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A sweeping success

Young actor Sophie Smith-Dostmohamed poised to take Winnipeg stages by storm

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/2/2020 (208 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Sophie Smith-Dostmohamed knew she wanted to be an actor from an early age.

As a child, her dreams led her to acting classes at Manitoba Theatre for Young People. After graduating from high school, she continuing her studies at the University of Winnipeg’s honours acting program.

She’s appeared in fringe festival productions, worked with Sarasvati’s FemFest and been a cast member with Manitoba Mystery Co., which presents interactive murder-mysteries at historic sites.

And even though the 21-year-old hasn’t graduated yet, she has already made her professional theatre debut in Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre’s production of playwright Mark Crawford’s The New Canadian Curling Club, playing Fatima, a newcomer to Canada who has taken up the sport.

Smith-Dostmohamed might as well get comfortable on the Royal MTC mainstage; she will also appear in A Thousand Splendid Suns, the drama based on the bestselling novel by Afghan-American author Khaled Hosseini that opens March 19.

Smith-Dostmohamed will next appear in A Thousand Splendid Suns at RMTC. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

Smith-Dostmohamed will next appear in A Thousand Splendid Suns at RMTC. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

The journey from signing on to her first show to taking the stage on opening night has been fraught with some anxiety — a normal emotion for actors of any age. It has taken her to rural Manitoba and finally to the boards of the John Hirsch Mainstage.

Prior to her Winnipeg debut in The New Canadian Curling Club, Smith-Dostmohamed embarked on her first regional tour with the show, a rite of passage for many emerging actors. A slate of 17 one-nighters began in Neepawa on Jan. 7; the production then moved on to northern theatres in Thompson, Snow Lake and Flin Flon, cities including Steinbach and Brandon and small towns such as Strathclair and Gretna, before finishing Jan. 29 in Atikokan, Ont.

"The tour was fun," she says, "I got to see a lot of places that I wouldn’t have usually travelled to and got to meet a lot of really cool people.

"A lot of people don’t get to see a lot of theatre or only see one or two shows a year. They are so excited and thrilled."

She’s barely had a chance to catch her breath since returning home. Sitting down for an interview on Feb. 12, Smith-Dostmohamed had just finished a preview performance at the mainstage and was gearing up for opening night about 24 hours later.

"The preview felt pretty good," she said. "I’m really excited to get back in the theatre for rehearsal.

"The tour was extremely different in terms of blocking and the set was different and what was necessary was totally different," she says of The New Canadian Curling Club’s rink-like set, which has to be adapted to each new theatre on the tour.

"I’m honestly pretty nervous for opening night," she said.

Sophie Smith-Dostmohamed (left) as Fatima Al-Sayed and Lorraine James as Charmaine Bailey in The New Canadian Curling Club. (Leif Norman)

Sophie Smith-Dostmohamed (left) as Fatima Al-Sayed and Lorraine James as Charmaine Bailey in The New Canadian Curling Club. (Leif Norman)

It was an especially big night because she was being graded on her performance — which requires her to use a Syrian accent — by her U of W voice professor, Shannon Vickers.

"I used the international phonetic alphabet and found a key on Syrian accents," she says. "I was also able to talk to my dad, who speaks Arabic."

She also learned a lot from her director, Miles Potter, a Canadian theatre legend who has directed more than a dozen productions at Royal MTC in his career, including Medea, God of Carnage and Little Shop of Horrors.

"When we got in the rehearsal room before tour, he went out of his way to teach," she says. "I knew who he was and I was really nervous and really excited to work with him. I’m glad I got to take this opportunity to learn from him."

She also cites Winnipeg directors Ann Hodges, Christopher Brauer, Krista Jackson and Royal MTC’s associate artistic director Audrey Dwyer as sources of inspiration and artists she dreams of working with in the future.

"I admire them all so much," Smith-Dostmohamed says. "My dream directors are people I feel like I could be friends with. Just normal people you want to be friends with very badly."

As she prepared to make her mainstage debut, she was aware many of those people would be in the audience watching her perform.

"I’ve never been more nervous in my life!"


A week later, Smith-Dostmohamed has left her opening-night jitters behind and settled into a routine.

Smith-Dostmohamad was being graded on her opening night performance by her U of W voice professor. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

Smith-Dostmohamad was being graded on her opening night performance by her U of W voice professor. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

"I wake up at about 7:30 a.m. and I go to the gym for an hour-and-a-half because it makes me feel a lot more relaxed.

"After that I go home and take a shower. I start doing basic warm-ups in the shower to check how my voice is that day."

From there, she prepares for other auditions and does chores. By 5 p.m., a quick nap is in order, followed by makeup and longer warm-ups to get her voice ready for the evening’s performance.

"I also speak all of my lines before the show, and that’s super new for me; I’ve never done that before," she says. "But it’s because I’m speaking in an accent, and in my mind, for me to do this accent justice, I have to rehearse it and have it be fresh before every show."

The routine is important for her because she considers herself an anxious person.

"I like to think I can hold myself pretty well if I get adequate rest," Smith-Dostmohamed says, "but I do have trouble seeing friends and meeting with people when I have shows. If I spend a lot of time with people in the day, I feel a little bit drained by the time I have to do the show.

"And I’m starting to realize that that’s my job. I have to be ready to do my job. That means I have to make those plans on other days."

Actors Doug McKeag (from left), Zhaopeng Meng, Omar Alex Khan, Lorraine James and Sophie Smith-Dostmohamed during the regional tour of The New Canadian Curling Club. (Kyle Darbyson / The Brandon Sun files)

Actors Doug McKeag (from left), Zhaopeng Meng, Omar Alex Khan, Lorraine James and Sophie Smith-Dostmohamed during the regional tour of The New Canadian Curling Club. (Kyle Darbyson / The Brandon Sun files)

The run of The New Canadian Curling Club ends on March 7. She’s realized her longtime dream of being a professional actor, and, so far, it’s just what’s she’s hoped for.

"This is my first professional contract and my first taste of what this life is like," she says, "and I love it so much. It really reiterates for me that I made the right choice in believing in myself from a really young age and just... doing it."

"I really enjoy it. I’m having an amazing time."

Frances.Koncan@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @franceskoncan

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