If I've given people pleasure, it was my pleasure. There is nothing more wonderful than being on stage and having a play go well and enjoying yourself and just reveling in it.
—Doreen Brownstone, actor
Actor Doreen Brownstone will be honoured with a special lifetime achievement award at the seventh annual Mayor's Luncheon for the Arts on June 6. The award will be presented by the Winnipeg Arts Council.
"It's a wonderful honour," says the 90-year-old actor. "I'm humbled by it.
It's overwhelming to have this tribute at this stage in my life. It
floored me because I just did what I did. I did the plays and nobody was
more joyful and happy to do that than I."
Brownstone was nominated by Steven Schipper, artistic director of the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre. "For me when I think of Doreen I think of this twinkle in her eye and the sort of impish joy she radiates," he says.
"Every community is blessed with senior actors but sometimes someone transcends all expectations. Doreen always reminds us there is a little girl deep within that nonagenerian and that child-like curiosity, openness and desire to learn have earned her the love of Winnipeg artists and audiences of all ages," Schipper says.
"They admire the length and breadth of her career and her find command of craft. She helps us all imagine how full our own lives can be if we have her determination."
Stefanie Wiens and Angus Kohm, two local filmmakers, are making a
documentary about Brownstone for MTS Stories from Home. In it, they trace her history growing up in
England, joining the Royal Air Force, coming to Winnipeg as a war bride and then
embarking on her long and storied acting career.
Doreen Brownstone as Alice Beggs in House of Pride (personal collection of Doreen Brownstone)
"She is a trailblazer," says Wiens. "That spirit has
not changed even though she's 25 years past the standard age of
retirement. As you get older and move in your career you continue to
need role models and Doreen really is a role model. Not only for us
locally but for people across the country.
"The thing about Doreen that's most magnificent is that she is still acting at 90 and she has just gotten better and better."
In 1958 Brownstone was cast by John Hirsch in MTC's very first production, A Hatful of Rain,
playing opposite Gordon Pinsent. Fifty years later, Schipper invited her to reprise her role as Yenta in Fiddler on the Roof
As head of Television at CBC, Hirsch also cast Brownstone regularly in the popular soap opera House of Pride
Among her favourite roles are Emma in Over the River and Through the Woods,
Miss Daisy in Driving Miss Daisy
and Yenta. She has played Yenta seven times and even did a Yiddish language version of Fiddler
a couple of years ago.
"It was a lot of fun," she says. "At 89 years old I was hopping around the stage. I said, 'look kids, I'm 89 and hopping.' One of them said, 'hopping is good.'"
Brownstone has been called the 'theatre baba' and Wiens points out that Brownstone continues to see herself as part of the theatre community, baking for the actors and knitting for newborns. "She's really part of the family," says Wiens.
What many people don't know is that Brownstone put her acting career aside for many years while her children were young. She had a dual career as a swimming teacher and continues to swim to this day.
Doreen Brownstone in House of Pride (private collection of Doreen Brownstone)
That held her in good stead when she was touring with Over the River
at the age of 84 - or 84 and a half, as she clarified. Schipper recalls she experienced a heart flutter during rehearsal, so she was rushed to Montreal's Jewish General Hospital. After a night of tests, the doctor pronounced her the healthiest, strongest person in the hospital. "I'm steel like my mother," she says.
Brownstone agrees that her fellow Winnipeg actors are like family. "They're my kids," she says. "When you've known people for all these years and you act with people, there's a special bond. It's certainly enriched my life.
"If I've given people pleasure, it was my pleasure. There is nothing more wonderful than being on stage and having a play go well and enjoying yourself and just reveling in it."
The Mayor's Luncheon for the Arts will be held at the Hotel Fort Garry on June 6 at 12:00. Awards will also be given out for rising star in the arts, a mid-career artist making a mark, an arts champion, an artist or administrator making a difference and outstanding volunteer.