From the Web to the Stage

People Republic
"I have always tried to do something original," said Dmitry Paranyushkin, co-founder of the Way to Russia web site and performance artist. "Not original just for the sake of it, but something that comes from my heart, something that is me."

Work and personal life have always been closely connected for Paranyushkin. The collapse of the Soviet Union when he was nine taught him the importance of flexibility. "I saw that my father had to change, to be open to new ideas. He started to learn English."

"I've always been interested in exploring things," he said. "When I was nine, I picked up a 'teach yourself English' book and started to learn." His inquisitive nature led to a part-time job with Skate Press at the age of 16. "I decided to try out graphic design, so I bought a book about it and started to learn."

Things didn't start too well. After a few days, Paranyushkin's boss told him, "Dmitry, if you work so slowly, you will not last more than two weeks."

But he soon got up to speed and learned a lot from his experience. "It was my first time working in a big company with many foreigners. I learned a lot about organizing myself and working independently."

"My boss would always tell me, 'Dmitry, be yourself. Be creative.' This is something I have always remembered."

The economic crisis of 1998 was a turning point for Paranyushkin. "Before then, I thought I'd be a graphic designer, but then I lost my job." He took a year off before enrolling in the economics faculty at Moscow State University.

After his first year, he went backpacking in Western Europe. "I ended up in Amsterdam, where I met a girl. She wanted to visit me in Russia, so I had to learn how to get a visa."

And thus the Way to Russia web site was born, conceived of by Paranyushkin as a way to help others to travel to Russia by sharing his experiences. With his friend, Danil Perushev, it took six months to write the content for the site, which launched in 2000.

Despite friends' skepticism, they persevered with the project. "At first the web site was a hobby, but deep down, I had always wanted to run my own business," said Paranyushkin.

People Nation
Paranyushkin's style is that of a performance artist.
The opportunity to combine both these elements came in the summer of 2000, when the Way to Russia web site began earning commission by connecting people looking for places to stay in Moscow with accommodation providers.

"We then had to decide whether to make the web site a travel agency or a travel guide," Paranyushkin said. They decided to focus on the latter, maintaining an unbiased approach while connecting people with service providers.

Way to Russia started as a playful guide for backpackers, but has now developed into a more serious web site for all types of independent travelers. The web site's uniqueness, Paranyushkin said, lies in its combination of mainstream activities and personal experiences from the web site's team of writers.

Way to Russia has become one of the most popular Internet guides to Russia, receiving praise and recommendations in the Lonely Planet Guide to Moscow and the Rough Guide to Russia.

The web site's aim is not just to inform, he said, but to try to break Western stereotypes. "Some people think we are somehow connected with the Russian government, but we are just trying to show some positive things about Russia."

The advantage of a web business is that it can be run from anywhere, Paranyushkin said, and at the end of his studies, his relationship with his girlfriend, Celine Smith, now his wife, led him to move to England. "She was studying at Dartington College of Arts, and I decided I also wanted to pursue my interest in theater."

"I rediscovered my young side after being serious about my business side." The theater company, which he founded with his friends, began to perform in Holland, France and Germany, and one year ago, Paranyushkin moved to Berlin.

Paranyushkin is now working on two solo performance projects. The first, Russkibeat, is a stand-up comedy, hip-hop show, playing on stereotypes about Russians. This project is, in a way, connected to the Way to Russia web site, he said. "It also informs people about Russia, but in a funny way." The second, SupaFlux, is a combination of theater, dance and music in short, playful performance projects.

In business, as in performance, he said, the crucial thing is presentation. "I learned very quickly that no matter how good what you do is, it doesn't matter if no one knows about it. What matters is how you tell the world." For the Way to Russia web site, this meant not only being at the top of Google search lists, but networking and establishing connections with service providers.

Co-founder of Way to Russia Danil Perushev praised Paranyushkin's hard work. "He can choose what's important at the moment and focus on it until the job is done. He works on it until it's done, not until he's tired."

This energy, Perushev said, is also evident in his performances. "He accumulates much energy during rehearsals and gives it back to the public through the performance -- so even if you don't like what is happening on an intellectual level, you somehow get involved."