Anyone whose job involves interaction with the general public will be subjected to a certain number of boneheaded questions on any given day. Those numbers skyrocket when one must remain in both costume and character, charged with bringing history to life.
Azie Dungey, the creator and star of the new web series, Ask a Slave, claims to have “played every black woman of note that ever lived” when she was employed as an historic interpreter in the Washington DC area. These included Caroline Branham, Martha Washington’s enslaved lady’s maid, a gig that compelled her to keep a record of questions posed by visitors to Mount Vernon.
Now, as the tea-sipping, fictional Lizzie Mae, Dungey is able to answer those questions with greater freedom. A middle-aged, seemingly educated white man wonders if a newspaper ad is what led to Lizzie Mae’s position in the home of “such a distinguished Founding Father” as George Washington.
“Did I read the advertisement in the newspaper?” Lizzie Mae echoes pleasantly. “Why, yes. It said Wanted: One housemaid. No pay. Preferably mulatto, saucy with breeding hips. Must work 18 hour a days, seven days a week, no holidays. But you get to wear a pretty dress, and if you’re lucky you just might carry some famous white man’s bastard child. So, you better believe I read that and I ran right over and said, “Sign me up!””
Her default tone is one of professionally patient indulgence, though occasionally, the mask slips, as when another visitor asserts that “slavery isn’t really that bad.”
Sticking to the historic interpreter’s schtick of not recognizing non-period inventions like cameras pays dividends when the subject turns to internships, the underground railroad, and what George Washington thinks of Abraham Lincoln freeing all his slaves.
The best material, as they say, writes itself.