The story of the man who came to be North Carolina’s second biggest tourist attraction is coming to the stage: The tale of the life of Robert Harrill, the reclusive Fort Fisher hermit, is being brought to Wilmington in the staged version of David Wright’s “The Hermit of Fort Fisher.” Produced by Big Dawg Productions, artistic director Steve Vernon is directing this show. Production dates, initially set for later this month have been pushed back.
The play itself originated from Wright’s personal interest in the hermit’s story. After spending years researching, poring over letters and correspondences between Harrill and his fans and family, Wright staged and directed the premiere at the Paramount Theatre in Burlington, N.C. to a sold-out audience which included Vernon.
After seeing the show, Vernon said “I just realized what a fascinating story it was, and I was convinced it really deserved to have a shot in this area, where the hermit was an actual member of the community.”
The story spans about three decades, and focuses a great deal of time on who this man was and what went on in his life before he was the hermit, Vernon said. He’s still casting the show. Some roles, especially the hermit, require special attention. “When someone’s playing a historical character, we certainly want to try and match the actor to the image,” Vernon said.
Through this production, Vernon said he’s trying to do more than just pay tribute to the life of a local celebrity, famous before the age of the Internet and cell phones.
Vernon said after speaking to Wright, he believed the show would be perfect for an outdoor dramatic production. North Carolina has a rich history of outdoor drama, with Shakespeare in the Park, for example, running for 20 to 30 years.
“I think something that’s rooted in this area and being an outdoor thing could really thrive here,” Vernon said.
The ultimate goal of bringing the story of the Fort Fisher Hermit home, Vernon said, is for the audience, potential investors and legislators to see how the economy—not just Wilmington, but regionally and even statewide — would benefit from the outdoor drama.
“It’s a constant battle, not just here, but everywhere, to maintain a reliance of drama and art and its impact on the location. People don’t realize the impact of the arts,” Vernon said.
The Wilmington premiere is now planned for Sept. 4-7, then the following weekends of 11-14 and 18-22.