Broadway Stars "Only Make Believe" at the 16th Annual Gala
By: Iris Wiener
There is no better way to stretch the imagination than through experiencing theater. Stars of Broadway shows past and present came out to support this theme, as well as the mission behind Only Make Believe at the organization’s annual gala on November 9th at the St. James Theatre. Entitled "Make Believe on Broadway," the event was hosted by Aladdin‘s James Monroe Iglehart and honored Tony winner Alan Cumming and Morgan Stanley Chief Legal Officer Eric Grossman.
Only Make Believe is a non-profit organization that creates and performs interactive theatre for children in hospitals and care facilities. They are dedicated to the principle that freeing a child’s imagination is a valuable part of the healing process. Free of charge to hospitals, Only Make Believe has been bringing interactive theatre to children in need for over sixteen years. The gala, directed by Tony Award winner Joe DiPietro (Memphis), featured performances by Tony winners Lena Hall (Hedwig and the Angry Inch) and James Monroe Iglehart, as well as Broadway stars Rob McClure (Honeymoon in Vegas), Brad Oscar (Something Rotten!) and Leslie Odom, Jr. (Hamilton). The evening’s special guests spoke with Theaterlife about how theater touches the lives of children. They also thoughtfully considered what they themselves would like to "only make believe:"
How does theater touch the life of any child, but especially those in hospitals and care facilities?
"You’re looking at it. Theater allowed me to do the things in adulthood that I imagined as a kid. Theater can take you away from a situation. Theater can allow you to explore places you’ve never explored before. Theater is pretty much just your imagination put on its feet, and that’s what I think is awesome." -James Monroe Iglehart, Aladdin
"Specifically with Only Make Believe, theater changes the lives of these kids because for about an hour or so in six consecutive weeks, they get to be somebody else. They get to explore crazy, imaginary worlds. They get to go on a trip with three actors every week that go to the hospitals. It’s a wonderful thing to get to help them escape for a moment, see beyond the confines of where they are sometimes for a very long time. So there’s nothing better than seeing the response that these kids have as the show begins and as it starts to take over and they start participating, and start to get costumes and props out of the trunk. It’s overwhelming. It’s beautiful. The response is so immediate, they’re right there." -Brad Oscar, Something Rotten.
"I think there’s nothing like seeing something in flesh, seeing actual, real people enact something. Especially for children, it’s much easier for them to become very involved in what’s going on on the stage. It’s happening in real life, it’s not CGI, it’s not on a screen, it’s in front of them in real life. I think that can have a very eye opening effect. Arts are very important for children. It helps them with all aspects of their life, by opening up their imagination, by opening up their thoughts, by opening up what they can possibly dream for. It introduces them to new themes in life that they wouldn’t necessarily find in a normal life. As far as growth for a child, I think theater and the arts are very important." – Lena Hall (Hedwig and the Angry Inch)
"Theater is a way for the imagination to just explode and take you to new places and to really feel and discover things that you couldn’t in your everyday life. Theater is all about taking it to the unreal life, but grounding it in truth. Duh! But theater can be so inspiring for kids. It’s such an escape." -Lauren Molina, The Skivvies
"I don’t think you necessarily have to be a young performer to enjoy the magic of theater. It’s awesome that we get to bring it to these kids. What better way to lift up a child’s spirit than bring them full on Broadway talent when they can’t come and experience it in person?" -Constantine Maroulis, Rock of Ages.
"Children in general are in a vulnerable, nurturing place and theater helps them develop structure. It helped me develop the right confidence, and also the sense of magic that is important." -Eric Anderson, Waitress.
"I think theater is immensely important because it shows the things that we consider to be vulnerabilities or as weaknesses, and it takes that thought process and turns it on its head and it puts it into the perspective of recognizing that it’s actually a strength. If we’re willing to head on face things honestly, that that can act as means of catharsis for other people that are a part of that interactive process." -Aaron Dean Eisenberg, Public Morals.
"My first memory is of watching theater as a kid, so a lot of times when I’m doing theater and there are kids there I always imagine being the kid watching it, and how that changed my life. It made me want to do it. Kids will always want to do it, but I think every kid remembers seeing theater as a child." -Nick Cearly, The Skivvies
What is the one thing that you wish you could have, even if it is only make believe?
"That I’m a Broadway star! This is my make believe." -Geneva Carr, Hand to God
"That I could wear a size 32 pair of jeans." -Brad Oscar, Something Rotten
"I would fly." Nick Cearly, The Skivvies
"I’d like to pretend that I could make a living all the time, only working on things that I thought were impactful, and strengthening empathy and connective tissue between all of us." -Aaron Dean Eisenberg, Public Morals
"We’re here for the kids tonight, so it’s not about me. I’m blessed to have a beautiful daughter who is healthy, and I can’t imagine what these parents go through with their obstacles." – Constantine Maroulis, Rock of Ages
"I try to find magic whereve
r I am. A lot of it comes from the family of what we do. It’s a joy to be able to work with such wonderful people, and to be able to put together a gala like this and really nurture it outside of what’s on the stage." -Eric Anderson, Waitress
"My own tour. Josh [Groban] and I are going to do some make up dates, and then I know he’s got some more tour dates happening and there’s talk of having me come along!" -Lena Hall, Hedwig and the Angry Inch
"World peace. I also wish I could time travel. I would wear the period skivvies." -Lauren Molina, The Skivvies
"I make believe so many things, so I don’t think there’s actually just one. But if I can make believe anything, as cliché as it sounds, I’d like everybody to just get along. I know it sounds crazy, but I think if we all got along we would have a lot more fun. Everybody likes being mad about something. We’re so itchy to be mad about stuff, but we’re mad about stuff that’s just so stupid. My coffee’s too hot, this stoplight is too long. Relax people!" -James Monroe Iglehart, Aladdin