Stefan Valdobrev: Theatre is therapeutic

Music gives me airtight defence against my own demons, but cinema is my greatest love

Photo: Krum Stoev

If you are serious in your approach, you write straight from the heart about something you consider important, considering that you will be asking people to spare three minutes of their lives to hear it. You need to be aware of this great responsibility, says actor Stefan Valdobrev in an interview to Eropost.

Hello, Stefan! Your tour with The Usual Suspects this year is called Five Summer Concerts, Not Counting the Winter One. It sounds like something written by Jerome Jerome.

I only thought about that connection later. The truth is I was searching for a title, seeing as we do not have a new production or an album out and we are not working with a symphonic orchestra either, as was the case last year. We also wanted to make it a smaller tour - just the major cities, big concerts. We did the math and it added up to five. So I said to myself: “Why not call it Five Summer Concerts, Not Counting the Winter One”, without even knowing at the time if there would be a winter concert at all. Actually, we are planning one now just because I put it in the title.

Winter, summer concerts - is there winter and summer music?

There is no such distinction. When you sit down to write a song, that is if you are serious about your work, there is no thought about whether you are making a summer or a winter song. Never! Such line of thinking would make you a person dominated by the seasons as well. If you are serious in your approach, you write straight from the heart about something you consider important, considering that you will be asking people to spare three minutes of their lives to hear it. You need to be aware of this great responsibility. These are three whole minutes. Once the track is released, the response it gets and the life it takes of its own is beyond your control.

Is there a specific moment when you just know a song will have a long life and history?

I can only tell whether it will move people. My own reaction is a good barometer - if there is a moment, a bar, a word or a verse in there that touches me, I know there will be other people who will not remain indifferent to it either. I believe that is what gives our work true meaning. But I cannot explain the success of my own songs because analysing is not part of the creative process.

By the way, congratulations on your Valencia award for best actor in a supporting role for Away from the Shore.

This is my first international award as a film actor and I really cherish it.

How do you manage to give every single project your all? After all, your audience expects you to be at your best in all the areas of your artistic career.

I know this and I strive to be my best every night. It is working so far, although do not ask me to explain how. There is no secret recipe or an out-of-this-world preparation. Of course, I have my routine of exercises, standards and discipline. There have been times when I leave my home in the morning only to find myself struggling to put one foot in front of the other, my legs shaking with exhaustion. I push through the day and by the time I get to the theatre or concert hall in the evening, the weakness is suddenly gone, as if I have plugged in the grid and recharged. This is the effect that going before an audience has on me.

Does this surge of energy come from the audience or from what you do to yourself on stage?

It is both. Above all, I feel this pure form of gratitude and joy at having the chance to share my work with a considerable number of people. The fact that I have two hours to share something with them, have a blast and make everyone leave the place radiant, smiling and carrying a renewed sense of meaning, reinvigorates me, helps me lock in and channel my energy. To me, the task is very simple. Simply joy!

You write a lot of music for cinema and theatre. During the creative process, are you thinking of how these sounds will translate to images?

No. I only started to see this quality later. There is a dramaturgical aspect to these songs for the simple reason that acting is my trade. It is an unconscious thing and perhaps it is a distinguishing characteristic of my songs, but it is not intentional.

Does writing music help you keep your demons in check?

Yes, music is helpful in that regard, but theatre is even more so. You go on stage under the pretext of playing a character, and so you can let those demons be “verbalised” by some other persona. Theatre is therapeutic. You can be anyone, someone different every night. Music, on the other hand, as the purest form of art, does not tolerate demons. Music provides airtight defence against your demons, a safe space.

What place in your heart does cinema occupy?

Cinema, not theatre, is the reason I wanted to become an actor in the first place. My love for cinema is boundless, as is my knowledge. I can easily watch three or four films a day with pleasure, and I have done so as a member of international juries over the past years. But when it comes to theatre, I watch two or three plays a year and it is a struggle. This is the actual truth. Cinema is much closer to me as a means of expression, which is why I specialised film and not theatre directing. My place in theatre is as an actor who can take direction, the other side of the equation is not for me.

Do you remember how your love for cinema started?

I was in school. We used to watch all those Gojko Mitic films and play the Cowboys and Indians game the next day - Blood Brothers, Osceola, The Sons of Great Bear. These films transported you to another world before you came back to reality. Another thing that made me feel this way was music. The circus that was being built next door to where we lived was the third. These were my worlds.

Would you shoot a TV series?

I do not like being involved with TV series. I think there should be a certain level of quality. I do not think that they are being made the right way in Bulgaria - everything is awfully rushed and sloppy. I do watch American and British TV series, so I know how it could be done. I am not against them because they are the future. But I dream of someone handing me a good script and saying: “We will do it the way feature films are made, and we will not shoot two episodes per day for the sake of getting commercials in the primetime, we will make something good.” I would say yes to such an offer. For now, I do this exact type of films for the big screen, let's call it art house, and I enjoy them because I know that no one will be shooting like that in five years - one airtime minute a day instead of two episodes. We are the last ones. It is like a delicious slow-cooked meal compared to a fast-food sandwich.

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Stefan Valdobrev is a Bulgarian actor, musician, composer, singer and film director. Born on 20 May 1970 in Stara Zagora, he studied at the National Academy for Theatre and Film Arts in Sofia, specialised film directing in Prague and made his directorial debut with the documentary My Mate Manchester United. He has written the scores for over 70 plays and 20 films. In 2000 he received his first ever Golden Rose - for film debut for the soundtrack to Dogs' Home. In 2008 he wrote the music for The World Is Big and Salvation Lurks Around the Corner, a production that grabbed numerous international awards and was shortlisted for the Academy Awards in the Best Foreign Language Film category.

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