Letter from the Outer Banks
Sword and scabbard, ruff and pinky ring — Adam Segaller dressed and played the part of Sir Walter Raleigh in “The Lost Colony,” the longest-running outdoor drama in the United States.
At 8:25, the Stage Right Stage Manager calls five minutes to places. This is my cue to put on my tights, breeches, thigh-high boots and my clip-on pearl earring. I cross to Stage Left, exchanging passing “break a leg”s with my U.Va. classmate Matt Fletcher (Drama, History ’07). This is his second year here, and he plays Father Martin, the priest on the first expedition. At Stage Left I wait with my quick-change costumer, Will, for the completion of the opening number to perform a microphone exchange.
Of course, the backstage cross at the Waterside Theater is a little different from most, as the backstage area is basically a dock. Look one way and you see the back of the set; turn around and you are overlooking a shallow sound, beyond which lies the bulk of the Atlantic Ocean. An extension of the dock that runs away from the stage allows the pyrotechnic crew to shoot off fireworks during the performance. Occasionally dolphins can be seen skimming the surface of the sound with their fins. Just as the play begins, there is usually a dramatic sunset behind the scenes; if not, its absence is supplemented by even more theatrical thunderheads. There is a standing contention concerning the preferable weather between those actors who play English courtiers and those who play Native Americans: the former, wearing many (often woolen) layers, greatly prefer the wetter and consequently cooler weather; the latter, attired only in loincloths and body paint, can stand the heat.
I play Sir Walter Raleigh, the knight who famously threw his cloak over a puddle for Queen Elizabeth the First, and whose thwarted attempts to colonize America are in part the subject of Paul Green’s “The Lost Colony,” the longest-running outdoor drama in the United States.
Having received my microphone, I head back to my dressing room at Stage Right (stopping by the props table to collect my money pouch), where I don a doublet, cape, sword and scabbard, ruff, pinky ring, white gloves (donated by Robert Duvall, I am told) and hat, and head for my entrance. I do this six nights a week.
Thus begins my life as a working actor, and although “The Lost Colony” is certainly a special place, its mixture of drama and routine, costume and regiment, spectacle and — well — tedium, is relatively exemplary of what theater is to the majority of people who make it. In addition to tramping the boards (by the way, “the boards” here are a huge sandbox), the Lost Colony’s members’ professional duties include calls to rehearse stage battles, PR appearances in costume, attending understudy rehearsals and a weekly company meeting. To supplement the professional portion of the summer stock experience, a program known as Professional Theatre Workshop allows members of the cast to participate in choir and dance concerts, small seminars with professional casting directors, actors and designers and a number of plays (including a collection of Shakespeare scenes on war directed by yours truly).
This is only one of the many ways in which “The Lost Colony,” operating as a family, endeavors to keep itself healthy and fresh, despite clocking in more than 70 performances of the same play from June to August. We also have nightly notes concerning anything from blocking to acting quality from our stage manager, who watches and calls the cues for every single performance. I haven’t yet mentioned that this is my professional debut — heretofore I’ve only performed in school plays, and the maximum number of times I’ve performed any one script is certainly less than 10. Consequently, one of the most intriguing lessons I have learned here is how to remain interested and interesting onstage once the adrenaline of stage fright is gone for good.
For one, you remind yourself that you’re getting paid — that helps a lot, particularly in one of the hardest professions in which to remain consistently employed (if you’re not hungry for the work now, you will be soon). Another impetus to keep working hard is the opportunity to enter, more fully than ever, the persona of a character: an actor is lucky to have stopped worrying about his lines, props, how he looks and where he is blocked to move by his fifth performance of a given play. Writing to you from performance 60-something, I can tell you that I don’t really think about those things at this point. I think about who I am, what I want, how I’m going to get it; about whom I’m speaking to and where I’ve just come from. When I focus hard, I’m not a stressed-out actor but a hundreds-of-years-dead knight of the realm; a man of power and vision. For two and a half hours a day, six days a week, I get to be more from Jersey than New Jersey. And not to cut this short, but I have a conference with the queen in 10 minutes.