Monday, August 4, 2008

New integrated theater hopes to change perceptions of disability

From the Winchester Star in Mass.:

Brio Integrated Theatre is a fledgling non-profit organization based in Winchester that uses artistic expression to shatter prejudices and misconceptions about the disabled community in the arts.

Sahar Ahmed, the founder and president of Brio, is the driving force and inspiration behind this organization.

Her ultimate goal is to use integrated theater workshops, productions, educational programs and community outreach to make incredible art that discredits the idea that having a disability limits how a person can contribute creatively to society.

Integrated theater, Ahmed explained, refers to a mix of both the theater participants and of different art forms.

“The integration of people, that’s number one, and we’re talking about the integration of the arts, as in music, dance, and theater and how you integrate the arts together to produce something that’s of value,” she said.

In Brio, integration of people means including people with disabilities, people without disabilities, people who are professional artists, people who believe they have no artistic talent whatsoever, and any combination of the above.

Ahmed said that Brio works with a lot of levels of disabilities, from very mild to very severe.

“You have people in wheelchairs who have no mental disability, they’re just physically disabled,” she said. “And you have people with autism who may look perfectly normal to other people.”

Ahmed first learned about the concept of integrated theater when she was working as the director of a school called The Right to Live Association in Cairo, Egypt. The school, which is a private charity, was founded in 1981 with the intent to provide disabled children with the tools needed to survive in the outside world.

Ahmed explained that workshops are typically like improvisational theater where the actors express what comes out naturally. There are goals, but “with every rehearsal something happens, something changes. Changes can come out really nicely because they come so naturally.”

Ahmed’s goal for the future is to be a full theater company with paid members that runs at least one workshop per month. She also said she hopes to put on a full-scale integrated theater production next year, possibly with Amici.

For a non-profit in its infancy, Brio appears to be off to a good start. The company held a fundraiser at the Sandbourne House in Winchester last month that, according to Ahmed, attracted about 100 people and raised about $7,000.

“I think there was a great response,” she said. “It served its purpose of that first glimpse at what integration is about, and awareness. You’re using the art form to teach awareness. That’s why the education part is so important.”