the sorrow and heartbreak of tragedy and loss. Witness the pageantry of the Queen and her court and celebrate the birth of Virginia Dare. There is music, laughter, romance and dance. The Lost Colony is widely acknowledged as the precursor to the modern American Broadway Musical.” TICKETS/MORE INFORMATION: 252-473-6000 or https://itkt.choicecrm.net/templates/LCOL/.
Montford Park Players: Henry V (June 6th to 28th), Tartuffe (July 4th to 26th), The Taming of the Shrew (Aug. 1st to 23rd), and Coriolanus (Aug. 29th to Sept. 20th) in the Hazel Robinson Amphitheatre, 100 Gay St., Asheville, NC 28801; and The Winter’s Tale (Oct. 9th to 26th) and A Christmas Carol (Dec. 6th to 23rd) at the Asheville Masonic Temple, 80 Broadway, Asheville, NC 28801. SEASON: March 27th to Dec. 23rd. DESCRIPTION: The Montford Park Players’ 2014 season includes four plays by William Shakespeare (1564-1616), a French satire by Molière (1622-73), and the company’s annual production of a dramatization of the beloved 1843 Christmas story by Charles Dickens (1812-70). TICKETS/MORE INFORMATION: 828-254-5146.
The Promised Land: A Quest for Freedom at the Ormond Amphitheatre, 3536 N.C. Hwy. 92 East, Bath, NC 27808. SEASON: June 27th to 28th. DESCRIPTION: “Americans honor their rich history and the pursuit of independence -– both for physical and spiritual freedom. Each year in June, “>Walk in the Light Productions, Inc. in cooperation with the Kinston region of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) present The Promised Land, an original production based on the true story of a North Carolina family who fought in the Revolutionary War and whose descendants moved to Missouri and joined the new and growing Mormon Church.” TICKETS/MORE INFORMATION: 252-923-0999.
Sword of Peace and Pathway to Freedom in the Snow Camp Outdoor Theatre, 301 Drama Rd., Snow Camp, NC 27349. SEASON: June 26th to Aug. 9th. DESCRIPTION: “The Sword of Peace is a dramatic portrayal of the American Revolution. It enlightens the audience about the struggles the peaceful Quakers must face in a time of war. General Nathanael Greene, second-in-command under General George Washington, is about to meet Lord Cornwallis, commander of the British Forces in America, at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse. Simon Dixon, a Quaker miller is faced with an important decision like that of his neighbors, take up arms and fight or remain true to his faith. Simon and other historical characters reveal their heart-torn decisions as you witness this exciting, action-packed dramatic tribute to the Quakers…. Pathway To Freedom is an exciting account of the struggles and heroism of the 1840s and 1850s along the ‘Underground Railroad‘ from North Carolina to Indiana. Both individuals and some of the organized religions fought slavery in the legislature and on the farms, while some, like Levi and Katie Coffin of Guilford County, led volunteers and free slaves in clandestine efforts to help escaping slaves to freedom. The play centers on George Vestal, son of a slave owning family, and how and why he became a worker for the ‘Underground Railroad.’ Events trace the actions of slave families in their hope of gaining freedom and dignity. The rich music in the play is based upon the music of the period and enriches the emotions that flow during the play. [Pathway To Freedom is a] story of conflict, of action, [and] support of human dignity; and it urges us to work for what ought to be. It is a play about family courage. It helps to explain our past and shines a light to the future.” TICKETS/MORE INFORMATION: 336-376-6948.
Tom Dooley: A Wilkes County Legend at the Forest Edge Amphitheatre at Historic Fort Hamby Park, Wilkesboro, NC. SEASON: July 3rd to 26th. DESCRIPTION: “This is the dramatization of the well-known 1868 Wilkes County love triangle that resulted in the murder of Laura Foster and the subsequent hanging of Tom Dula (pronounced ‘Dooley’) (1846-68). Folklore and legend feel that he confessed to the murder to protect his true love, Anne Melton. Local musicians will sing and play acoustical instruments and Appalachian square dancing will be featured….” TICKETS/MORE INFORMATION: 336-838-4278 or http://www.bleumoonproductions.blogspot.com/p/tickets.html.
Unto These Hills at the Mountainside Theatre, 564 Tsali Blvd (Hwy. 441), Cherokee, NC 28719. SEASON: May 31st to Aug. 16th. DESCRIPTION: “Unto These Hills is one of the nation’s foremost outdoor dramas. Debuting in 1950, Unto These Hills has been performed for over six million visitors in its over 60 years of operation. From the first contact with Europeans to the infamous and tragic Trail of Tears, Unto These Hills tells the triumphant story of the Cherokee through the eons.” TICKETS/MORE INFORMATION: 866-554-4557 or http://cherokeeadventure.com/tickets/.
Robert W. McDowell has written articles for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, CVNC, and Triangle Arts and Entertainment, all based in Raleigh. He edits and publishes two FREE weekly e-mail newsletters. Triangle Review provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of local performing-arts events. (Start your FREE subscription by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org and typing SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) McDowell also maintains a FREE list of movie sneak previews. (To subscribe, e-mail email@example.com and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.)