Dobriyana Tropankeva

Dobriyana Tropankeva

From Plovdiv to London, the stage is her second home.

It is 7.25 pm one autumn evening, and we are behind the scenes at the Bridewell Theatre in London. Dobriyana will be making her entrance on stage in a few minutes. On this particular evening, our Pictet Asset Management colleague is playing - among other roles - one of the tentacles of a carnivorous plant called Audrey II, star of The Little Shop of Horrors musical, playing to a full house in this off-West End theatre.

It’s the third of seven performances of the show, staged by her drama school, and Dobriyana can’t wait to tread the boards. The first two evenings went well, but there’s always room for improvement. “In the last scene when we are the menacing alien plant taking over the world, our choreographer encouraged us to break forth and reach straight out for the audience.”

Every night, in the ‘Notes’ meeting before the show, the creatives – the play director, choreographer and musical director – give the actors their assessment of the previous day’s performance and their advice for the next. “The creatives always find the right words to motivate us to do better, which I find really inspirational.” Because although The Little Shop of Horrors is performed as an amateur production, the level of performance expected by both the creative team and the audience is very high. 

It’s precisely this level of competitiveness and complexity that Dobriyana relishes. With a professional actress mother, she was drawn into the world of theatre early on. “We lived in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, and I made my stage debut when I was five years old, in a play my mom performed, at the city’s theatre. I spent my first pay check on a puppy, who brought me much happiness for many years.”

Dobriyana's life has been ruled by iron discipline and an uncompromising schedule since childhood: at the age of seven her music studies, and in particular her piano playing to a high level, led her from competition to competition, each more selective than the last. All through school, she would wake at the crack of dawn to do her scales and homework before school, then practise the piano for four hours every evening, sometimes even eight hours in the run-up to a competition. She smiles gently as she looks back on those days. “It was a way of life: if you worked hard, with consistent daily practise, you’d acquire the skills needed to perform successfully and achieve your goals.”

The flyers from just a few of the musicals Dobriyana has acted in since 2015.

Today, Dobriyana has the same approach to everything she does, and pursues each of her passions to the full: her work as a multimedia producer at Pictet of course, but also the trips she arranges as soon as she has a gap in her calendar, but above all, her musicals to which she devotes most of her free time. “This week is the easy week,” she says. “The live shows are the icing on the cake. They're the culmination of a lot of hard work, but also a moment of great camaraderie with the other actors and the production team.”

There certainly is a huge amount of preparation to be done beforehand. From the moment the auditions are over and the actors receive the script, the clock is ticking. “You need to learn and memorise the songs. Then the dance steps. Then the scenes and dialogue. Next you have to put it all together. First by yourself, and then in synchrony with the other actors and musicians. Then you rehearse the scenes.” Again and again. And all this outside of working hours, naturally. Since 2015, Dobriyana has appeared in nine musicals, played dozens of parts and spent hundreds of hours in classes, rehearsals and shows.

As well as her acting parts, Dobriyana is also what is known in the business as a ‘music captain’. “Once the musical director has given an initial presentation of the score, my role is to pick out the different melodies for the various voices and record them separately, so that each performer has an audio tape of their own part and can practise individually. I also run extra rehearsals with the ensemble.”

But how does she manage all this? Dobriyana bursts out laughing: “Oh, that’s easy! I’m one of those people who can never sit still. I make it work by being super-organised! I never waste a moment. For example, while commuting to work in the morning I listen to my songs over and over. Then in the evening, on my way home from rehearsals, I go over my dance steps in my head. Some of my colleagues may have seen me practising on the platform while I’m waiting for my train, and have no doubt wondered what on earth I’m doing!” She also admits that during the intense rehearsal periods, she tends to live in a bubble, with little time to see her friends. “But when showtime finally arrives, they come to watch me and we spend time together again.” After adjusting one of her alien plant green sleeves, Dobriyana indicates it's time to wind up the interview. 

My Ascot outfit was a loan from a theatre, but my Queen’s gown dress is my own ball gown I often use at black-tie events.

Can she tell us about her costumes before she goes? For amateur shows in the off-West End, actors are expected to source their own costumes, with due regard for the artistic director's guidelines. “I like to scout second-hand shops and apps, and I try to find clothes I can also use in my day-to day life. That way my theatre costumes are a sustainable choice that become part of my daily wardrobe.” Next time you see Dobriyana in the office, she might be wearing the corporate pinstripe dress that previously appeared in a scene in The Little Shop of Horrors

To ensure the show’s overall coherence, there’s the Dress Run, a catwalk session, where the actors wear their costumes and the creatives sign off or ask for changes. For very specific or period shows like My Fair Lady, sometimes costumes, props and set furniture are hired by professional theatres or even custom-made. “My Ascot outfit was a loan from a theatre, but my Queen’s gown dress is my own ball gown I often use at black-tie events.”

Dobriyana has forged strong bonds with the troupe, whom she almost considers as a second family. “Of course, we don't all act in every show: people come and go, but our paths eventually cross again as the shows and the years go by. I love being part of the ensemble, I enjoy the teamwork and the combination of acting, singing and dancing.”

We’d love to ask her hundreds more questions on how she chooses what to audition for, or to tell us more about her next play (Footloose, in July 2024), her favourite ones or where she stores all her costumes, but time is up and other worldly Audrey II is due on stage. Dobriyana bounds forth in her matching green costume, along with her fellow actors, and the carnivorous plant promptly comes to life.

When she is not rehearsing a song, tapping out dance steps, or appearing on stage, Dobriyana is a multimedia producer at Pictet Asset Management in London.

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