Theatre community mourns the loss of Gaurav Gopalan, Artist and Scientist

Gaurav Gopalan, an aeronautical engineer who brought boundless energy, a vigorous intellect and startling insight to theater in the Washington area, was found dead in Columbia Heights on Saturday, September 10. He was 35. No cause of death has been announced. [update posted here]

Gaurav Gopalan (Photo courtesy of Constellation Theatre Company)

Gopalan served as a director, dramaturge and production manager, primarily for Constellation Theatre and WSC Avant Bard. “He contacted me out of the blue in 2006 and said he would do anything for us, he was so devoted to the plays of Shakespeare,” said WSC Artistic Director Christopher Henley. Gopalan, Henley said, told him that “to work with us on them would be a dream.”

After assessing Gopalan’s skills, Henley put him to work as Assistant Director for an upcoming production of Richard II. The play was a success; DCTS’ Ronnie Ruff noted that it was directed “with chilling effect, giving the production a Goth-like feel while retaining the lavish essence of dialog that Shakespeare demands.” Gopalan made such an impression on the company that Henley named him Resident Assistant Director, a post he held for a year.

Henley remembers Gopalan as “gentle, wild smart, witty, full of life, loyal, generous, passionate.”

Henley recalls Gopalan for his heart and soul. “His generosity was amazing…he bought tickets for anyone who wanted to go to a Cirque de Soleil performance in DC as well as arranging a road trip to see The Seagull on Broadway. He did everything, going all out. He curated several readings series at [WSC’s former home on] Clark Street, and I would attend and be bowled over at the costumes, sets, props he would have gathered for the occasion.”

After working with Scena and Studio, Gopalan served as dramaturge for Constellation Theatre’s enormously successful production of The Ramayana. A devout Hindu, Gopalan’s broad and profound understanding of the story informed Constellation’s production in important ways.

In the program notes, Gopalan observed,

“The story of Rama is older than the Seas. It is the story of a warrior of light, Rama, a truth-seeker, battling the infinite forces of the dark lord Ravana, an embodiment of ignorance. It is the story of the White Wizard, rising from the East, and sweeping across the valley of the shadow of Death with the light of Truth. The story of Ravana is the story of Macbeth, of Darth Vader – a warrior of light fallen to the dark side.  Rama as the puny David conquers the looming, lofty Goliath as soon as he recognizes him as his own darkness. There is no judgment…only light and dark, only truth and ignorance. What is true is good; Evil is quite simply ignorance.”

“Gaurav’s spirit is so brilliant, smart, generous, kind and caring; he was an incredibly intelligent, delightful, open friend and collaborator,” Allison Stockman, Constellation’s Artistic Director, said. “I feel incredibly sad and yet I also feel blessed that I had him in my life for a time and that he touched so many.  Gaurav believed that at our core, we are unified by one sacred essence with everything and everyone in the universe.  In that, although he has left his body I take comfort to think that he will always be with me.”

Gopalan returned to WSC Avant Bard to co-direct the company’s 2009 production of The Cherry Orchard, which closed out the company’s stay at the Clark Street Playhouse. This production, like most of Gopalan’s projects, was also successful.  “Co-directors Christopher Henley and Gaurav Gopalan create a world of fantasy and farce to relay the alarmingly relevant passages that mirror the state of our own affairs in this day and time,” opined DCTS’ Debbie Jackson, who pointed out that “Gopalan says it best in his program notes: ‘Russia in 1904 and American in 2009 have a lot in common … [including] a powerful state on the brink of change.  Chekhov of all the great playwrights gets closest to capturing the ephemeral pulse of the spirit of being.’”

Gopalan spent much of 2010 and 2011 getting his new business, The Fred Schmitz Group, off the ground. In addition to running the Schmitz Group, which consulted on aeronautical matters, Gopalan was an assistant research scientist at the Alfred Gessow Rotorcraft Center of the University of Maryland. His specialty was in reducing the noise created by helicopter rotors.

Gopalan’s public utterances reflected his deep commitment to live in a truthful way. The home page of his website bears, as its inscription, Polonius’ advice to Laertes in Act I, Scene III – “This above all: to thine own self be true/And it must follow, as the night the day,/Thou canst not then be false to any man.” In his program notes for Constellation Theatre, he observed that “The Ramayana, to its scholars, is a handbook of Truthful Action, or Dharma.  This philosophy states that all you have to do is discover who you are, what your duty is and perform it to the letter. To be true to yourself always and to perform your duties to the best of your abilities is the purpose of your current life.”

And in his biography for that play, he called himself “a foolish truth-seeker.”

Trey Graham talked with a number of Gopalan’s friends, and gives details of his last days. 

Tim Treanor About Tim Treanor

Tim Treanor is a senior writer for DC Theatre Scene. He is a 2011 Fellow of the National Critics Institute and has written over 600 reviews for DCTS. His novel, "Capital City," with Lee Hurwitz, is scheduled for publication by Astor + Blue in November of 2016. He lives in a log home in the woods of Southern Maryland with his dear bride, DCTS Editor Lorraine Treanor. For more Tim Treanor, go to


  1. Me and my family extend our sympathy and grief to the sudden demise of Mr.Gaurav Gopalan(Beloved Brother).May the almighty give strength to his family and may his soul rest in the lap of almighty.
                                                                                                     (Avas Basnet,Akankshya Basnet,Aditya Basnet)

  2. barbara cameron says:

    Gaurav was a neighbor and a good one; consistent.    His  greeting always combined  a smile, kind  and funny word.  He was  never more content  than when  walking  his dog Ginger.   With  was one exceptional moment.     On a Spring moring I was frantically rushing  from my house  to my car.   Before opening the door,  i looked across the street  and saw Gaurav sitting in the middle of his and bobs  front yard.   It was saturated with  blooming flowers,  green leaves.  small white butterflies and birds flying into the big tree above his head     He looked like a famous artist posing for a bookcover as he  sat close to their concrete fish pond , reading aloud.  Other than his lips, Gaurav sat  still and engaged.    I decided to stop the rush to nowhere and  walk to his gate and snap his picture with my phone.   i was  only a few feet from him but I know that to  Gaurav, I was not there.    Whatever he was reading had taken him far inside.     His head leaned to the side and the thick book was gracefully held in one hand.   I can remember that both legs  were curled beside him in the chair.   it was apparent  that for him the book was like a prayer, calming, reasurring, informing.     None of the rough  urban sounds  of 13th street  n.w.  were  able to wear down his focus.  
    I later told Guarav that I’d taken  a picture of him and was curious what he was reading.  He looked at me with that  wide gift of a  smile and said Shakespeare. ” I luuuvvve Shakespeare”.

  3. Our hearts and minds are with you today and ever, Gaurav. Thanks for everything you’ve blessed us with over the years. We can only hope we’ve given you much in return, and think of you often. Love from fellow artists all across the city, to a brave soul and a good man.

  4. I had the good fortune to get to know Gaurav while taking a voice class at Studio last summer. He was such a thoroughly activated person, so intellectual, so curious, so excited about everything being shared and the connections it had to everything else. He had such a way about him that it wasn’t unusual for the class to go on a 20 minute tangent once he got going, since the instructor would be just as interested in what he was saying as he was in the lesson.

    This is a major loss for the theatre community and the entire city. The world is a less wonderful place without Gaurav in it, but we must shine that much brighter to make up for it. 



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