For the past 23 years, a non-profit theater company called Only Make Believe has been creating and performing live in-person and virtual interactive theater for children in hospitals, care facilities, and special education programs. It started here in New York City but has since opened an office Washington, DC with some outreach in other cities as well. In the next episode you’ll hear an encore presentation of my conversation with founder Dena Hammerstein. But for today, I’m sitting down with one of the board members and the director of their annual gala, who has known Dena and OMB since its inception.
Joe DiPietro is certainly no stranger to theater and has been writing for the stage since 1991. His musicals and plays have received multiple awards and nominations on and off-Broadway, including Memphis starring Montego Glover and All Shook Up with Cheyenne Jackson. He talks about these two talented performers and shares his affection for Only Make Believe.
We also get into two of his most recent Broadway shows: Diana, the Musical and Living on Love, his lone Broadway play so far (starring former WINMI guest Douglas Sills). Both shows had their own challenges coming to and surviving on Broadway. In fact, Diana filmed their stage production for Netflix during the Covid shutdown, and that movie notoriously went on to win Golden Raspberry Awards for Worst Screenplay and Worst Picture, among others. But Joe takes it all in stride and shares with us not only his passion for theater but also what has kept him going through the ups and downs.
Staying cooped up anywhere can be difficult for anyone, but facing the four walls of a hospital room 24/7 can be especially tough -- draining even. For more than 20 years, Only Make Believe has brought happiness to thousands of children in hospitals and care facilities in New York City and the DC area through live interactive theater. To date, approximately 95,000 children have been impacted by OMB’s services, and that number continues to grow each year.
Because OMB knows that “freeing a child’s imagination is a valuable part of the healing process,” the organization works with a team of professional actors to provide interactive theater for sick children using nothing by a backdrop, along with a supply of props, costumes and imagination, of course.
What happens next is quite magical to say the least. By the end of an OMB show, the same children who were having the worst day imaginable and didn’t intend on participating are dancing, laughing and having fun. Professional actor Chris Wilson, who has since gone on to become OMB's Director of Programming & Communications, calls days like this a job well done. “Only Make Believe allows theater to become a truly immersive experience. The actors transform the space, interact with the audience, and adjust the show to the needs of each group of children,” Wilson said. “I am a firm believer that the performing arts have the ability to allow children to think and grasp concepts in a different way.”
Join OMB as they celebrate those who inspire us with their dedication to philanthropy and raise funds to support our interactive theatre programming in hospitals, care facilities, and schools with special education programs. They have garnered so much the support for their virtual & hybrid galas over the past 2 years, and are certainly ecstatic to be BACK ON BROADWAY in person with former WINMI guests like Brad Oscar and Kathryn Allison. Only Make Believe's annual gala has earned a reputation as New York’s most entertaining and unique charity event of the season!
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