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The Luster of Live Theatre Right in Winchester: Featuring The Winchester Cooperative Theatre and Brio Integrated Theatre

By Kristen Bosse

Whether you may think it or not, every human being has an artistic sense. As evidence, observe healthy young children. They dance, sing, paint or draw, and actively engage in imagination. Unfortunately, as adults, most seem to let their playful, artistic side slip away. Imagination is thrown out the window and dealing with reality takes a front seat. However, the theatre allows us to experience the world of another person and at the same time experience ourselves in our own world. This gives adults and teens alike a chance to integrate their imagination and reality into one activity. Not only does this act as an outlet for some, but it brings joy and entertainment to others who wish to step into another world as well.

Winchester Cooperative Theatre

The Winchester Cooperative Theatre originally opened its doors in 1979 (37 years ago) to provide elementary school children with the opportunity to participate in a comprehensive theatrical experience. In 1990 the program expanded to include a middle school production. Throughout their experience, the children are encouraged to reach a level of performance far beyond that which is typically expected of their age group. The theatre makes this high expectation as reachable as possible by providing the highest level of professionalism in return ie. accomplished dramatic coaches, musicians, choreographers, stage, costume and lighting designers who support the children as they develop to their fullest potential.

The Winchester Theatre for Children currently has two separate programs: the Children's Cooperative Theatre and the Senior Cooperative Theatre. The Children's Cooperative program works with elementary school children to the fulfill Spring production, Auditions are highly competitive and require each child to perform a monologue, sing a song, and do a small dance routine. Those accepted participate in a rigorous rehearsal process, culminating in a professionally staged, double cast, musical adaptation presented at the end of March. The Senior Cooperative program works similarly with middle school students, however has another unique element of surprise. Participants have an amazing opportunity to see what it's like working behind the scenes of a major theatrical production. Those who participate take part in the staging and production, similar to an experience with a Broadway musical.

Theatre Founder and Director, Cathy Alexander, remains astounded by the talent of her children each year.
"I founded the Winchester Cooperative Theater thirty-seven years ago and each and every production and cast of children in grades four through eight never ceases to amaze me. If you provide children with professional support they will rise to the occasion. I demand the very best from my cast members and they have never let me down. The growth that happens over a three month period is beyond description; their poise, self confidence and talent grows with each and every performance."

Brio Integrated Theatre

Another theatre in Winchester may have a bit of a different structure, but their main mission remains the same: to encourage participants to create, perform, and share something they love with one another and the audience. Bio Integrated Theatre is a registered nonprofit that brings together artists with and without disabilities to collaborate and perform in the same space. Whether you're disabled or not, Brio believes that all individuals have the ability to create and that there are diverse perspectives and ways to express creativity. At the same token, this program does an amazing job at spreading awareness of disabilities through the arts. In this way, an inclusive community is built with participants and audience members that can change negative societal stereotypes towards individuals with disabilities.

Some of the theatre's most popular programs include community workshops, puppet shows, ASL signing classes, and even a bully prevention workshop with Maryam Mermey of the transformative arts. Their free community workshops incorporate theater, music and movement with an emphasis in improvisation. The great thing is that each activity is tailored to fit each participant's personality including moving with music, mirroring each other, playing with props or working together on a small informal performance piece. The workshops occur twice a month and are free of charge for all ages and disabilities.

One of Brio's most treasured programs is their internship opportunity made accessible to all participants interested in learning what it's like to be a real artists- and get paid for it! The program is structured so that transitioning students with special needs can get hands on training and work experience. This gives them a head start in a very competitive job market.

When asked about the success of his program, Sahar Ahmed (Executive Director) responded with something quite inspiring and heartfelt.
"The arts can play an important role in a disabled persons identity. Through the arts, disabled people have celebrated difference and rejected the ideology of normality in which disabled people are devalued as 'abnormal.' They are creating images of strength and pride, the total opposite of dependency and helplessness. Disability Culture is made up of all different kinds of artists who are not trying to pass, artists who don't buy into society's rule that we should be ashamed of our disabilities. These are artists who show in their art a self-acceptance and a pride about who they are, not in spite of a disability, not because of a disability, but including a disability."

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