MANTEO — Eight members of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina took to the stage during Memorial Day weekend as “The Lost Colony” drama opened to a sold-out crowd for its 84th season, with a historic first.
The production featured 11 American Indians from tribes across the Southeast. It is the first time in the production’s history that these roles were played by American Indians. Previously these roles of the first natives that the colonists encountered on Roanoke Island were cast to non-native actors.
Lumbee Tribal Chairman Harvey Godwin Jr. and Kaya Littleturtle have collaborated with the Lost Colony Board and production team for the past year to assist with updates to props and instruments, a well and American Indians were hired to build historically accurate regalia designed to reflect John White’s actual drawings. Lumbee Tribe members also are featured in marketing materials for the 84th season of the drama.
“It’s been a great experience because honestly this is the first time in 84 years they’re having real natives play native characters, and the fact that the Lumbee Tribe was added and they reached out to us and we all agreed to come, we’re just making history. We’re a part of it and were enjoying it,” said Stevie Lowry, a Lumbee Tribe member who was cast as Manteo’s wife from the Turtle Clan.
Halona Lewis, a Lumbee cast as an ensemble member of the Wolf Clan, said participating in the show is setting a worldwide precedence.
“It was such a statement for our people to make everywhere really,” she said. “There’s so many people here, from like the characters in the show and the workers from all different parts of the world, and it’s amazing for us to be able to educate them about our people. [F]or them to be able to learn it and go out in other parts of the world and spread our culture is beautiful.”
On the last night of dress rehearsals, the Lumbee tribal chairman and several members of the Lumbee Tribe joined the Roanoke Island Historical Association board of directors to host a Blessing Ceremony at the historic Waterside Theatre on Roanoke Island. It was an opportunity to pray and wish the cast the very best on the historic season.
The cast members practiced their roles for more than a month.
The Lumbee Tribe’s Kayla Oxendine, who plays the Storyteller, is no stranger to the stage. She performed as the Leader for several years in the “Strike at the Wind!” Outdoor Drama.
“It was momentous to say the least. You feel the pressure of representing our people, but also the freedom that comes with knowing you are creating history,” Oxendine said. “It is an honor and a blessing, but it is also wild to imagine.”
“I don’t feel like I’m just representing our native people, although they are in the forefront of my mind. I feel like I’m representing every person who has ever thought of another person as the other,” the actress added.
Oxendine was most impressed with the environment and the attitude of her fellow cast members.
“This cast has been so welcoming of our people, so loving,” she said.
Written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paul Green, “The Lost Colony” is the nation’s longest-running outdoor symphonic drama. It was first staged in 1937.
Zakia Blackburn, who played Wanchese of the Bear Clan, said he was nervous, but it soon began to feel like second nature once he took the stage.
“I know that this is a big step in the right direction,” Blackburn said. “They could have asked any native community to come out but they chose the Lumbee community and I’m forever grateful that they decided to use our community.”
Nakya Leviner, a Lumbee who played Manteo, described opening night as a “great” experience.
“Once you get in that moment, as soon as you go off that stage and come back on, it’s like he (Blackburn) said, like second nature. I’m glad that we get a chance to tell our story and we get to tell it right,” Leviner said.
The American Indian cast also included Lumbees Frank Lowery, who played Chief Wingina of the Wolf Clan, and Jawan Jacobs-Thompson, playing Uppowoc of the Turtle Clan. Other American Indian cast members are Catherine Ammons, a member of the Snipe Clan Coharie Tribe; Cheyenne Daniels, of the Haliwa-Saponi Tribe; and Chloe Greene, of the Chickahominy Tribe.
The Lost Colony will run through Aug. 21. Tickets can be purchased online at https://www.thelostcolony.org/ticket-info/ or by calling the ticket office at 252-473-6000.