We were on the red carpet at The Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre for the Only Make Believe 19th Annual Gala.
Only Make Believe (OMB) is a non-profit organization that creates and performs interactive theatre for children in hospitals, care facilities and special education programs throughout the New York and Washington DC metropolitan areas, free of charge to every site, family and child.
OMB is dedicated to the principle that engaging a child’s imagination is a valuable part of healing and learning. Therefore every child in the audience takes an active part in creating a world of fantasy and fun in order to transcend the boundaries of hospital walls.
The Only Make Believe program debuted in October 1999 at Rusk Institute’s Pediatric Unit, NYU Langone Medical Center, as a project of The James and Dena Hammerstein Foundation. Dena Hammerstein established Only Make Believe in memory of her husband James (son of theater legend Oscar Hammerstein), for his dedication to the theater and her own passionate love for children in need.
The concept of Only Make Believe developed out of Dena’s desire to introduce children living with chronic illnesses and disabilities to the magical world of theater. Since trips to the theater proved to be too overwhelming for many of the children, Dena 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. With support and kindness from supporters, Dena’s dream, in honor of her husband’s legacy, is now bringing live theatre to children in hospitals and care facilities in both New York and Washington D.C.
Bethenny Frankel was honored with the Sir Ian McKellen Award for her global philanthropic work for families in crisis through her B Strong Disaster Relief charity as well as Tony Winning playwright / lyricist/ composer Joe DiPietro with the Founder’s Award for his for tireless commitment to OMB for 19 years and OMB’s first partner facility The Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation at NYU Langone with the OMB Star Award at “Make Believe On Broadway.” Rachel Dratch hosted and the evening featured appearances and performances by Marlo Thomas, Joelle Garguilo, Joe DiPietro, Montego Glover, David Bryan, Michael McGrath, Marc Kudisch, Jeanna deWaal, Chad Kimball, Judy Kaye, Brad Oscar, and Constantine Maroulis.
Founder Dena Hammerstein shared, “We started 19 years ago at the Rusk Institute and here we are still thriving and changing and evolving.”
The Knockturnal: How do you think Only Make Believe will inspire young artists?
Dena Hammerstein: I hope it inspires young people to get involved. Get involved with the organization to work to bring arts to kids in needs.
The Knockturnal: If you could sum up the message of the organizations’ purpose in a few words, what words would those be?
Dena Hammerstein: To bring joy and laughter to children in hospitals and care facilities and let their imaginations … leave the hospital. Tonight we are honoring The Rusk Institute for Rehab Medicine and our first show was at The Rusk nineteen years ago last month.
We also spoke with two-time Tony-nominated actor Brad Oscar.
The Knockturnal: What does this event mean to you?
Brad Oscar: It means everything to me. I think ideally, we want as many people to know about this organization and certainly direct as much funding as they can so they can continue to do the great work that they do. Yes, supporting the organization is ideally about letting people know what’s going on here.
The Knockturnal: What do you think is the heart and soul of the organization?
Brad Oscar: Other than Ms. Dena Hammerstein who founded this whole thing … actors are a core group of performers who go in three at a time in a cycle and go into hospitals. They do this work with the children and do these interactive shows and go for six weeks. That is the heart and soul because that is what it’s all about. They make the connection to these kids, they start the communication process going, they ideally let them escape for an hour or two from the world they are in and the difficulties they are dealing with and that to me that’s the healing power of the arts, that’s the highest power of them all, as an artist to be able to effect positive change.
We also spoke with choreographer Kurt Froman.
The Knockturnal: Speak about supporting this event today.
Kurt Froman: It’s one of those things that I hadn’t heard of it and then when I started reading about it, it just sounded like such an important organization. Being a performer from a very young age myself and devoting my life to it it’s something I think we take for granted as dancers and performers how strong our bodies can be, how superhuman they can be, how we can affect audiences with story-telling or being a professional dancer … I started my career with New York City Ballet and then I segued into being a Broadway performer. I think my body was my instrument and for so many years it was about honing my skills and being the best athlete and best artist I could be and it’s one of those things that, as a performer, when I’m sidelined with an injury or sick where you can’t perform, it’s devastating to me. And when I started reading about the organization how the interactive performing arts lifts the spirits of people who are sick, it just sounded so perfect and I could totally see how it would affect someone’s immune system, affect someone’s spirit to just be creative and stimulated and taken away.
The Knockturnal: What lesson did you learn from your injury and how did you move forward from it?
Kurt Froman: It teaches me to be very grateful to be able to stand up on two legs … It’s my job now that I am not performing to give young performers good education in dance to get them in shape, to coach them … Being injured makes you realize how vulnerable our bodies are and as much as we want to push our bodies to excel, to be artists, to be professional dancers, it’s one of those things when you are injured and cannot even walk, you realize how fragile our bodies are.
What upcoming projects would you like to share?
Kurt Froman: Right now, I am busy teaching at both at Steps on Broadway and The School at Steps. And I teach now for Ballet Tech which is New York City Public School children. It’s fantastic to see how the arts have affected them. I’m about to take part in this new program that the School of American Ballet is about to put together called Ballet Connoisseurship, it’s to introduce a new audience to what ballet is all about and the possibilities of that. I will be giving some lectures. They are treating me like a ballet historian, it is nice to have that role now as educator and to share that passion with the arts.
Photo Credit: Jessica Earnshaw
The event raised over $650k for the charity.