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Supporter Spotlight: Eleanor O’Connor

Eleanor O’Connor loves theatre.

She sees more than one hundred shows a year and was recently featured in a Now magazine article on “Toronto theatre super-fans.” She also volunteers as an usher.

“For me, theatre is a way to learn about the experiences of people whose life is very different from mine, and thus to have greater empathy with them. I believe that is why theatre is important not just for me, but for society,” she says. “This is true of other art forms, too.”

O’Connor, a retired teacher, says she’s never considered making a living in the field that she loves.

“My role in theatre is to be the audience,” she says. “Theatre won’t work without an audience and I am happy to do that for them.”

O’Connor started volunteering 15 years ago, which she credits with helping her discover more shows.

“When I retired, I discovered there was a lot of theatre that I didn’t know. I didn’t know about Fringe until I retired. Because Fringe is so large, volunteering seemed like a logical way to get involved.”

Volunteering at Fringe led to more volunteering. Currently, O’Connor volunteers at the Young Centre, Theatre Passe Muraille, Coal Mine Theatre and at local festivals: Fringe, SummerWorks and Next Stage.

Volunteering provides O’Connor the opportunity to “see more plays. Not only from a cost factor, which is part of it, but also because when I go to the theatre, I don’t need someone to go with. I’ve learned to be comfortable going to the theatre alone and very often when I get there, I meet somebody I know. Because one of the other benefits of volunteering is that you get to know the other people who volunteer. There is quite a large network of (volunteers) and also people who are regular theatregoers.”

The best thing that O’Connor has gotten out of volunteering, she says, is getting to know the late Toronto theatre critic Jon Kaplan.

“Jon and I came to be quite good friends and whenever we were at the same performance, we usually sat together and that was a real gift that volunteering gave me.”

As a frequent theatregoer, O’Connor learned about The AFC during audience collections.

“Someone would come out and talk about The AFC and the actors from the performance would take up a collection as people were leaving the theatre and we would always put in something,” she says.

“My husband and I support a number of charitable organizations and feel that this is something that is part of our civic responsibility. At some point, I must have been a handed a piece of information and I thought we should investigate it more. I then went on to learn more about The AFC and the specifics of what it did. It was just a vague concept before then and the more I learned, the more impressed I was.”

O’Connor says she was surprised when she started recognizing names of people that The AFC had assisted. The breakdown of how people were helped also led her to realize how important the emergency financial aid that The AFC provides can be for people in the industry, she says.

“I just so appreciate the work that these people — the performers and the stagehands and all the people involved in putting on a show — I so appreciate what they do and bring to my life, which makes my life much richer. Anything that can be done to eliminate the precariousness of their work and enable them to continue enriching my life is why I donate,” she says.

The AFC is extremely grateful for Eleanor O’Connor’s ongoing support.

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