Relishing her roles

Published 6:12 am Sunday, July 25, 2010

Lifestyles & Features Editor

Beaufort County native McKenna Cox has appeared on stages at Washington High School, the Turnage Theater and East Carolina University, but this summer finds her showcasing her acting and dancing talents on the sands of Roanoke Island.
Cox, the 21-year-old daughter of Charles and Janet Cox of Washington, is a cast member of “The Lost Colony,” now in its 73rd season. Written by Paul Green, the show premiered July 4, 1937, and is the oldest outdoor, symphonic drama presented in the United States.
Cox, who is studying musical theater and professional acting at ECU, plays three roles in “The Lost Colony.” She is cast as Native American and colonist dancers, and she has the speaking role of Jane Jones, a member of the group that later disappeared without a trace.
Filling the role of a Native American woman requires quite a transformation for the fair-skinned, red-haired Cox.
“We put our hair up in caps, and then we go in a room where we’re sprayed with paint. I have to get two coats because I’m really pale,” Cox said with a laugh. “We each have specific designs they’ve given us that we have to paint on our bodies.”
After that scene, set in an Indian village on Roanoke Island in the summer of 1584, Cox takes a quick shower and changes to a colonist costume of full, heavy skirts, long-sleeved blouse and a cap.
That’s when the heat of an Outer Banks summer can take its toll.
Although Cox hasn’t yet succumbed to heat exhaustion, 11 cast mates did just that when they fainted one evening during the show when the heat index hit 111 degrees. The show is canceled once the heat index reaches 120 degrees, she added.
“Outdoor theater has taught me that, no matter what, the show is going up, no matter the conditions,” Cox said.
The actress said she is enjoying working with like-minded professionals.
“Honestly, all the people that I’ve met are so professional, so nice. The minute we all arrived, they said ‘Welcome home,’” she said. “It’s so weird, because you think I’d get sick of doing the show, but I’m not. It’s a professional job.”
Keeping in mind that this is a job has helped her stay grounded, Cox said.
“I’ve learned that if this (acting) is what I want to do, no matter what’s going on outside in my personal life, it has to be dropped and I have to focus on what I’m doing and not let other things bother me,” she said.
“The Lost Colony” is Cox’s second role that isn’t related to a high-school or college production. Last summer, she appeared in “Joseph, The Dreamer,” presented by Washington’s own Rocky Hock Playhouse, a professional theater that presents Christian-themed musicals.
However, “The Lost Colony” proved to be much physically demanding, especially before opening night May 28.
“We practiced for three weeks, seven days a week, but I’m not complaining,” Cox said. “We’d rehearse from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., and then the last week of tech rehearsals. we wouldn’t get out until the early morning hours.”
Cox said she’s honored to be part of a production that is deeply rooted not only on the Outer Banks but in the nation’s history, too.
“All of our characters are real, and it’s telling the story of what they went through,” she said. “It’s such a huge thing to be a part of, to be a part of history.”
As a cast member, Cox joins a legacy of distinguished performers, perhaps the most famous of which is TV and movie star Andy Griffith, who acted in “The Lost Colony” from 1947 to 1953, including five years as Sir Walter Raleigh.
Other well-known alumni include Eileen Fulton, who plays Lisa on the soap opera “As the World Turns;” Broadway choreographer and director Joe Layton; Broadway dancer Terrance “Terry” Mann; comedian Chris Elliot; and state Sen. Marc Basnight, who was a child colonist for several seasons in the 1950s. Basnight’s mother, Cora Mae Basnight, filled the role of Agona for more than 30 years. And, in a couple examples of “stunt casting,” established performers such as Colleen Dewhurst, George Grizzard and Lynn Redgrave were special guest stars for limited runs of “The Lost Colony.”
“The Lost Colony” is presented nightly at 8 p.m., except Sundays, through Aug. 20. For more information, call 252-473-3414 or visit