Interview: Tami Stronach, the Empress of ‘The Neverending Story’

Empress Neverending Story

Who would turn down a chance to interview an Empress? Not me, so when the opportunity arose to speak with Tami Stronach, the ethereal ruler of Fantasia in the 1982 film The Neverending Story, I jumped at the opportunity.

From her bio:

Tami Stronach began her art career early starring as the Empress in the iconic 80’s cult classic The Neverending Story. She is now a NY based actor, dancer, and singer who spent the last two decades performing regularly as part of the NY downtown theater world. She recently co-founded Paper Canoe Company—a family entertainment brand. Stronach has been the Artistic Director of TSD (Tami Stronach Dance) since 2003. Her dance theater works have been presented annually in NYC since the company’s formation and her acclaimed works have toured nationally and internationally. She is also an arts educator, adjunct professor and gives talks to help people harness the power of their imaginations to “Do What They Dream.”

One of my burning questions was what the bottom of her dress looked like in the film. She’s always seated or seen from above the waist. And since there was a time I wanted her costume, I had to know.

I was barefoot. And the dress was incredibly long, so that they could kind of bunch it up around me. She’s always seated. It was a long time ago, I have to say, but from what I remember is that I was barefoot. I had my feet tucked up under me. It’s just exceedingly long.

Empress Neverending Story

Any interest in attending more conventions (particularly DragonCon)?

Yeah, definitely. I enjoyed the comic-cons that I’ve been to. I haven’t done that many. But the ones that I went to were really fun. I tend to do the ones on the East coast only because I can drive there . . . I think that if it fell on the right weekend definitely.

In The Neverending Story, Bastian creates a new world based on his wishes. What would you wish for?

“I know that as a kid . . . I’m going to start with a kid’s fantasy . . . I think that if I could remake everything, I would make a world that was just a little bit less cruel. I feel like nature is so incredible and awe-inspiring. . . if I had my total absolute fantasy wish I think I’d want us all to photosynthesize like plants. . . we’d get all the hard work of how we eat and live out of the way and stop killing each other. Enjoy life, be creative, fulfill aspirational and imaginative things about ourselves. That’s like a really wacky wish. That we’d all photosynthesize.

As an adult, if I could make a more serious wish, I think that it would be that everyone would be afforded the opportunity to be connected to that thing in them that’s creative and imaginative. And I think it’s such a privilege to have that and there’s so much inequity in the world and for some people it really isn’t an option because the day to day struggle is so real. So my biggest wish would be that somehow there would be less inequity so that more people could tap into that spiritual imaginative invisible mystical creative side of themselves that I think is where a lot of meaning and fulfillment can be found.

Since The Neverending Story is about book, and a little boy who loves books, are you a reader? What do you read?

I do love reading. It’s interesting because I grew up in Iran and then in Israel and then in England so I spoke English and switched to Hebrew. Then I came to the United States when I was eight and so I kept on having to switch languages I learned to read a little bit slower. I’m also a little dyslexic . . . It took a kind of real effort on my part to get over the fact that reading was hard, and then it was fantasy books that made it happen for me. And then I started enjoying stories so much I didn’t care if it took me a little bit longer to get to the end of the page. I read The Hobbit; The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; The Wizard of Oz . . .In high school I became a big sci-fi reader. I really liked the author Ursula Le Guin and like the dystopian novels like 1984, Brave New World, The Handmaid’s Tale . . . I find that kind of literature really engrossing . . .

You mentioned The Handmaid’s Tale. Have you watched the Hulu miniseries?

I did. I inhaled it. It’s Phenomenal. I’m just like blown away. It’s a really amazing adaptation and they modernized it and made it really relevant and so now. I love the fact that the lead couple is interracial.”

You have a Twitter account (@neverendingTami) and interact with fans. What has your experience with that been?

It’s new . . . The incredible thing about Twitter is you suddenly can meet so many people from everywhere. It’s really exciting . . . but sometimes I crave a slightly deeper connection and it’s a really hard thing to do on Twitter. I’m still trying to figure out how you can to do it in a way that’s authentic and show who you are . . .

What has interacting with fans been like?

As a young kid when The Neverending Story blew up, I did have some scary encounters with fans and as a young child I felt really ill-equipped to know how to deal with that. It really turned me off to the notion of celebrity . . . I think what I’ve been really really lucky about is the story of The Neverending Story is really about an underdog. It’s about Bastian who’s a kid that nobody likes and people kind of kick around, his mom died and he’s grieving and his dad’s like get over it and you put your feet on the ground, stop trying to escape into the world of imagination. I don’t know if I’m right but I feel that on some level the people that gravitate to that film and have an affinity for the film are sort of people who root for underdog or are little bit of dreamers, and it’s a really eclectic group of people.  I feel like if you could get Neverending Story fans into a room it would be such a great thing because probably no other subject would make that same group of people all get together and have a good time. I think that’s the power of art, to kind of unite us and make us all feel our collective humanity. When a story does that and that’s when it’s doing its job. I’ve been really lucky and I think part of it is the fact that the story itself is one that’s so positive so it attracts a positive energy. I really just enjoyed very lovely interactions with people. Really inspiring and fun.

The story itself offers a kind of . . . I don’t think that people are contacting me necessarily to contact me. They’re contacting me because I was part of something meaningful to them, and we share part of an experience . . .The way that I see art is it’s not really about the art and it’s not really about the people in it or the viewer. What happens when a story is working or when an artwork is really vibrant is a third space is created where the person watching the artwork pours themselves into the piece. It’s really that bridge between that person’s life and the story in that space between the person and a story. A new kind of space is created. I think that what I’m connecting with is for myself also sort of reliving a beautiful moment in my childhood that is fun reminisce about and they’re reliving a moment in their childhood that is fun to reminisce about. In that way it’s really kind of just a shared experience.

What are you currently working on?

Paper Canoe was something that I founded with my husband after my daughter was born. We wanted to come back to family entertainment . . . and a lot of the stories that we started building for Paper Canoe, one in particular, Light, a Dark Comedy has a sci-fi magical element to it, and it has a young girl heroine and it’s really about the importance of the imagination in leading us to save the day so it has some parallels [to The Neverending Story] just on the values side not at all on the storyline side . . . just after having my daughter I craved making art that was fun that I could share with her and share with her friends and the neighborhood. It set us off on this new course and so we’ve done two plays—a sock puppet show and a physical theater play and now our latest project is Beanstalk Jack.  And we’re gonna be doing a bunch of shows through the fall in Williamsburg with that show. . .We just made a music video from one of the tracks in the piece and I did it with my daughter…It’s a little bit of an homage to Toy Story where a little girl is cleaning her room . . . the toys really want to get her and her mom to dance.. It’s a little mini story inside of a song. It was really fun working with my daughter and I’m the giant teddy bear in the video.

Tami Stronach

I’ll be doing a film in the Czech Republic, a dance film that I’ll be releasing later in the fall–an interdisciplanry sound and light machine where when you touch a beam of light it creates a sound. It’s gonna be so cool!

Where will we find the music video?

When it’s ready, we’ll release it on the website. We’ll be sending it around to promote our fall shows. The whole thing is really like a family entertainment company made by a family. It’s my husband, and me, and our daughter is now in the video. 

To learn more about Ms. Stronach’s projects, visit