Dik & Mitzi – A True ZinZanni Love Story

"One of the highlights of License to Kiss is that we get to work with Lutz again. He's such a great white clown. It's great that we're here to support people and get to experience that development." Photo by Michael Doucett

Wayne Doba and Andrea Conway-Doba are the kind of couple that gives one hope – not just for the future of the circus and the theatre, but for the triumph of romantic love. True partners in life and on stage, Wayne and Andrea (or Dik and Mitzi as they are know to both the audience and to everyone in the tent) are classic vaudeville entertainers in the old style, a song and tap dance duo. And, like most performers, they are on an endless journey of constant comic exploration, always searching for new material and new sources of inspiration. It was a real pleasure spending a little bit of time with them, listening to their story – a true love story – and learning how their adventurous spirits keep them ever present, going forward.

Actress, dancer and acrobat Andrea Conway-Doba spent eight years with Cirque du Soleil, touring with Saltimbanco throughout Asia, Europe and North America and created one of that show’s most memorable characters, the enticing and sexy Baroque. An accomplished athlete, Andrea was a member of Canada’s national gymnastics team and earned a Bronze Medal in the 1987 Pan-American Games. She joined Teatro ZinZanni in our San Francisco tent in 2000.

Hailed by Donald O’Connor as a “throwback to the old Vaudeville days,” actor, dancer and comedian Wayne Doba has performed professionally for almost three decades. An original cast member, Wayne created the character of tap-dancing waiter Dick Nimby especially for Teatro ZinZanni. He has also shared the stage with dance legends such as the Nicholas Brothers and Honi Coles. His stage and screen credits reflect the diversity of Wayne’s experience and talent and include the role of The Creature in classic horror flick, The Funhouse, Octavio the Clown in Brian De Palma’s gang-buster hit, Scarface, and an appearance as Tex the Barker in the Prague debut of The Freak Show, an opera by enigmatic rockers The Residents. In celebration of their fifth wedding anniversary, Wayne and Andrea have recently created The Dick and Mitzi Anniversary Show. You can learn more about them by visiting their web site www.dikandmitzi.com.

TZ:         “How did the two of you meet?”

Andrea: “Well, we pretty much met in San Francisco…”

Wayne: “…in ZinZanni.”

Andrea: “But we were hired separately. Reenie (Reenie Duff is Teatro ZinZanni’s Associate Artistic Director) had seen me in the Cirque du Soleil and said ‘oh, you probably don’t want to leave’ but I was in the process of leaving and it kind of worked out.  So I got there and I was kind of in my life, as an acrobat, going ‘hmm, I’m 30.I better start thinking what else can I do…’ I was doing high flying acrobatics, like major, so I thought maybe tap dancing is something, you know, is something you can do for a long time. So I took a couple courses in Montreal and then when I got to SF, lo and behold there was this fabulous tap dancer there…and I was like ‘Wow! Maybe he could teach me a few moves.’”

Wayne: “It’s a good thing it wasn’t Joe Orbach in the show at the time, everything would be different now.”

Andrea: “So we kind of,  um,…oh, I don’t know, it was pretty quick!”

Wayne: “It was that martini I think, pretty much. We all went for martinis after the show once with Sergey and Leon, and then they all left and we were left alone.”

Andrea: “So we hooked up pretty quick.”

TZ:         “Were you married in the spiegeltent?”

Andrea: “We got married in Seattle, at city hall on our day off and didn’t tell anybody.”

Wayne: “We did everything backwards.”

Andrea: “And then everybody was like, ‘What did you do on your day off?’  And we said ‘Oh, well, we got married.’  And [fellow cast member] Kevin Kent was livid…well, not livid. He was like ‘I can’t believe it!’ and so then he proceeded in organizing a big wedding party on Vashon Island and it was fun.”

Wayne: “But that was after we had already gone to Germany to perform together in a new act, and had bought a house. Then we got married. So that’s what I’m saying, we did everything backwards.”

Andrea: “So that actually links up to the first question that you were asking, when did we start working  together? Yeah, we were in the same show but it wasn’t really in the script, or we weren’t directly working together. So it had been several months and Wayne got an offer to work in Berlin at the WinterGarten. They were looking for an American tap dancer… and he said ‘Yeah, I’ll go but I want to work with my new partner.’  So it was like, all of a sudden we had to come up with an act! Real quick! So then we went to Germany and did the holiday season there with no days off.”

Wayne: “The grueling holiday season, four months with only one day off or something.”

Andrea: “And I think in San Francisco we were living in this tiny studio apartment and then did that, so we were like, wow, if it could survive all this then maybe we should get married!”

Photo by Michael Doucett

TZ: “Wayne, you are an original cast member. Did you bring Dik as a character to the show, or did he develop over time?”

tap-duo

"When we're not at TZ, we tour our two-person show "The Dik and Mitzi Anniversary Show." It's fun to play on a proscenium stage and experience new people...."

Wayne: “What happened was, I think, Derek Scott was sort of the original script writer. But the script basically read as follows: ‘Dik interrupts.  Juliet steals.’ That was it. That was the script.  What happened was, he saw me in Just for Laughs because he knew some jugglers in San Francisco, so he ended up hiring me for Just for Laughs the year before. And I went there and had a half hour comedy act. I used to open for bands. So he hired me on the outdoor stage and I split the bill with this other guy, Glen Singer; and we would do half an hour, four times a day.  A comedy act. And my character was sort of like Dik, and I was doing “Wipeout” but not the way I do “Wipeout” now. I was like the guy who, I would do the stuff and then be like ‘Well, you guessed it, I don’t have an act. I just saw the stage and the mic and couldn’t resist, and thought I’d get up.’ My video at the time touted my act as “The Complete Entertainment Package.”  So he was kind of like Dik. He was a PE, a Professional Entertainer.
“But he had the name Dick, but the script read ‘Nimby,’ actually, on our sheet it said ‘NIMBY performer’ and I asked somebody, ‘What is this NIMBY performer thing?’ and they said ‘Oh it means, “Not In My BackYard” because Dick was originally the protestor of the tent.’  So I used to walk around with a clipboard and a plaid coat and tell people that we’re going to have to shut the tent down. I’m with the Committee Against Change and there’s a problem here. You built this tent on a natural wetland and all of our Canadian geese were displaced, and they were friends of mine, Fred and Ethel and little Ricky…and some people who, if the gag was actually working would go ‘We don’t wanna do that now! We came here and spent a lot of money. We want to have dinner! Get out of here!’
“But it was a hard sell because Dick could never really be in the tent. I was out front and then, when I would come in, they, the other clowns would throw me out. So I couldn’t really do much animation or anything.  It became better to be Dick Nimby, the performer who was trying to get into the show.”

Andrea: “As for Mitzi, well… I started out as ‘Rosette’ when they first hired me. And I had been researching who is my clown, you know, I don’t know if you’re aware of it but some performers really try and find their clown. Some people believe that each person only has one clown or two clowns in them. So I was trying to find that for a while already and when I got hired for Teatro ZinZanni they said ‘Oh you’ll be taking the part of Rose’ and I thought it was strange to take somebody else’s name, you know, like somebody else’s clown name. So I was like, well, could it be ‘Rosette?’ You know at least change it up a little bit, Rosette in Quebecois means ‘cowlick’ so I thought that was more appropriate for my character at the time… so I started playing with her and then when we decided to go to Berlin, I wanted to try something… make her a little different, unique. I found this funny little hair scrunchy around that time too… Rosette was even younger than Mitzi in a way… Wayne was saying that his aunt and uncle were named Mitzi and Merle and I thought, wow, Mitzi and Merle. That’s such a great great couple name, you know…”

Wayne: “Well I didn’t want to take both of their names: Mitzi and Merle. But Mitzi was great and I liked Dick but Dick can sometimes be too much of the penis. So we changed it to Dik. A little more European. Here at Teatro ZinZanni I stick with ‘Dick’ because it’s always been Dick. But when we do our own show, when we go there, it’s always ‘Dik.’”

Andrea: “And actually, Dik in German means ‘fat.’”

Wayne: “I can’t avoid fat penis’ or something.”

Andrea: “And we thought Mitzi sounded very European, you know.”

Wayne: “But in Germany, Mitzi too, is almost like a lederhosen, kinda, there’s something there.”

Andrea: “Mitzi is short for Maria or Mary. It’s kind of a cute name for Mary and that’s a very common name there. Which kind of links with the Quebecois because I’ve always tried to make Mitzi a little bit Quebecoise. And I’m still trying to work on what the exact name because in Quebec all the women are named Marie-Claire, Marie France, Marie-something, so that’s kind of like the German… So I always say that Dick changed her name because it was better for show business.”

TZ: “Who are some of your inspirations? Performers, Comedians, Teachers? Clowns that you’ve looked up to?”

Wayne: “I’ve always been a big fan of Don Knotts. There’s a lot of sources of inspiration. For me, Dick is you know, the little guy who wants to pull his pants up and kind of be tough and stuff. But there’s always had a lot of Donald O’Connor in my dancing, he’s always been an inspiration. Also Jerry Lewis’ physical characters. In fact, we’re watching a lot of Jerry Lewis from the Colgate comedy series right now and it sort of changes our characters because he’s just so crazy. We’re constantly looking. Now for our own show, we’ve been watching a lot of Burns and Allen, Ricky and Lucy, you know, we’re looking at all the great comedy teams. In the beginning Dick was always a solo act, you know, Dick wasn’t even into women.”

Andrea: “Well, he’s still a little… Mitzi’s always trying so hard to get his attention constantly still.”

Wayne: “He’s more into his act.”

Andrea: “That’s his number one.”

Wayne: “But I’d say Don Knotts is a major inspiration.”

Andrea: “For me, it’s a mix. I was an acrobat before and I got inspired I guess by one of the clowns in the show, Rene Bazinet, who worked for Cirque du Soleil, amongst other things. And he was always encouraging me to go into comedy, ya know? So I spent hours listening to him and how he kind of learned with his teacher Philippe Gaulier who is based in London. Gaulier is like the Red Nose Master Clown. I actually decided to go to London. I had two weeks off and I was working with the circus and I went and took a workshop with him. Just because I had heard so much from Rene and Rene thought it was a death wish because Philippe is either makes you or breaks you kind of guy, he’s very harsh. And it went quite well. I mean, I still, I think, am learning from that workshop even now. But I think that the kind of characters or clowns that we’re creating are a lifetime of work, of trying to find out who they really are, its personal. It’s like what are my own Andrea’s insecurities and they kind of come out in Mitzi. It’s nice. It’s a nice outlet for sure but its constant questioning of who you are and who your character and how are you the same and how are you different? And watching other comics from, because I think there are very few nowadays who are doing comedy duos the way it was done back then, so that’s why we’re watching a lot of that because that’s what out there and that’s what is inspiring. It’s particularly hard for me in the woman role because a lot of the women were very submissive at that time, so how do we  change it up and make it more modern without being too bold. When I went to Gaulier, he was really pushing me to be more manly and aggressive, and that’s not who I really am. I’m not like a, ready to pick a fight and like that kind of character. So it’s a trick to find a woman comic who’s not too submissive to her partner but not too aggresive and to find that delicate balance, you know? Especially watching the older stuff because even, well, a good one is like in the Honeymooners, Alice is like the white clown, strong, and so she’s a good example of that kind of balance. Well, Lucy, too, she is pretty strong but she is still playing the housewife. Today it’s like if you do that it’s almost in bad taste, it’s kind of frowned upon because women are supposed to have careers and do all these other things.”

Wayne: “And that’s why I used to be more into like Ed Norton as the character, but now when we’re together sometimes; especially in our show, I’m sometimes more playing like the Ralph character. You know the hierarchy of the white clown and the red clown, that’s where we’re kind of are still searching, because we switch back and forth.”

Andrea: “Yeah, we swap a little bit. “

Wayne: “With like George Burns, he’s pretty much always the white clown and Gracie Allen is the red clown. You know what I mean, its pretty clear.”

Andrea: “And if you read some of George Burns, like we read some of his books, originally he was trying to be the Red and was trying to make Gracie the White clown and he wrote a lot of the material and then they went into a club and tried it and it just didn’t work. The minute they swapped roles, all of a sudden they were getting laughs so he said you know, that he could just lie down on the floor and say his lines! But, you know, for us because it’s also a different time, it’s finding that balance. And I think in life right now, men and women probably are swapping roles more often than not.”

Wayne: “For instance, I do all the dishes.”

TZ: “Were there any adjustments you had to make in your acts when you came to TZ,  you know, working in a show with so much audience interaction?”

dsc_0024

"We're gearing down here, and wrapping up for the final couple weeks at TZ. We're getting ready for summer and all the gardening!"

Wayne: “It wasn’t a big adjustment for me because I had been doing street performance in San Francisco and I was also making my living as Humphrey Bogart or Charlie Chaplin at parties. And I’d do a corporate thing for two or three hours dressed as a mime and I walk in and there’s like a thousand Japanese people with cameras, and  just my head towering above the crowd.”

Andrea: “For me it was a bit of an adjustment. I done some animation with the circus, but with the Cirque Du Soleil, you know, you’re not supposed to talk. If you do, it’s all jibberish, so a big challenge was finding Mitzi’s voice. When they hired me, they said we don’t want you speaking the way you speak, partially why we hired you is because you’re French Canadian, don’t you have an accent? And I was like, whoa! So I think I did for the first week or so a really bad French accent from France until I dug down and started to reminisce about my aunts speaking and all my Quebecois friends.”

Wayne: “And you also found The Laugh too.”

Andrea: “Well, The Laugh, actually, I found it in Berlin. Our act was doing ok. We went into the audience and he would go over the railing and sing ‘Volare!’ and here people follow along and continue the song. In Berlin, it was like you could hear a pin drop. When we first started it, it was bombing and we’d go up the stairs to do that… I had these big balloons in my costume like boobs I think and I think I slid down the railing but before that…”

Wayne: “With her boobs!”

Andrea: “But before that we were desperate so I don’t know how it came about but one night there he was singing ‘Volare!’ and I did The Laugh and it got a laugh so Wayne said  ‘Do that every night!’”

Wayne: “But then when we went back to Germany at the Palazzo, we would have so many people that would come out and just wanna… I mean they could care less if I was tap dancing for 30 years, they just wanted to hear her laugh and they wanted to put in on their cell phone. They wanted their ring to be The Laugh. They were obsessed with it.”

Andrea:
“A lot of people want to hear it up close because they don’t believe it’s real.”

Wayne: “They think its fake.”

Andrea: “They think it’s not real or something. So I think the challenging part was finding Mitzi’s voice. Even when I was young I would role-play silly things as a kid like with my friends, go up to a guy and be like ‘Aren’t you my uncle?’ I liked doing that from a young age so that part is fun. Wayne is a master at animation; better than I am. I have to think of an idea before; he’s like on-the-fly-funny, ya know?!”

Wayne: “I also did the streets for two and half years. Chasing people around Berkley. You know, like 300 people. I mean, I was doing it in mime but then I also did five one-man shows. So I had kind of progressed to go from a silent character. I started with dancing and then became a mime then became a tap dancer and then started getting into one man shows where I had do like dialogue, memorized so it was this kind of progression.”

TZ: “What kind of dance did you start with?

Wayne: “Well it was way back when I was a kid in the Midwest. My sister was three years older than me and she would make me dance with her. Like American Bandstand. So by the time I was 14 or 15, I was the only guy who could dance. All the farmers wore these big combat boots at the sock hop and I was dancing with all the senior girls. They would all wanna dance with me. So that was really where it started. Then I went to Florida State and got a degree in math and I was a dance minor. So I ended up with 45 hours in dance and made my living doing dance contests. Then I worked with this one guy, and decided I gotta get some mime, I was doing the mechanical man. I found this guy in Berkley, Leonard Pitt, and I wrote a letter and then I just made some money as a waiter and packed up and went to Berkley and ended up a year later, on the streets and doing dance contests. I had a girlfriend and we met these guys and started learning how to tap dance, we had this old black guy Eddie Brown who is just a legend in tap dancing today. I mean he danced with Bojangles all through the south for seven years. So that was sort of my progression and then, it’s been like, teacher, mime teacher, all kind of self taught. Today some people go to Julliard. For me, it was Eddie – get a bottle of brandy, roll up the carpets and give him 10 dollars to learn how to tap dance.”

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11 comments on “Dik & Mitzi – A True ZinZanni Love Story

  1. Vittorio says:

    I really enjoyed the comments expressed in the interview since they reflected my great appreciation for this virtuoso couple.

    Vittorio

  2. Eros Greatti says:

    Great Blog Interview!!!

  3. janice sukaitis says:

    Hi Wayne,
    I enjoyed reading your history as a dancer and your great success in TZ. I was wondering what year you were in Six Feet with Rodney Price and Rusty Frank. Scrumbly said, you were the best tap troupe he’d ever seen. He said you performed with the Royal Society Jazz Orchestra one time when he was also performing with The Jesters. I’m writing a record of Angel shows and offshoot groups and I’d like to include Six Feet if it’s okay with you. Write me, let me know. Thanks, Janice Sukaitis

    • wayne doba says:

      Hi Janiice,

      Sure that would be great… send me your email if you want any more of my take on that time…on monday we are doing our show for a week here in Quebec so not sure if I will be around a computer…I could give you my phone # on a more secure email!

      wayne

    • Rusty Frank says:

      Hello Janice,

      Rusty Frank here. Yes! We were pretty terrific (but I’m only slightly biased).

      If you have any questions about our trio, Six Feet, feel free to contact me: rusty@rustyfrank.com

      Those were great days.

  4. Heidi says:

    Wayne and Andrea,

    It was refreshing to see true Vaudeville return with your act. My husband and I try to visit with every new show, and you both are key. My father, who is a long time clown, both personally and professionally 🙂 was also VERY impressed, especially when you both began tap-dancing. Thank you so much for putting heart back in entertainment.

    Heidi

  5. Hello Andrea and Wayne,
    Loved your story. It is very interesting. We are
    friends of Brigitte and Lothar.
    Cirque du Soleil is fabulous.
    Dick meaning fat in the german language as you wrote
    is missing the “C” in it.
    Anxious to meet you in the near future also when we
    come to visit Brigitte and Lothar.
    Axel and Heidi

  6. Darren Peterson says:

    Hi Wayne,

    I don’t know if you remember me, but one of my fondest memories (and my most frequently told stories) involves you (in character) crashing my company’s customer conference at the Westin St. Francis in SF. I could barely contain myself as our prank unfolded that day.

    Since we weren’t able to speak afterward, I thought you may enjoy some highlights of people’s reactions:

    – We kept our company in the dark about the prank (including the President.) As your antics escalated, my marketing team had to hold others back who were ready to bounce you from the room

    – Many thought you were a spy from one of our competitors

    – More than one lady in the crowd said she was briefly afraid for her safety

    – The show that night was the highlight of our conference (in fact, it was the event everyone talked about for years afterward)

    – The next morning, as we got everyone seated in the conference hall, people started clapping in rhythm and our staff began running up the aisles with chairs (tip of the hat to the balancing Russian gentleman.)

    Anyway, having you drop by, pull off the prank and then hype everyone up about TZ that night was such a delightful experience. Thought you’d enjoy knowing that you touched our lives in a very memorable way.

    All the best,
    Darren Peterson

  7. Good morning Mr. & Ms. Doba! Merry Christmas for You!

    My name is Marcello and I’m your “Fan” since “Funhouse…” you’re Great, a bigger actor! I’d like to have any pictures yours in “Funhouse”, others movies and to make contact with You Sir, can be? “Lord of American Theater!”

    Thanks’ Friends, To Stay With GOD!

  8. […] Petits Frères (Gregory Marquet, Mickael Bajazet, Domitil Aillot) Wayne Doba Andrea Conway […]

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