When Green was first approached to work on a pageant based on Roanoke, he was already disillusioned with conventional theater. His first full-length drama, In Abraham’s Bosom (pr. 1926, pb. 1927), a controversial play that boldly examined race relations, had won the 1927 Pulitzer Prize but had found little commercial success. Green, teaching philosophy at the University of North Carolina, then began to explore the folk stories and African American music of his rural east Carolina upbringing. As he evolved his interpretation of the Roanoke settlement and found broad support for his vision of a people’s theater (the original staging was largely funded through President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal programs), Green wrote extensively of his conception of outdoor drama as an opportunity not only to mine regional history for its narrative appeal but also to bring theater to a new audience.
After the stunning success of this initial project, Green would spend the remainder of his considerable professional career (nearly thirty years) creating sixteen other outdoor dramas, staged largely in southern venues, where, Green argued, there runs a deep sense of regional history. Some, like The Lost Colony, recount the settling of the new continent by particular ethnic groups—including Scots, Spaniards, and British—while others re-create the struggles of settlers—in Texas, Florida, and Georgia, among other places—to create a community amid the wilderness. Green has been criticized for emphasizing spectacle and action, for rejecting the subtler, often pessimistic, thematic nuances of traditional theater, and for offering instead larger-than-life characters who are given to declaiming inspirational messages of faith in common humanity. Yet, Green’s outdoor dramas, as well as the numerous productions inspired by their success, became one of the most successful original American dramatic genres of the twentieth century and have given Green an audience that often exceeds the more recognized playwrights of his era.