Wayne Hronek is a clown. Before the show, he can be found outside the Cirque du Soleil theatre in Las Vegas, trying to dissuade ticket-holders from going in to see Mystère. “It’s a ripoff,” he shouts. Inside, he rides around in a golf cart, steals popcorn from audience members and warns them about the “overpriced merchandise” in the Mystère souvenir shop. At 51, Hronek is the show’s oldest performer, and one of the Cirque’s original cast members. Before changing into his Chaplinesque costume, he sits smoking a cigarette backstage, a wiry figure with a leathery tan in blue denim and turquoise jewelry. The hair that he wrangles into a mad-scientist coif for the show is tied in a ponytail. He has an acerbic, humorless manner—you would never guess he was a clown. Offstage as well as on, he demystifies the romance of Cirque du Soleil.
“It’s basically a trade,” he says. “There's physicality, and glamor if you want, but it’s no different from a normal workplace. Plumbers fix toilets. We sell dreams.”
Born in Calgary, Hronek says he “took off to Vancouver to do drugs” at 17. And after a career of theatre, mime and street performing, he joined the Cirque at 37.
Working with Mystère, he misses some aspects of touring. “With the tent,” he says, “you can just throw the back door open, drag a chair out and sit in the sun.” But living in Las Vegas has advantages. “I spent yesterday out in the desert looking for petrified wood—just 20 minutes away.” Hronek has occasionally left the Cirque for quieter pursuits, from selling plants to sculpting folk art. Clowning takes its toll. “I wrecked my body when I was younger,” he says, “taking a lot of blind falls. I’m missing most of the hearing in my left ear from guns going off at the wrong time. Athletes sprain their muscles and joints. A clown, if he’s worth his salt, is thinking all the time. So your sprains and breaks are mental. I do mental acrobatics—if the timing is one millisecond off, the gag won't work.”
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