Sept. 18, 2006
59, Number 4
Sept. 18, 2006
From Twelve Oaks to Tara in 20 minutes
BY kim urquhart
It’s hard to say what is more impressive—that Doug Lothes can perform the epic “Gone With the Wind” in just 20 minutes, or that without costume or set he can convincingly transform himself into Scarlett O’Hara with an arch of an eyebrow and then, a split second later, intone Rhett Butler with a swagger and a deep Southern drawl.
That’s the appeal—and the hook—of the Emory administrative assistant’s one-man act, which he calls, appropriately, “Gone With the Wind in 20 Minutes” (GWTW20).
GWTW20 just may be, as Lothes puts it, “the best kept entertainment secret in Atlanta.” Yet Lothes has sold out the Alliance Theater four times, performed at the Margaret Mitchell House, been featured on television, and entertained private and corporate audiences throughout the Southeast.
A particularly memorable event was when Lothes was invited to entertain the international press and returning cast members of “Gone With the Wind” at the 50th anniversary celebration of the film’s release.
“That was so awesome, it was incredible,” he recalls. After his performance, “Butterfly McQueen, who played Prissy, asked to meet me,” he said. “It was a thrill.” Making it even more special, he said, was being able to bring along his mother, who was visiting from Charleston, W. Va.
“She was my date. She got to meet all these movie stars that she knew growing up. When the movie came out, she couldn’t sleep the night before she saw it,” he said. “Afterward I was introduced to the cast and I got them all to sign a poster for me. That was really special.”
He credits his mother for introducing him to “Gone With the Wind.” He saw a re-release of the movie at the theater, and read the novel by Margaret Mitchell. “And then it just sort of worked its way into me. It’s a gift, it’s almost a blessing.”
He estimates performing “over 200 renditions, at least” since he first conceived the idea about 20 years ago. He was an aspiring actor living in New York City after graduating cum laude from West Virginia University with a BFA in theater.
“There was a small club in my neighborhood that had an open mic night. So I got up one night to the microphone, and the muses sat on my shoulder and sort of whispered what to do, and because I was improvisationally trained, I just did it,” he said. “Probably the first time it was maybe five or eight minutes long. And then I would get up at parties—because my friends were in theater—and I’d refine it.”
GWTW20 was also what brought him to Atlanta in 1987. “I had read an article in New York Times Magazine about Jack Rollins, a producer for Woody Allen and an agent for big names in comedy like David Letterman and Billy Crystal,” Lothes said. “I wrote him a letter, the first line of which was ‘It’s Friday the 13th with a full moon. I feel lucky.’ And he called me in, on the basis of that letter. Well, that was nice, but,” he trails off, laughing, explaining that Rollins told him not to quit his day job.
“So I quit my day job [with a New York advertising agency] and moved to Atlanta. Because I figured if ‘Gone With the Wind’ doesn’t play here, it won’t play anywhere.” Atlanta, of course, is the birthplace of Margaret Mitchell as well as the site of the 1939 premiere of the film at Loew’s Grand Theater.
Lothes’ parody of “Gone With the Wind” found a much warmer reception in the South.
He keeps the script fluid and fresh. For example, he has added a hilarious rendition of what would have happened had Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn, who were contenders in the famous search for an actress for the film version of the novel, been cast as Scarlett instead of Vivien Leigh.
For Lothes, “performance is something that I was called to do.” He acknowledges that it can be a sacrifice—the Actors’ Equity Association, a union of professional stage actors and managers of which Lothes is a member, estimates that actors are out of work 80% of the time. “For me, my compromise has been finding out how to make money and have benefits and still be able to have an outlet for performance.”
And he has found that balance at Emory. Lothes is “the right-hand man” for Alicia Franck, senior associate vice president for principal gifts. He says of his five years at Emory: “I really like it here, it’s a great place to work. I love the benefits, I love the collegiate atmosphere.”
In addition to acting and his work at Emory, Lothes serves as a lector at All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Midtown. He is “happily partnered” to Barrett Tyson, who works for Emory’s health sciences communications department.
Lothes also maintains a Web site, www.gwtw20.com, and urges anyone interested in learning more about the show to “call or email today. Or tomorrow. After all, tomorrow is another day.”
Lothes will perform “Gone with the Wind in
20 Minutes” Sunday, Oct. 1,
in Historic Oakland Cemetery, the resting place of Margaret Mitchell. The performance will be on the Lion Square Stage at 2:30 p.m, as part of An annual fundraiser.