The Lost Colony has the distinction of being the nation’s premier and longest-running symphonic outdoor drama. The drama was first produced in 1937 and has been presented every year since then at Manteo’s Waterside Theatre on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. The Lost Colony is touted as the “grandfather” of all outdoor drama and was originally written as a celebration of the 350th anniversary of the birth of Virginia Dare, the first child to be born in the Americas to English parents. The production is a unique combination of song, dance, and drama and is presented on the actual spot where the colonists originally settled. The name "The Lost Colony” comes from the fact that the colony disappeared during a three-year period when its founder, John White, sailed back to England seeking assistance for the group. When he returned, they were gone.
The group of artists who produce The Lost Colony has changed frequently over its seventy plus years of production. Since I began working with the production in 2006, I have worked with two directors, three musical directors, three lighting designers, and the famous actress Lynn Redgrave. I have had the pleasure of working with the show’s producer, Carl Curnutte, and the production designer, five-time Tony Award winning William Ivey Long since I joined the team in 2006.
The Lost Colony is comprised of musical performance by a choir, dance, fight choreography, and drama. This requires me to employ every skill I have, from music production and recording to outdoor sound control. Although the drama has a prerecorded orchestral score, each musical director brings new musical ideas to the piece. I often have to create electronic orchestral pieces that seamlessly interface with existing orchestral recordings using MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) technology and music performance. Recording sessions with the choir are necessary in order to make archive recordings of the current musical director's vocal arrangements. Some of these recordings are synced to the orchestral recordings and are used during the show to strengthen the sound of the eighteen-member choir. Much of the score must be edited to fit the current length of dance and fight choreography. Environmental ambience and special sound effects are created to augment the dramatic scenes. Many of these effects are engineered to surround the audience utilizing a surround speaker system and digital sound playback. The acoustic aspects of the show are reinforced with multiple boundary microphones. Also, twenty-four wireless microphones are mixed through a forty-channel digital mixing console. The sound requirements for this show are equal to the size of some Broadway shows.
The Native Dance has been an important part of the play's exposition since 1937. The audience is shown what the first encounter between the Colony's English settlers and the Native Americans may have been like. This scene is also an element of spectacle for the play, since it is primarily told through dance. The Natives are found dancing and are interrupted by the English Settlers bearing gifts of gold and writings. After this exchange, the dance continues and culminates in a fury of music and movement. This scene is the result of collaboration between the director, music director, choreographer, and sound designer.
This example uses recorded samples a very large, authentic Native American drum. These samples are imported into a computer-based music sequencer and triggered with a MIDI keyboard. The music director helps to create the structure of the piece. Next, the choir is recorded singing along with this construction. There are symbolic sounds in this example that link with each exchange of gifts during the middle of the dance. These exchanges are underscored by a soundscape of heartbeat, wind, and rainstick. Finally, this is all engineered in such a way that each element leaps out at the audience through the use of surround sound.
Old Tom is the most transformed character in the play. When he is first presented to the audience, he is portrayed as a drunk. Having just been thrown out of the tavern by the bar keep, he has no idea that he will later join the expedition to the new world and serve as one of the Colony's leaders.
This example presents the sounds that emanate out of the tavern. The music in this piece is based on a song Old Tom sings at the end of this scene and implies a band within the tavern. This is augmented with the sound of rowdy men. These sounds are engineered so that on cue the sound engineer can switch between the sound of the tavern door open to closed with one button press.
These songs and sounds underscore the final scene of the first act of the play. The scene occurs in the Port of Plymouth as the future colonists are poised to set sail to the New World. This example is a collage of all the sounds and music used during this scene. First, the sounds of an early port are heard. Cannons are heard firing, followed by the sound of a French horn blowing. Characters in this scene refer to these sounds. The musical tracks for "High Barbary" and "Farewell England" are created using a MIDI sequencer and sampling (click here for a movie example of this process in an illustration of a song from Twelfth Night). The production’s choir is then recorded and added to these music tracks. The choir tracks are used in performance as backing tracks to make the choir sound larger.
The woods around the Waterside Theatre are enchanted by the sound of whippoorwills. This sound is very beautiful, and early in my involvement with The Lost Colony, I began recording these animals for inclusion on earthrecordings.com. Act 2 of The Lost Colony begins with an extension of the actual environmental sounds found at the site. I employed my recordings of the whippoorwill and augmented them with the sounds of crickets and frogs. These elements are sent to various speakers around the amphitheater. These sounds underscore the first arrival of the English settlers to the Outer Banks.
In this example, the original orchestral sound track has been augmented with a recording of the 2009 Lost Colony Choir. The choir track is then mixed with the track during performance to augment the sound of the live choir.
This sound collage is incredibly dense and used to augment the production's biggest battle recreation between the settlers and Native Americans. During the performance, arrows "swoosh" by the audience using surround sound techniques. Screaming, gunshots, etc envelop the audience. This piece is so popular that it is presented without the accompanying fight choreography during the backstage tours before the show.
This piece was written by the music director in order to combine several Act 2 elements into one event. The first part underscores the narrator's dialogue and then shifts to accompany a singer performing "Adam Lay YBounden" while the body of Marjorie Harvey's baby is buried. Using MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital interface) technology, this piece is crafted to blend with the existing orchestral score.
The Lost Colony ends with its characters performing a final march into the unknown. The march uses the orchestral score. Since I have been the sound designer since 2006, I have four years of choir recordings for this piece at my disposal. During the 2009 season, all four years of choir recordings are blended to create a sixty person vocal recording used to strengthen the live singing during the performance.
In order to create a total experience for the audience, the director places actors and show elements along the path leading to the theatre. This activity happens during the hour before the show starts. On this path, the audience first encounters Native Americans living life in the woods adjacent to the path. I used music I wrote and recorded of Native American flute for Blue Jacket earlier in my career. Two variances of the flute, and one nature environment play from separate areas on portable stereos, cleverly hidden in the woods along the path. This gives the impression of flute players out in the woods, behind the Native American scenes.