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Friday, July 25, 2014

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Doyenne of Winnipeg theatre turns 90

Tags: Arts
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Doreen Brownstone

WINNIPEG — Doreen Brownstone turned 90 recently, and to celebrate her special birthday, her friends and colleagues in Winnipeg’s theatre community threw her a party to remember.

About 150 people were on hand Sept. 28 at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre (MTC) lobby to greet Winnipeg’s oldest working actress as she stepped out of the limo and walked down the red carpet. She spent most of the evening seated on a throne as friends serenaded her with songs, stories and good wishes.

 “It was the most wonderful night of my life,” Brownstone said. “I felt like the Queen on a walkabout.”

Brownstone shows no sign of slowing down. She is really excited about an upcoming documentary on her career and a major role in a movie that is being shot locally. Both projects are being developed by the film production team of Angus Kohm and his partner, Stefanie Wiens.

“We thought it would be great to capture one of her performances on film because most of her best performances were on stage,” Kohm said.

Kohm is comparing The Doreen Brownstone Movie to HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, in which Larry David plays himself. Brownstone will play a fictionalized version of herself as a one-time movie star who, at 90, has to accept work in more questionable, lower-budget films. It will also focus on her apartment block and her relationship with her colourful neighbours.

For the documentary, Kohm and Wiens have spent the last five months doing interviews with friends and former castmates.

“Doreen is an ideal subject for a documentary,” said Wiens, who recalled first meeting Brownstone in 1993 in an MTC production of Fiddler on the Roof. “We think of her as a local treasure, but she is much more. While doing interviews for the documentary in Toronto, we interviewed Miriam Newhouse, a business rep in the industry. She told us that when Doreen turned 80, The stage actors union had to create a new category for her. There were no other professional actors in Canada who were over 80. Her life is a snapshot of Canadian theatre history.”

Wiens praised Brownstone for her courage, integrity, sense of adventure and perseverance.

Brownstone hails from England where she first performed on stage in 1943. She came to Canada as a war bride. In her early years here, while still raising a family, she worked as a swimming teacher.

Brownstone returned to the stage in the late 1950s, working with John Hirsch and Tom Hendry, the founders of the Manitoba Theatre Centre. She co-starred with Gordon Pinsent in MTC’s inaugural production, A Hatful of Rain, in 1958.

Over the past 55 years, she has graced countless Winnipeg stages with her talents. In the past 15 to 20 years, she has also played roles in several television series and locally shot full-length movies.

“I like to work,” she said, “but I am at the age where if offers come, they come, if not not. I could play Yenta the Matchmaker tomorrow. I played the role in seven different productions [most recently last June in a Yiddish-language version of Fiddler]. I don’t know though if I could still do eight shows a week.

 “I thank the Lord that I still have my health and mental faculties.”

Although Brownstone doesn’t have any stage parts lined up yet for this season, she will be helping the MTC with its tribute to Stephen Sondheim in January and has some bit parts in local movies.

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