After thirteen years of making kids smile, Only Make Believe is more dedicated than ever to bringing theater to life for kids. Their mission is to serve children living with chronic illnesses and disabilities in hospitals, care facilities and other medical institutions with professional actor-run theater sessions, free of charge. Through these workshops, Only Make Believe transforms hospitals into enchanting worlds of make believe.
“Each week, for six consecutive weeks, we send a team of three OMB actors to a hospital with a backdrop, props and a trunk full of colorful costumes for the children. All the shows are original scripts and are written in such a way that the audience is invited to participate throughout the show. Essentially, the children become the stars! […]The theatre gives the children the opportunity to use their imagination, have fun, be silly and just be a kid. It gives them the chance to be whatever character they want to be,” said founder Dena Hammerstein.
The program has helped over 25,000 children in over 50 hospitals in New York and Washington D.C. Every performance is custom tailored to suit the audience that is served, so each Only Make Believe Workshop is unique, fresh and fun. Debuting in October of 1999, the non-profit organization is “dedicated to the principle that freeing a child’s creative spirit is essential to the healing process,” said Hammerstein.
When it first debuted at Rusk Institute’s Pediatric Unit in NYU Langone Medical Center, it was a project of the James and Dena Hammerstein Foundation. The idea emerged from Hammerstein’s theater background and her experience volunteering in New York City hospitals for fifteen years. In addition to the kids, her main reason for creating this organization was in memory of her late husband, James Hammerstein, son of the famous theater producer, Oscar Hammerstein, for his dedication to the theater.
“The kids inspired me […] It seemed simple to take the theatre to them rather than trying to bring them to it,” she said.
Only Make Believe operates differently than other organizations that work with children’s hospitals for a number of reasons.
“So many other programs are bedside, but we bring the kids together as a group to do our performances. Another thing that sets us apart is that we're free-of-charge. We provide our shows to the hospitals at no cost, yet we use professional paid actors,” said Hammerstein.
One aspect that surely sets this organization apart from others is Only Make Believe’s large celebrity support base including actors and public figures like Jude Law, Mike Myers, Sir Ian McKellen, Julia Stiles, Rachel Weisz, Alan Cumming and Kathie Lee Gifford. This backing enables the organization to bring more joy and hope to children and their families dealing with difficult times.
For Hammerstein, “Hearing kids laugh, seeing their eyes shine with joy, and turning a hospital ward into a fun place to be,” is the best medicine for everyone. The healing power of imagination and laughter is what brings happiness and hope to everyone who participates.
To learn more about Only Make Believe and the workshops, visit www.OnlyMakeBelieve.org.