This month, I had the opportunity to interview the incredibly diverse André du Broc, a musician, activist, and former clown. Du Broc has worked for Hallmark for more than eight years, and he is now director of editorial for Hallmark Custom Marketing. We are so very privileged to have this man in our Kansas City community!
1. Much of my excitement about this interview has been because of your diverse background and interests! So, first of all, I NEED to ask about your being a clown for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s Greatest Show on Earth. How old were you during that period, how did you end up there, and did it require special training? I mean, did you attend Clown College and everything? (Yes, I am a tad excited about this!)
When I was in college at the Conservatory of Theatre Arts at Webster University in St. Louis, Mo., in 1989, I took a class in clowning. The instructor was a mime teacher at Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College and suggested that if I were ever given a chance to audition for Clown College, I should certainly take advantage of the opportunity. Fast-forward to the spring of 1992. I was touring in a children’s theatre production of Charlotte’s Web with a company based out of St. Petersburg, Fla. The circus was in town and announced auditions for Clown College. I went and gave it my best shot. Two months later, I received a notice that I was off to Clown College in the sleepy town of Venice, Fla., where Ringling had its winter quarters. For 10 weeks I slept, ate, and drank clowning. We studied gag development, makeup, arena performance, acrobatics, combat, slapstick, pie- throwing, and circus history. It was amazing. I often describe it as being able to play in the world’s largest sandbox. Where else could you walk into a props department and ask for an eight-foot-tall toothbrush, and without flinching, they ask you, “What color?”
Ringling has a long and amazing history filled with fascinating people and stories. Many don’t know that circus folk have a language they share that is unique to the tribe. For instance, you never use the bathroom, you head for the donikers. Extra work is called Cherry Pie, and complimentary tickets are called Annie Oakleys.
After Clown College, I was offered a contract with the blue unit of Ringling. (There are two units — red and blue — that are constantly touring the U.S.) It’s a difficult life for a First-of-May (the term used to describe rookie circus performers). You live on a train, and everything you own has to fit into a 4-foot-by-6-foot space. That I didn’t mind so much. The lack of shower facilities on the train wasn’t so bad once you got used to smelling like an elephant. The one thing I couldn’t get used to was the horrible mistreatment of the large exotic animals. Elephants and tigers live a life of misery and fear in the circus. If you really stop and think about it, animals that are essentially wild and so very much larger than humans will only perform unnatural tricks out of fear of pain. I’ve written extensively about my experience and was a featured blogger for PETA and for The Advocate around my circus experience. I’ve even addressed the Anaheim, Calif., City Council upon invitation and played a small role in having elephant rides banned at fairs in Orange County. I will never attend a Ringling performance again until they do away with their exploitation and torture of large exotic animals.
2. In May, you were involved in Auntie Mame’d. What was your favorite aspect of working that show?
For 16 years, I supported myself solely as a creative in the theatre industry. In fact, I first came to Kansas City in 2004, when UMKC hired me to music-direct a show for them. It was during that time that I met my husband, Dan, and decided to change the course of my life and pursue love first and career second. I ended up working for Hallmark, and due to my work schedule and lack of a car, I was unable to perform. Kansas City Rep cast me in To Kill a Mockingbird, and I had to decline due to work conflicts. Before I knew it, I hadn’t performed in a play in over nine years. Chris Holbrook is a wonderfully talented fellow in Kansas City and a dear friend. He persuaded me to play piano for the Girly Show at Missie B’s. He’d never heard me play, but had faith that when I told him I used to be a professional pianist, I wasn’t making it up. I ended up playing for a half-dozen shows at Missie B’s. During that time, Missy Koonce asked if I’d be interested in being part of Auntie Mame’d. The very first musical I ever saw was Mame in the mid-’70s. It was at the Baton Rouge Little Theater. I remember it vividly. When I found out that the entire cast, crew, and production team volunteered their time, talent, and money to make this happen, I was floored. Where does that happen? Seriously? I was so honored to be part of that wonderful experience and so very proud to count everyone involved as a friend.
3. You’ve been working for Hallmark Cards Inc. for close to a year now. Prior to that, you worked for Sunrise Greetings. How did you get into the greeting card business?
I’ve actually always worked for Hallmark Cards — over eight years now. Sunrise is a Hallmark subsidiary. I was sent there last year for six months as an interim editorial director while we transitioned the business from Bloomington, Ind., to Kansas City’s mother ship. I started in the card biz in 2005. When I decided to move to Kansas City from my place in Jersey City to be with Dan, I called my temp agency in New York City and told them I was relocating. Luckily they had a satellite office in KC, who put me to work at Hallmark as an administrative assistant. Fortuitously, I ended up in the creative writing department, where part of my job entailed moving on submitted portfolios from card-writing hopefuls to the team of reviewers. I thought to myself, “Hey, I could do this.” So, I filled out a portfolio and stuck it in the stack and moved it on. Soon I was asked to fill out the really big portfolio. Thirteen interviews later, I was hired as an editor. I soon became a writer, then a senior writer, and now I’m director of editorial for Hallmark Custom Marketing. We handle sub-brands and specific client needs. I am responsible for all the editorial needs of Sunrise Greetings, UNICEF cards and gifts, Ten Bamboo Studio, Batesville Memorial Stationery, the United States Postal Service’s card retail business, and Wienerdog humor cards.
4. And talk about exciting that you write the stories for Hallmark Card Inc.’s Scooby Doo Interactive Story Buddy! How did that come about?
They were quite a challenge. I think I had a week to write the first draft of the three books and less than a week to write the finished drafts. They’ve been very successful, and I completed the fourth book in the series a few months ago. It’ll be out later this summer. I am always finding myself involved in some interesting projects at Hallmark. I do a lot of voices for products here. I am the studio-approved voice of Snoopy and Curious George as well as Hallmark’s characters the Hamster of Happiness and the Jolly in the John Snowman. I am usually in the sound studio at least once a week.
5. OK, I have to ask about the great cookie escapade. Beginning in 2010, you decided to raise money for the KC AIDS Walk by baking every cookie in [the book> Martha Stewart’s Cookies. I was looking at the blog, and according to the last entry on Jan. 27, 2013, you still had nine recipes to go. What has happened since that last blog entry? Have you finished baking? Or did you just finally throw in the spatula?
Three years ago I was heading home after seeing Julie &