Brio Integrated Theatre logoSahar Ahmed Awerbuch started the non-profit Brio Integrated Theatre in 2008. Brio is committed to the belief that all individuals have the ability to create, and that there are diverse perspectives and waysto express creativity. Brio teaches awareness of disabilities and the potential that is imaginable through integrative workshops,productions, community classes, educational programs and community outreach. Brio’s outreach is not only local but national and international as well.

Interview with Sahar Ahmed Awerbuch

Tell me a little about yourself and how you started Brio.

I grew up in Winchester. Although I was born in Egypt, I really never spent my childhood there. However, as an adult I worked there for 15 years and then came back here which is home, really. I’ve always worked in Special Education in general and the arts. The arts came a little bit later, as it was really education and psychology that I studied. I started working with a group in Egypt that was from London called Amici Dance Theatre, an integrated dance company. That experience is what really got me started incorporating the arts into work with people with disabilities. Later, this made me want to study expressive arts therapy, and I’m currently doing a research project for a Ph.D. I saw firsthand while I was working with Amici what kind of change you can really create by incorporating arts for people of all ages and abilities. When I came back home, I said, “Oh, I’d really like to start something like Amici and I want to use their model, but I really don’t know if I want to just do dance.” I thought about it, and I said no, we’re going to make it the arts. Although we’re called Brio Integrated Theatre, we incorporate all art forms. It’s basically how you use the arts to include people and to include people of all ages and abilities as just another way of communicating with one another.

When you started building Brio Integrated Theatre, what were some of the biggest challenges you faced?

Well, one challenge is part of what we do, which is raise awareness. It’s challenging because you want to have programs that really reflect on what your missions are and at the same time, like any non-profit, you’re faced with financial worries and that continues as you go on. The challenge in the beginning is showing people that you’re credible, that you’re worth their dollar and that you’re actually doing what you say you’re doing. You have to build that up. People have to see it. You have to grow into it so that people really believe that this is what Brio does.

What have been some of the biggest highlights so far?

One of the biggest highlights for us was when we started getting inquiries about our work and people showed a genuine interest. Another thing that I’m really proud of is our internship program. It changes people’s lives. It offers opportunity for training, and gives them a new perspective of what they can do. We are trying to get rid of labels and break down those walls. It’s about changing preconceived ideas of “this person has that” and “this person can’t do that”. Our approach is one of “Come, tell us what you want to do, show us what you know how to do, and maybe we can train and help you to do it better.”

What do you think has been Brio’s biggest contribution to Winchester?

I think the biggest contribution to Winchester is that we offer free community services. I think offering free community art workshops is key, because that’s a way of including people. Once or twice a month we have a free community workshop. Some of these workshops may feature a local guest artist like “Collaging with John Williams”, an award-winning artist who happens to have autism; mask-making, painting, photography, and fun things like Create Art and Eat it too!”, dancing, drumming, and even hula hooping! I think that’s a great way of introducing people to each other, being creative together, and spreading the idea of how we use the arts to make a statement.

What do you want the legacy of Brio to be for Winchester?

Right now I see us as very inclusive, and in the future I’m hoping that we could even be more so. I would hope that for the future people will know that this is a place for everyone, really.

Do you think being a woman has impacted how people view you as a businessperson/or head of an organization?

I think in general, women are challenged in most work that we do. I think a lot of women have gotten accustomed to “I’ll prove myself and I’ll show them.” Depending on the type of profession it also is a little bit different – I can’t compare myself to a woman who’s an engineer or a lawyer who’s in heavy competition with men. I can say that I still have to prove myself, and I still have to show that I’m not just doing it because “Oh, isn’t that nice; she’s working with people with disabilities.” I have a business mind and I know something about grassroots community development and nonprofit management. I think women are challenged and continue to be challenged. I want to show that there’s professionalism behind the organization of Brio.

Who is one woman who has inspired you?

The first woman who inspired me was my mother. Although when she got married, she stopped working, she really instilled in all of us – because we were four girls – to be independent and to go for what we want and to get an education, whatever education is needed, to get where you want to be. She was the first woman that I can say had an impact on my life because although people saw her as “a housewife,” she was one tough cookie. When she came here, she only spoke French and Arabic. She learned everything on her own, brought us up, took us to school, went to school meetings, and did a whole bunch of stuff that I  think, if I put myself in the same shoes, would have been a little bit scary. I think ‘housewife” is a cliché and a stereotype, and, when I think of my mom and I say ‘she was just a housewife,” well, that’s just insulting because I know what she has done. I know how intelligent and well-read she was. She was truly the inspiration for what I’ve done in my life and really continues to be my inspiration to this day.

Any advice to other female entrepreneurs?

Yes! Don’t be scared and if you fall, you get up, and also don’t be too proud to go to mentors. I think that one of the major things that has helped me was that I talked to a lot of other women – women who have been through many different things, through many different walks of life, through different experiences, and I’ve gained so much. Don’t be scared, go for what you want to do, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ask other women whom you admire for some leadership and some mentorship because that’s a goldmine.