Mary Ann Jung performs at Ellicott Mills Middle School in Ellicott… (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore…)
The British are coming! The British are coming!" the lady in the silk dress yells, arms flapping as she careens through the crowd. "This can't be happening! The British are coming!"
It's hard to blame Rosalie Stier Calvert for panicking. She'd only fled her war-torn native land for Maryland a few years before, after all, and now enemy troops are massing outside the gates of her new home.
It's Aug. 24, 1814, date of the Battle of Bladensburg - or so it seems to 200 or so eighth-graders at Ellicott Mills Middle School.
Their eyes go wide as Calvert - or Mary Ann Jung, the actress portraying her - kick-starts a one-woman show that will give flesh, blood and feeling to the early years of the American republic, an era they've only read about.
Every March is Women's History Month in Maryland and in the United States as a whole, and for Jung, 49, of Arnold, that means opportunity. It has been 20 years since she left a job in corporate America for a career as a living-history actress, and she's in demand.
Today she isn't Margaret Brent, the first Colonial woman to own land, or Clara Barton, who founded the Red Cross. She's not Amelia Earhart or Julia Child or the other characters she portrays in as many as 200 self-written shows per year.
She's Rosalie, a blueblood born in what is now Belgium whose family fled a Europe damaged by the wars of "that devil, Napoleon," in 1794, and ended up in Maryland, where she bore nine children, wrote scads of letters home and ran two bustling plantations.
The British invaded just outside the gates of the second one, Riversdale, during the War of 1812.
"This can't be happening!" she bellows with a French accent. "I left my own country ... to escape the war, but now we're being attacked right here in [Bladensburg]. The British are coming, and you don't care!"
Is it coincidence that Jung grew up near Bladensburg, a port town on what is now called the Anacostia River in Prince George's County, where the Riversdale mansion still stands?
"There's plenty of history in our neck of the woods," says Michael Goins, the principal of Ellicott Mills, as he chats with a fully costumed Jung before the show.
Goins also happens to have grown up in Bladensburg, a town where schoolchildren still hear accounts of the one-sided battle that took place just days before the Redcoats invaded Washington and set it on fire.
None of that kept Jung from growing up an Anglophile. Her parents (Dad was a World War II Navy vet, Mom a Realtor) kept the family library stocked with biographies and history books, gathered everyone around the TV for the 1971 BBC series "Elizabeth R," starring Glenda Jackson as Queen Elizabeth I, and in general laid the groundwork for Jung's lifelong love of England.
Only a handful of Marylanders work full-time as living historians - one, Alice McGill, has done powerful Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman shows in the schools for years - and Jung had no clue her early life augured a career.
Even as she went on to major in British history at the University of Maryland, studying to be a teacher, her Anglophilia felt like a mere oddity.
Then love and fate conspired.
Jung says a friend of hers had an equally unusual hobby - falconry - not to mention a crush on her he was too shy to act on. So when organizers of the fledgling Maryland Renaissance Festival asked Michael Moreland to create a show for them, he invited her to partner with him.
Dressed in period garb and bantering in period style, she worked the crowds as Moreland worked the birds. She loved it. "I never realized what a ham I was," she says. The two never dated seriously, but they performed the show for seven years, and Jung realized what she wanted to do with her life.
It wasn't teaching - not exactly.
People who dislike history often say it's because they have to memorize dates, a dry prospect at best.
Working at the Maryland Renaissance Festival, widely respected in the industry for its period accuracy, taught Jung something basic: People do enjoy history when they can see its human imprint.
In 1989, she won the role of Lettice Knollys, a countess who flirted with Elizabeth's favorite admirer, Robert Dudley, and later married him, driving "Queen Bess" to fits of jealousy.
That year, festival organizers imported Tom Plott, an actor from Georgia, to play Dudley opposite her Knollys. As if to prove a point, the two "fell madly in love on Day 1 - which made our performances extremely believable, not to mention endless fun," Jung says. (She and Plott, still an actor, just celebrated their 15th anniversary.)
She later won the role of Anne Boleyn, the young beauty for whom Henry VIII had his first marriage (to the popular Catherine of Aragon) annulled. For that part, she got to use her naturally booming voice when addressing thousands of spectators at the jousting field. In the village, guests stopped her to crack wise ("don't lose your head today!") and hurl insults ("homewrecker!").