Professor Dmitry Troyanovsky '98 is bringing German drama to Chinese theater

Dmitry TroyanovskyPhoto/Mike Lovett

Assistant Professor of Theater Arts Dmitry Troyanovsky '98.

Brandeis Assistant Professor of Theater Arts Dmitry Troyanovsky is up to something these days that is almost certainly a first.

He's a Russian-born professor at a U.S. university who is directing a play originally written in German that has been translated to Mandarin. And he is doing it in Shanghai, in one of China’s top theater venues. 

It is a unique arrangement that is entirely deliberate. Troyanovsky has been building connections in the Chinese theater world since 2010.

"As artists we have a responsibility to look beyond ourselves, beyond the narrow confines of our world," Troyanovsky said. "Given what's been going on in the world in the last year or so, I think we've all become quite aware of the rise of nationalism, isolationism. Making global connections is one way to resist."

He was drawn to China because of the social and economic transformation it has undergone in the 21st century. 

"When a society is experiencing that kind of profound change, people turn to various things, including the arts, to find meaning in their lives," he said. "It was my feeling that theater in China would be undergoing an interesting phase."

He was right.

"I see an incredibly young audience, which for us in the U.S. is very unusual," he said. "There's this hunger in the younger generation to figure out who they are, to find their place in the world, and some are looking to theater."

Currently on sabbatical, Troyanovsky is in the midst of overseeing a production for the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center of "The Ugly One," a play by German playright Marius von Mayenburg.

Troyanovsky doesn't speak Mandarin. He has a translator to help, but, whether he’s teaching students on the Brandeis campus or actors on the other side of the globe, much of his communication with actors goes beyond the spoken word.

"Working with a new group of actors, if you speak the same language or not, you have to find a common vocabulary," he said. "You have to establish connections beyond language. You have to speak the same artistic language to become an ensemble, to become a family."

Troyanovsky began to develop relationships within the theater scene in China in 2010 when he went to the Shanghai Theater Academy to teach a master class, and he has continued to gradually build connections over the years. This will be the second play under his direction at the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center. He previously oversaw a production of Sarah Kane’s “4:48 Psychosis” in the summer of 2015.

“The Ugly One” focuses on the transformation of its protagonist, Lette, an engineer who turns to plastic surgery after being told that his unattractiveness is blocking him from career opportunities. The surgery job is so transformational that people begin to lust after him, and others begin to seek out the exact same procedure.

The production will open on April 7 and run through April 23. Troyanovsky said he believes the play will strike a chord with the audience in Shanghai.

"In a way the play is about pursuing success at all costs. Chinese society is going through a soul-searching process right now. People have been pursuing wealth, advancement, and their dream, what we call the American dream, they have been pursuing it with a kind of wild abandon,” he said. “The growth of China has been unprecedented. Some in China feel that it's time to pause and examine what it has done."

Categories: Alumni, Arts, International Affairs

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