Week 16: Healing Through Art: Creating Costumes for “Only Make Believe” in Washington DC
Only Make Believe (OMB) was founded on the idea that freeing a child’s imagination and fostering their creative spirit are important parts of the healing process. The organization brings professional actors into hospitals and other venues to entertain sick and disabled children through specially-created interactive plays that encourage audience participation.
My husband Dean and I participated in a Costume-Making volunteer event for Only Make Believe while we were spending a few days visiting the sites of Washington DC.
“No sewing skills required,” the invitation read, “just you and your imagination.” Over 100 volunteers came out to create costumes. Our specific task was to create wildly creative decorated hats and CDs that would be used by the children during performances. Armed with fabric glue and an endless choice of fabrics, markers, jewels and other adornments, Dean and I set about our task.
OMB was founded by Dena Hammerstein in in memory of her husband, James (son of Oscar Hammerstein) and in honor of their dedication to the theater and their passionate desire to bring the world of theater to children living with chronic illnesses and disabilities.
I enjoyed learning about how the organization works and about its impact. Throughout the year OMB hires three professional actors to perform over 6 weeks. Each week features a new performance. Plays are performed against a simple fabric backdrop with a trunk filled with magical costumes and props used by the actors and the children. Emphasis is on the imaginative art of narrative and storytelling, with song and dance included. OMB does not charge the hospitals or parents for the performances. Instead, they hold fundraisers and pursue grants and sponsorships to cover all costs. Founded in NYC, the Washington DC branch opened in 2013. Together the two locations perform at more than 55 sites for more than 5,000 children a year.
Theater can re-invent a clinical space. It allows the children to forget about their illness for a while and immerse themselves in another world of play and laughter. Chronically ill children are faced with daily challenges of their illnesses and treatments. They may be undergoing painful procedures or be separated from family members while in the hospital. Theater allows them to express themselves and provides emotionally beneficial artistic creativity that reduces anxiety and brings joy through laughter while engaging their young minds.
Learning about the children and watching some of the performance videos on the OMB website gave us extra fuel to be as creative as possible while designing our costume hats. At the end, we were able to pose with our creations and then add them to the fast-growing pile created by the other volunteers. It was really an amazing opportunity to do something special during our visit to Washington DC!
OMB is located in both Washington DC and NYC. You can see videos about the performances and learn more about the organization (including volunteer opportunities and how to donate) on their website at: