Her Best Role Yet

Emilia O'Connor

Alumna Founds Arts Organization

Emilia O'ConnorEmilia O’Connor, GSEHD MA ’07, found her love of theater in the fourth grade, and she has followed it ever since. She has worn practically every theatre “hat” – she’s had roles as an actor, director, teacher, stage manager, vocal coach, and techie. But in 2005 she took on another role when she helped create a theater group that aims to bring the arts to more members of her community.

Born in DC and raised in Montgomery County, O’Connor participated in school plays throughout middle school and high school. She studied theater at NYU and completed her bachelor’s degree at the University of Maryland.

“As an actress you can connect with a group of people simply by doing what you love,” she says. “Directing gives you a way to create your own world while pulling the best out of your actors and designers, learning from each other, and hopefully creating a performance that speaks to the audience.”

After graduation O’Connor began working full time at Imagination Stage, a theater in Maryland that offers classes and summer camps. While there, she worked with adults with special needs, which eventually altered the course of her career.

“I found that I had an ease, or comfort, in those classes that others did not. When I decided to leave Imagination Stage, the natural next step seemed to me to get into special education,” she says. Upon learning that GW had a long-standing partnership with Montgomery County Public schools, she applied to GSEHD’s Teachers 2000 Partnership.

Around this same time, O’Connor and her former Imagination Stage coworkers decided to form their own company that would provide more people access to artistic programs because the “arts have a transformative power.”

Together they founded ArtStream to create artistic opportunities for individuals traditionally under-served by the arts and to design programs specifically for people with disabilities, veterans, children in hospitals and/or hospice, those who are grieving and the elderly, among others. The organization has a “home base” for administrative work, but all of their programs take place in the communities they serve, from Arlington, Va., to Gaithersburg, Md., and around the DC Metro Area.

“We have also created great partnerships with local organizations that have similar goals,” she says, which include the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, The Children’s Inn at NIH, K.E.E.N., CSAAC, The Arc, and the Mason LIFE program just to name a few.

When asked where she sees herself in the future, it’s no surprise that teaching and theater are at the top of her list. And her vision for Artstream? O’Connor hopes to “grow [it] to a national and possibly global leader in the arts.”

–Christine Cole

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