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Forced to act! Richard Stanke plays more than just on stage, political theater also beckons

In a time when actors are forced to be at least mildly interested in the current political situation, Slovak National Theater (SND) actor Richard Stanke is one of the most industrious, having started the first actor's union in Slovakia.
"I don't know how long I will stay in the Slovak National Theater," Stanke said at an outdoor café on a rare sunny Bratislava day. "It's hard to say what will happen in a couple of years and whether I will continue to receive interesting roles or not. But politics interest me. Many of my friends study politics, but I don't think it's for me. Then again," he paused thoughtfully, "maybe I'd try it."
But the 30-year-old Stanke doesn't have to think about chucking his acting career just yet. As one of the "younger generation" members of the SND, Stanke has managed to score leading male roles in a variety of performances including the recent premiere of Shakespeare's "As You Like It."


From figuring out Shakespeare to spearheading the first actor's union, Richard Stanke passionately takes on projects.
Ron Severdia

In a time when actors are forced to be at least mildly interested in the current political situation, Slovak National Theater (SND) actor Richard Stanke is one of the most industrious, having started the first actor's union in Slovakia.

"I don't know how long I will stay in the Slovak National Theater," Stanke said at an outdoor café on a rare sunny Bratislava day. "It's hard to say what will happen in a couple of years and whether I will continue to receive interesting roles or not. But politics interest me. Many of my friends study politics, but I don't think it's for me. Then again," he paused thoughtfully, "maybe I'd try it."

But the 30-year-old Stanke doesn't have to think about chucking his acting career just yet. As one of the "younger generation" members of the SND, Stanke has managed to score leading male roles in a variety of performances including the recent premiere of Shakespeare's "As You Like It."

Stanke isn't just active onstage. Offstage, he is chairman of the Slovak Actors Union, the equivalent of the Screen Actor's Guild in the United States. Stanke becomes deadly serious when discussing his role in the union. "When we met in August or September, we agreed to create an artist's union because what was happening affected us." He lit his third cigarette in 10 minutes. "It was created because our department head was appointed without an audition or competition of any kind, so people in the theater were endangered by things being done behind their backs and without their input."

Stanke said the union is like any other, built to protect its members even long after the recent politically-oriented changes in the theater's hierarchy. "The union's future will always remain the same, because we can't trust the people who are leading this country," Stanke stressed. "This is the only organization that can protect us against illegal action. We have to protect ourselves."

The union has attracted the attention not only from SND actors, but from the acting community in other regional theaters as well, fulfilling a common need to pool resources among colleagues no matter how distant they may be. Spearheading this national movement doesn't faze Stanke. "I still want to be an actor," he said. Judging by the popularity of his performances, an appreciative audience is not lacking, especially for his Shakespeare performances.

The eloquent but difficult language of Shakespeare is an enticing challenge. "With this kind of language, the actor has to work harder so that not only he, but the audience, understands the words. It's a lot more work for the actor." But Stanke definitely isn't afraid of hard work. His leading role in the recent premiere "Lorenzaccio" shows an incredible amount of painstaking work on his part. Despite the time commitment for his union activities, he said that he loves this performance.

"I like performing Lorenzaccio very much. The situation now [in Slovakia] is nearly the same as it was at that time [in the play]. Especially the political methods being used." With all that going for him, one would think that Stanke feels right at home in Slovakia. Not necessarily so. "I would like to go somewhere else [and perform]," Stanke smirked.

For expatriates deciding how to spend precious free time - in a local pub or in a dark theater - foreigners will find both offer a healthy taste of Slovak culture. But Stanke leans toward the more sophisticated theater for visitors to get a glimpse of Slovak culture. "If foreigners would like to learn about Slovak people, you can learn a lot about them, culturally and intellectually by going to the theater," he said.

"It is a good "business card"- a introduction of Slovakia," Stanke said. "Based on that, you can see that there are other kinds of people living in Slovakia than those who represent us. I strongly feel that these kinds are the majority - polite and intelligent."

Richard Stanke can be seen in several Slovak National Theater performances in Bratislava. Among them, Gogoň's "Lorenzaccio", Shakespeare's "As You Like It" ("Ako sa vam paái"), and Chekov's "The Cherry Orchard" (Viášňový sad"). Check The Spectator's Divadlo/Theater Calendar for dates.

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