REPOST: Only Make Believe

[E/N: This article was originally posted in November of 2013. It has recently been brought to our attention that the link for the interview was broken. Planet Stereo sends its sincere apologies to both the Only Make Believe foundation and any readers that were hoping to read this article. Also, huge thank you to Marie, who brought this issue to attention!]




The arts have played a huge role in many people’s lives. It’s the reason there are so many bands to report on, or why there are so many albums that stream through our stereos, and why so many people sing the praises of plays or Broadway shows. In some way, whether it was taking an art class, playing clarinet, or performing in the school play, the arts have touched many of our lives. Now, take that impact, and put it on a grander scale: imagine the arts helping you heal from an illness. Imagine being transported, for just a few moments, from the daily struggles of doctors visits and therapies, to the inner workings of your imagination or a story that propels you into adventure.

At Only Make Believe, an organization founded by Dena Hammerstein in memory of her late husband, James Hammerstein, the purpose of the arts is to entertain and inspire as many sick children as possible. “Given James’s deep dedication to the theater, he would be immensely proud that Only Make Believe uses the magic of the theatre to bring joy to thousands of chronically ill children,” says Jackie Miller, the organization’s Artistic Director. “Dena started by bringing children battling chronic illnesses to performances on Broadway.  However, since trips to the theater proved to be too overwhelming for many of the children, she decided to bring the theater to them; helping to create a unique version of live theater in which each child plays an integral part in the production.”

James Hammerstein was an American theatre director and producer, nominated for multiple Drama Desk Awards. His wife, Dena, shares the shame passion for the theatre that he did, producing numerous shows herself.

Only Make Believe was started in honor of James in 1999, following his death. Since then, the organization has garnered the support of a plethora of famous faces from both screen and stage. “We feel extremely grateful for the celebrity support we receive. OMB is thrilled that our longtime friend, Sir Ian McKellen will host our 14th annual gala, Make Believe on Broadway, at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre on November 4th!”

In addition to the support of celebrities, Only Make Believe has been backed by multiple sponsors, like Disney and McGraw-Hill. “The giving capacity of large corporations like Disney and McGraw-Hill imbue organizations like Only Make Believe with the capacity to reach thousands of children living in difficult circumstances.  We feel very grateful for the support of our corporate sponsors who play a key role in Only Make Believe’s ability to remain free of charge for the hospitals we serve,” Jackie expresses.

Focusing on the happiness of chronically-ill children, Only Make Believe is in good company alongside other foundations, such as Make A Wish or Give Kids The World. However, OMB seems to be the only organization to bring the arts to these children in the hopes that it will help them heal. “Only Make Believe is dedicated to the belief that freeing a child’s imagination is a valuable part of the healing process.  OMB offers both parents and children a much needed break from the daily challenges of hospital life,” Jackie states clearly; it’s a point that many people often don’t think of: the toll that hospital life wreaks on both a child and their family. “One parent at SUNY Downstate Medical Center actually said that after each play, they feel like a new person who’s ready to face life, and that the show helped them gain their sense of humor again.”

The most extraordinary part? All of this is accomplished without the hospital having to spend a single dime. “Each year, we determine how many hospitals we will be able to visit based on fundraising efforts.  Thankfully, we are able to increase the number of facilities we serve and welcome new sites into our program every time. [I like to think that it’s due to] consistency. Our program comprises a team of three professional actors who perform once a week over a period of six weeks at each facility.  During this time-frame, trust is established between the actors and the kids, and often at the end of the six weeks a child who was reticent to participate on the first day volunteers at every opportunity.  The consistency of performances over a six-week time-frame turns Only Make Believe into something more than entertainment; it becomes a healing activity,” Jackie explains.

Many people claim that the arts saved their lives. For many of these children, this much is true; it gives them the self-confidence to relax and be a child, which, alongside their treatments, may be just the recovery they need. “After one performance with the Inpatient Psychiatric Unit at King’s County Medical Center, a hospital staff member shared that one of the children who participated in the show had been selectively mute since his arrival at the facility,” Jackie shares, thinking back. “It was playing a part in the OMB show that prompted him to speak for the first time. It’s things like this that continue to reaffirm what an integral part imagination and fun play in a child’s healing process.”

To get involved, you can create an Only Make Believe fundraising event in your community, with the VIP Program (Volunteer Initiated Philanthropy), which will give you all the tools you need to host one! To learn more about these and other ways to get involved with OMB people should visit:

“We’re always looking for enthusiastic individuals with sewing skills!” Jackie half-jokes.

For more on Only Make Believe, click HERE.

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