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Stalking from film to stage

INTERVIEW. Andrei Tarkovsky’s cult film "Stalker" transforms into an intimate theatre piece for the Scandi Nordwind Festival. Part nostalgia, and part questioning of memory, growing up and getting in with the right crowd. On Nov 27 and 28 at HAU 2.

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Co-founder of the Norwegian theatre company Verk Productions Fredrik Hannestad directs “Stalker”, coming to Berlin as part of the Nordwind festival.

Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker might have received mixed reviews when it was released in 1979, but its powerful aesthetic and eerie foreshadowing eventually earned it a place in the canon of 20th century cinema. In the film, the term ‘stalker’ refers to people who guide visitors into the ‘zone’ – an area where the laws of physics don’t apply and there’s a room where all your wishes are granted. Over 30 years after the film’s release, Verk took it as their inspiration for their own work, composed of excerpts from the screenplay and 15 interviews about personal encounters with this notorious Stalker. This “story about a film about a journey to a room” builds up to an intimate theatre piece about remembering, growing up, and getting in with the right crowd.

How do you turn stories about a film into theatre?

People usually see the film at a certain moment in their lives, usually their early twenties, and they remember a lot of details. We use these memories to get into the zone, or at least that’s one way of interpreting it. Their history is the zone and they’re going in to experience their past. These texts start a memory machine in the audience. And they start to remember the film themselves.

And if they haven’t seen the film?

They still have this feeling of seeing a film that left a big impression on them. Of course it’s good to have some kind of reference. Actually there’s one part of the text where a girl says she fell asleep almost immediately. But she says it wasn’t because it was boring, it’s because it was so strong. It made such an impression on her that she fell asleep. [Laughs] But the piece is also about how you have to have the right references if you want to associate with certain people. It becomes very revealing and funny and compelling, because it’s a story about how you navigate through your life using these cultural and popular associations.

Why did you choose Stalker?

We liked the way Geoff Dyer wrote his book Zona, because he tells the whole story of the film and includes anecdotes about his own life. He says it himself: it’s terrible when someone tells you the entire plot of a film. But he’s doing it because he wants go into the zone with his readers and find out what his problems are as a writer. We also like this process of retelling – when you tell something in your own words, it becomes a personal story.

Your previous work The Eternal Smile addresses God quite literally. Does this piece have an element of religion as well?

It’s much more complicated because you’re never given a picture of God. Maybe it’s because of the Russian Orthodox tradition. There’s just insinuations that something is there but we don’t know what it is, and that of course is more difficult to work with in the theatre. But we manage to find a kind of soul in the performance together with the audience. You have a text and the staging, and when people come to look at it, something new starts to emerge.

Stalker, Nov 27, 20:00, Nov 28, 20:30 | HAU 2

Originally published in issue #121, November 2013.