From disaster to opportunity
Broadway costume designer rebuilds 'Lost Colony' wardrobe
William Ivey Long has been called the busiest costume designer on Broadway with a career that spans more than 50 shows. But a tragic event hundreds of miles away from New York made this past year his busiest ever.
In September 2007, an early morning fire swept through the home of "The Lost Colony" on Roanoke Island, N.C., destroying more than 5,000 costumes that had been assembled over the show's 71-year history. Long grew up in the summertime world, and in many ways, he never left it. He maintains a home there, and for many years, has served as set and costume designer for the long-running outdoor drama.
"I remember great sadness and shock," says Long, recalling when he first heard about the fire. "It took me two months to realize that this was an opportunity instead of a disaster."
The "opportunity" meant a chance to redesign the show's entire sweep of costumes from a historical perspective using newly available research. Long canceled commitments on two Broadway shows to work on the "The Lost Colony" project. He and his 60-person staff worked in New York and at the North Carolina theater to build the 1,000 costumes needed for the show. Some funds came from state and federal park services, but the majority of the $2.7 million needed to reconstruct sets, costumes and stage buildings came from individuals.
Long has been associated with "The Lost Colony" almost since the day he was born. His father, William Long Sr., held many jobs there, including technical director from 1949 to 1962. His mother, Mary Wood Long, worked in the costume shop while playing several onstage roles, including the part of Queen Elizabeth I from 1949 to 1953. During his early childhood, Long recalls sleeping in fabric bins underneath the cutting tables of the costume shop.