'The Lost Colony' returns, with new costumes

Posted May 31, 2008
Updated June 1, 2008

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— The longest running outdoor drama in the country – "The Lost Colony" – opened its 71st season this weekend with more than 1,000 new costumes, less than a year after a devastating fire.

Only a few costumes that were on exhibit elsewhere survived the September 2007 fire that destroyed the group's costume shop, maintenance building and storage shed. Damage at the Waterside Theatre totally nearly $3 million.

“The whole area ... is deeply rooted in history, and you just hate to see anything with historical value destroyed,” said Tony Duvall, of the Roanoke Island Fire Department.

However, Randi Winter, an actress from Apex, described the opening night as a “new beginning” for the summer show about the disastrous first attempt at a permanent English settlement in the New World in 1587.

Tony-award-winning designer William Ivey Long and his New York-based staff of 60 spent the past month in Manteo attempting to re-creating the costumes. They surrounded themselves with enlarged photos of costumes from previous years for inspiration.

"This has been the greatest challenge and, for me, the greatest assignment of my entire life," Long said.

While the state and National Park Service each donated $500,000, most funds came from individual donations. Various groups also raised money at small fundraisers with titles such as "Dimes for Drama" and "Cookies for Colonists." One young girl even gave her money from the Tooth Fairy.

HBO donated fabric and other items from its "John Adams" miniseries, and more items came from the set of a movie about the jazz musician Buddy Bolden that was filmed in Wilmington.

“We all really appreciate what the costumers have done, what William Ivey Long and his staff have put together in such a sort amount of time,” said Chapel Hill actor Jeb Brinkley.

About 80 percent of the scenery is also new, courtesy of a family gift. And a new director, Robert Richmond, has changed the staging to involve the more of the audience.

Richmond combined the roles of the narrator and Sir Walter Raleigh, the English nobleman who dispatched the colonists to what he called Virginia. Raleigh now tells the story and appears in every scene.

"It's definitely a different dynamic," Winter said. "We have an all new artistic staff, so everyone is bringing all new stuff to the table."

This season of "The Lost Colony"' season has been dedicated to the firefighters that helped save the theater.


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