Peter Hanslik shows the audience the way, speaks Polish and recommends The Books of Jacob by Olga Tokarczuk.
Every Gorki patron recognizes you. You’re there to greet us and tell us, in a very friendly yet firm way, when we need to wait, when we can enter.
That’s the job of the front of house staff, which I co-manage together with my colleague Anna Popova.
Everyone knows you. No one knows who you are. You’ve got to change that now.
My name is Peter Hanslik, born in Freital south of Dresden in 1977, raised in Görlitz, married to an oratorio singer, two children, seven and nine years old. Is this ok? Or would it be better if I took my mask off?
We’re at a safe distance, so you can if you want to. How did you get involved with theatre?
I studied German and theatre studies in Berlin and Breslau/Wroclaw and did an internship in theatre education here at the Gorki in 2001 with Janka Panskus. After my studies I went to Görlitz/Zgorzelec and was happy working there as a theatre teacher for six years. The theatre there put out feelers over the border and we tried to construct a German-Polish theatre curriculum there. I had a bilingual theatre group and gave workshops at Polish schools. The fact that the Görlitz theatre produces works with music made cross-lingual work easier. But the resources grew scarcer and scarcer, as it is with all these small city theatres that continue to make fantastic things with little money. I have so much admiration for them. Especially for those who are now forced to deal with the AfD in their cities. From Görlitz I went to the Neuköllner Oper and the Vagantenbühne. Here at the Gorki I helped with the organisation for the Unart festival. When Karin Schulz – many Gorki patrons will remember her better than me - bid the front of house farewell and retired nine years ago, I took over her position. Full-time at first, so nearly every evening. Even though the work brings me a lot of joy, it wasn’t very conducive to having a family. My wife has many evening engagements as well, and one of us should stay home with the children. So it was nice to be able to share the position. First with Jana Radünz and then with Anna Popova.
What you do as front of house staff I’ve always perceived as a performance. For me, your happy marriage of politeness and authority is impressive. When I try to use my authority, I’m automatically impolite.
To be honest, it isn’t a performance. We haven’t rehearsed it. But of course, I’m happy to hear that it comes across that way.
What do you do besides the front of house and family? Do you go to the theatre?
At the Gorki, of course I’ve seen all the productions. But since my children were born, I haven’t been to any other »adult theatre,« and I go to Atze, Grips, etc. instead. I also try to keep up my Polish. A second language must be practised. I watch Polish news – it’s very exciting at the moment – and I follow two Polish YouTube channels. Eastern Central Europe interests me from a historical perspective as well. I’d like to learn Czech too. But that’s probably not going to happen.
Eastern Central Europe. In the 80s, a series of Polish, Hungarian and Czechoslovakian – that’s what it was still called then – authors came to the West and gave leftist intellectuals a piece of their minds. Everything east of the GDR was Eastern Europe for us. The Soviet Union, they explained, occupied and abolished Central Europe. And now you’re erasing the memory of that which could be our future.
My generation profited from that lesson. Having said that, I was twelve years old when the Berlin Wall fell. I grew into this new situation. I only have a few memories of the time before. During my studies, I dealt with it quite a bit of course. Pasts aren’t cast off that quickly. I read The Books of Jacob by Olga Tokarczuk with great interest. The book is set in Poland in the 18th century. Poland was called »the country between the seas« at the time. The seas were the Baltic and the Black Sea. I would like to have more time for that kind of trip.
You’re not eyeing another job in the theatre?
I also think stage manager is great. At the moment, I work a couple of hours as a substitute teacher at a primary school and I enrolled in university for a degree in primary school education as well. My masters in German and theatre studies looks nice but it’s of no interest to anyone. In addition to my part-time job here at the Gorki, a few hours at a school would be a very fortunate combination for me and my family.
So you can’t get away from education.
I come from a family of teachers.
Do you still want to be working the front of house when you’re 60?
If things continue to be like they are now – gladly! But artistic directors switch out, theatres change. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. If the Gorki keeps going as it is, I’ll be happy to stay.
Interview: Arno Widmann