“What we’ve done for this program is taken all of the funny stuff and put it into a half hour of material,” Dunham said. “Some of [Twain’s] stuff is really heavy — ‘Letters to the Earth,’ for example, is heavy and depressing and so we didn’t take anything from that, but there’s some ... really funny stuff from when he traveled to Europe; when he went to Hawaii and rented a horse; so we basically just go for the good stuff.”
He continued, “It reminds you a lot of the Bill Cosby storytelling humor, more than what we normally think of as stand-up comedians — it’s sort of rambling storytelling is what it is.”
Dunham said he has taken on the role of performing in public as Twain for nearly 50 years.
“It’s scary because it started around 1964 ... Now I’m as old as Mark Twain was when he was actually doing this stuff,” Dunham said. “What happened was I was at the University of Colorado and I actually was an art major and my mother was a very fine watercolor artist and I figured I could be a commercial artist for a living.
“I was looking for an easy class to take because I had 20 hard ones and I’m sitting in kind of a cafe room for one of the dormitories and one of the people I was sitting with said, ‘Why don’t you take an acting class?’ and I said ‘Yeah, that would be fun,’ so I took an acting class and fell in love with the theater ...”
He said his theater instructor presented an assignment to students in which they had to put together a 15-minute program on a historical individual and recreate their life. Being aware of actor Hal Holbrook’s portrayal of Twain, Dunham said he went to the theater’s costume department to find a white suit, colored his hair gray and assembled a fake mustache and took on the role of the acclaimed author and humorist.
“When it was done it was so much fun that I went back to the costume people and said ‘Do you need this suit back’ and they said no ... and I said, ‘I’d like to keep it ...,’” Dunham said.
Foundation board member Lee Burger said he first encountered Oberst about 10 years ago during a performance in Canton.
“The reason I had the idea of Lewis Grizzard and Mark Twain is because on Lewis Grizzard’s [Internet] page, it says ‘This generation’s Mark Twain,’” Burger said.
Since its inception, the foundation has awarded about $4 million in scholarships to about 4,000 students. The application for scholarships goes online each year beginning Jan. 1 and the deadline for applications is April 1.
“All of the funds raised will go directly to scholarships. We will award at the first Thursday night in June ... hopefully about 200 scholarships that night,” Burger said. “... We have what you call ‘pass through’ scholarships where you can come in and give a scholarship and if you give one this year in the amount of $500, the Etowah Scholarship Foundation will match it and it will become a $1,000 scholarship.”
The foundation held its 30th annual recipient ceremony at The Grand Theatre earlier this month, awarding 170 scholarships, totaling more than $189,000. The college scholarships, provided by private donors and based on individualized criteria, were awarded to students across Bartow County and Cartersville, with some recipients returning from college to receive a continuing scholarship.
Standard seats are $35 and special seating is $50. For more information and tickets, call the foundation, 770-382-1757, or The Grand, 770-386-7343.