Actress Danielle A. Drakes stares contemplatively at a crowd of 20 tourists on the steps of DC’s historic Ford’s Theatre. She is wearing a full hoop shirt, a white blouse and a felt hat accented by a feather. Except for a microphone and speaker, Drakes, by any historic standard, is the spitting image of Elizabeth Keckly, the mid-19th-century former slave-turned-seamstress and confidante to the wife of Abraham Lincoln.
Drakes is the star of Ford’s Theatre’s A Free Black Woman: Elizabeth Keckly Walking Tour, a walking tour of DC that seeks to transport visitors to Civil War-era Washington, DC as part of the theatre’s History on Foot series. For over an hour and a half, Drakes transforms into Elizabeth Keckly and takes visitors around downtown DC from such landmarks as her brick home on 12th Street to the site where once stood Abraham Lincoln’s favorite toyshop. Keckly’s connection to the Lincoln family fits nicely with the history of Ford’s Theatre, America’s most famous theatre and the site of President Lincoln’s assassination.
Washington, DC offers many options to enjoy theatre but you don’t have to get all dolled up and spend $100 on a ticket to enjoy a stimulating evening of art. Tickets for History on Foot are only $12 and offer an interactive experience for Washingtonians and tourists alike. Many of us who live and work in the city pay little attention to the beautiful architecture and the rich history of DC. A Free Black Woman: Elizabeth Keckly Walking Tour allows audience members to take advantage of DC’s scenery while hearing about one of America’s most poignant moments in history by a perspective that is rarely given a voice, a freed black woman.
Playwright Jennifer Nelson wrote the fascinating 90-minute series of monologues that make up the tour. On the tour, “Elizabeth Keckly” tells the story of her friendship with the Lincoln family and her efforts to help former slaves find their way in Washington. Drakes delivers playwright Jennifer Nelson’s text so naturally, one would think the entire tour was improvised.
I highly recommend visitors and Washingtonians alike pick an evening, preferably one that is not 95 degrees, to embark on this journey with Elizabeth Keckly.
Tickets are $12 and may be reserved in advance at www.fords.org. The tour will run until October, Tours prior to September 11, 2010, are currently on sale and tours from September 11 to October 23, 2010, go on sale July 26.