Doreen Brownstone, O.M.
Doreen Brownstone (nee Stein) was a performer and champion swimmer who became a well-known actor in Winnipeg. Her dedication to community and professional theatre won her the title of the Grande Dame of Theatre.
She was born in Leeds, England, on September 28, 1922. As a child she loved performing, often in the streets of her neighbourhood. In addition to acting, she was a champion swimmer, which garnered her a scholarship to attend a private school in her early teens.
At the age of 19, inspired by the words of Winston Churchill, Doreen quit her job and enlisted in the Royal Air Force. The padre of her division asked her to be in a play and “the rest is history.”
Brownstone was a war bride, married Billy Brownstone, immigrated to Winnipeg in 1946 and had three children. In Winnipeg, she joined the YMHA (Theatre) Players. She was also active in the Winnipeg Little Theatre, and in an amateur theatre group headed by John Hirsch, their drama teacher and director (or as Brownstone says “he was our Theatre School”). During one of the rehearsals with established Canadian actor Gordon Pinsent, they talked about where they would go from here and Brownstone suggested forming their own theatre company. Theatre 77 was born with Hirsch as the artistic director.
In 1957, with Hirsch still as its artistic director and Tom Hendry as business manager, Theatre 77 was renamed the Manitoba Theatre Centre (now the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre). In 1958, Hirsch asked Brownstone to be in MTC’s first professional production – “A Hatful of Rain” with Gordon Pinsent – and so began her 60-year career as a professional actor.
In Winnipeg, Brownstone has performed for the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, Prairie Theatre Exchange, Winnipeg Jewish Theatre, Theatre Projects Manitoba, Rainbow Stage and independent companies. She has toured our province with the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, which included the very popular “Driving Miss Daisy” in the lead role at the age of 83. She also performed for The Belfry Theatre (Victoria); Stage West Theatre (Calgary and Edmonton), The Segal Theatre (Montreal), Magnus Theatre (Thunder Bay, Ontario) and Drayton Festival (Drayton, Ontario).
It is estimated that Brownstone has been in 100+ productions; she played the role of Yenta in “Fiddler on the Roof” seven times, including at the RMTC at the age of 85.
In 2013, when Brownstone received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Winnipeg Arts Council, at the age of 92, Robert Metcalfe cast her in the PTE production of “Vigil” by Morris Panych. She was the oldest working professional stage actor in Canada. Brownstone continues to do staged readings, play-development workshops and performs in short films. Local filmmakers Stefanie Wiens and Angus Kohm of Swak Productions, an independent film company, recently produced: “Doreen Brownstone: Still Working After 90”.
Brownstone, who taught swimming for more than 40 years, believes in a healthy body and mind. She attributes her lifelong fitness to swimming and her mental sharpness to her years as an actor.