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What’s With All the Drama?

A scene from "The Lost Colony" in Manteo, the nation's oldest outdoor drama

Editor's Note – In the summer of 2012, Ansley Wegner, a historian with our Research Branch, wrote a series of blog posts highlighting various historical destinations around the state. This is the sixth post in that series. You can see all Wegner's posts on this page. 

Chances are if you grew up in North Carolina or even if you vacationed here as a kid, you probably went to see an outdoor drama or two with your family: sitting in an amphitheater with your parents, and your siblings, and your sunburn, in no particular order of irritation. Most of our outdoor dramas mix history with musical elements—with the end result a fun-filled summer evening.

A scene from "Unto These Hills," performed annually in CherokeeDid you know that this summertime tradition got its start North Carolina?  The nation's very first outdoor drama was Paul Green’s The Lost Colony, launched in Manteo in 1937. Intended as a single season celebration of the 350th anniversary of the first English settlers’ arrival on the continent, it has remained in continuous production with the exception of the World War II years. 

As his master’s thesis under Paul Green, Kermit Hunter wrote Unto These Hills about the history and traditions of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians. The play, rich in pageantry, was first produced in 1950. Hunter followed up in 1952 with Horn in the West. The story of Daniel Boone and other mountain settlers in the 1770s is staged each summer in Boone.

Read more About the History of This Unique Art Form

With so many North Carolinians involved with the developing entertainment form, the Institute of Outdoor Drama was established in 1963 as a clearinghouse for information and advice about outdoor drama production. The Institute, now based at East Carolina University, serves outdoor dramas around the country and assists communities considering their own productions (of which there are generally thirty to forty at any given time). 

North Carolina is now home to at least 10 outdoor dramas, several of which are historical. Subjects are as varied as the Halifax Resolves, the Underground Railroad and even an infamous murder.

Find an Outdoor Drama Near You

Take in some history under the stars this summer!

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