“The NeverEnding Story kind of shaped my aesthetic, I love whimsy and magical realism, and those sorts of things filtered into the work that I was doing.”

Tami Stronach made an impact on her contemporaries, and generations that followed, as The Childlike Empress in Wolfgang Petersen's 1984 production of “The NeverEnding Story.”

Embracing a life of performance, but electing to avoid the pitfalls of celebrity, Stronach stepped away from films and focused on the stage, as a member of Flying Machine Theater and later forming her company, Tami Stronach Dance.

The birth of her daughter, a desire to create quality family entertainment, led Stronach and her husband, actor, playwright and director Greg Steinbruner, to found the Paper Canoe Company.

The Swerve Magazine: What was it like to be part of a project as creative as “The NeverEnding Story” at a young age?

Tami Stronach: It was amazing. It was filmed at the Bavaria Studios in Germany. The film set was enormous; it was almost like its own little country. They had to recreate streets and all of these different areas. They had these, almost like giant circus tents, and inside these tents were all the different environments from the film, like the Swamps of Sadness. It was an awe-inspiring scale.

SM: Clearly, the film had an impact on a lot of people. What is it like to have been part of something that still resonates with people over 30 years later?

TS: I feel like when I was a young adult and went off to New York to become a professional dancer and choreographer, I wanted to see what I could do as Tami, and not have an affiliation with “The NeverEnding Story,” so I really plunged myself into that work, and being a starving artist. It was a super exciting life, and it was very creatively fulfilling, and I made my mark on the dance scene.

Then having my daughter, who is now 6, I started to get really interested in family entertainment and family movies. Partly through that, I got invited to a comic con—which I'm so embarrassed to admit that I didn't even know what that was about—it was very different from my daily life as a dance artist in New York.

I was surprised that there were that many people still interested in the film and had such affection for the film, and for me in the film. I started to realize how special that was, and to feel a lot of gratitude for it, and to want to engage with fans. It was a really big shift, and I got a Twitter account, and I love to interact with people on there. It's been a really fun experience to go to comic cons, and to hug people and talk to them about what they were doing at that time, and what I was doing at that time.

SM: What drew you to dance and theater more than pursuing more on-screen work?

TS: I was 11 when I made The NeverEnding Story. I wasn't really so interested in becoming a celebrity; I found it overwhelming, I don't come from a family of Hollywood people. My parents are academics. For a child actor, especially in the 80s, it's a complicated environment to navigate and stay in a healthy emotional space.

I just love making things. I love stories; I love pretty much all performing arts mediums; I love dance, I love theater, I love music. I walked away from celebrity, but I never walked away from performing, and I never will. I've been performing for the last 30 years.

SM: What led you to start the Paper Canoe Company?

TS: Paper Canoe Company was a decision to open a new chapter for me. I've been dancing for 20 years, and I have three herniated discs and creaky knees (laughs), and while I'm still dancing, and will continue to make dances, I started seeing more movies with my daughter and my husband, and we started talking about what makes a good family movie.

Time with your family is so scarce, everyone's always busy and working, and it's so hard to create these experiences where you aren't listening to a CD that's driving you crazy, and your daughter wants to hear it for the 100th time, or you're watching a movie, and you're like, “Oh my god, does it have to be that one?”

We started to really talk about the amazing films like “E.T.,” that may have been made for kids, but adults love it just as much, or some of the Pixar films like “Finding Nemo.” I started to realize that is what I wanted to shift my focus to, and to become a part of making.

We started with live performances in New York, with two theater shows we did last year. “Beanstalk Jack” is our folk rock album, which is our third Paper Canoe adventure. It's really a foray into how to tell modern fairy tales through lots of different mediums. Next, we want to branch out into digital content that you could watch anywhere, so even if you can't come see one of our performances in New York, you could see some Paper Canoe things online.

SM: You mentioned modern fairy tales, and “Beanstalk Jack,” how did that project come about?

TS: “Beanstalk Jack,” I think it was probably bouncing around in my husband's brain for a little while.  One day we were listening to a CD that my daughter really likes, and it wasn't one that my husband particularly likes, and he said, “Why can't people just make music for kids that won't drive parents crazy?” I said, “Well, why don't you try to make one? I bet it's really, really hard.” He looked at me and said, “I do want to make one?” “You do?” “Yes, and it's the story of Jack and the Beanstalk.”

So we sat down at the kitchen table and started talking about it, and for me, it was important to give the story a twist. It's like many old fairy tales, they're really quite brutal in some ways, and they speak of an era where things were really harsh—things are harsh in our era too—but there is a need to update these to be more relevant to this generation of kids.

I struggled with the notion that Jack was really poor, so what he did was break into this giant's house and then killed him. (laughs) I don't know if I can fly this past my very inquisitive, very intelligent little girl. She's going to be like, “He did what? Mom, that's not very cool.”

We made the giant really bad, so he deserves what he gets. He's looting the land, stepping on houses, and stealing their crops, which is how he's so rich. When Jack finally goes up the beanstalk, he sees the giant's daughter. We named her Harmony, and she's locked in this gilded cage. She lives in this giant mansion, but she doesn't have anyone to talk to, so this stuff doesn't have any meaning. We gave it a boy-meets-girl twist, they fall in love at first sight, and he steals her heart. So he kind of steals the giant's most prized possession, and whisks Harmony away, who's thrilled to get out of Dodge, and they form a band together.

I feel that the greatest triumph you can have is to be happy, so no matter what kinds of destructive things are happening in the world, or what destructive things happen to you, the biggest revenge, in a way, is to succeed in building your own exciting, full, rich world, so that's how Jack beats the giant.

SM: That sounds very cool. Looking into your company, I was reading about “Light, A Dark Comedy.” What are the origins of that, and what has it been like to bring that to different stages?

TS: Having a little girl, I wanted to create a story with a female child protagonist who triumphs over dark forces around her, not through magically beating them all up, which I feel like a lot of female superheroes end up beating bad guys through brawn. I love superhero movies and all kinds of fantasy movies that give us permission to win in that way, but I just wanted her to beat the bad guys though being relentlessly inquisitive. She just somehow couldn't let questions go, and her curiosity is so much bigger than her bravery, but it just keeps on forcing her deeper and deeper into the maze until she unlocks the puzzle that nobody had the energy to keep questioning and questioning to find the answer.

It has this sort of sci-fi, dystopian world that I'm so attracted to. I love the Hunger Games, and all those dark, dystopian worlds. I think we see reality often more clearly when we exaggerate things through fantasy. It's a really powerful medium for giving us the opportunity to have some perspective, and then we can take in the things happening in the real world without feeling so stymied by it.

My long-term vision for Light is to turn it into a graphic novel; I think it would really come alive in that format. I also think it would be an incredible film, and I would not play the 11-year-old in that (laughs). But the story and the world that we created there would be an exciting script for a screenplay.