Kids Experiencing the Magic of Theatre, Teens Learning the Business of Broadway

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I am happy to shed light on Only Make Believe, a wonderful not-for-profit I just learned about, For years, this organization has helped give children with medically fragile conditions and developmental disabilities a special theatrical experience. Professional actors work with these children to help them explore their imagination and express emotion through interactive theatre.

Only Make Believe was born in October of 1999 at the Rusk Institute’s Pediatric Unit at NYU Langone Medical Center. Established by Dena Hammerstein in honor and memory of her husband, James, son of the legendary Oscar Hammerstein, Dena wanted to provide access to the wonder of theatre to children dealing with challenges.

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.

The program expanded to Washington DC in 2012 and in 2019, Only Make Believe celebrated its 20th Anniversary, having reached a total of 45 facilities/units in the New York metro area, as well as 15 in and around Washington D.C. In all, more than 90,000 children have starred in over 5,000 shows! During the pandemic, Only Make Believe pivoted to virtual interactions and the organization now continues with a hybrid model.

Congratulations to Only Make Believe are in order because this spring, the organization will celebrate a milestone, serving 100,000 children since it first began. Kudos to a wonderful and important initiative.

For more info go to: Only Make Believe

Talking about initiatives, The Broadway League has many, and this month the League is once again providing access to high school students interested in the business side of theatre. Their 11th annual High School Broadway Shadowing Program will welcome 25 students from various New York City public high schools to participate in learning about the business of Broadway including marketing, advertising, press, technical, management and more. These students will find out just what goes in to creating, launching and sustaining a Broadway production.

This is the only commercial theatre program of its kind that pairs individual students with a Broadway General Management team to learn about the many components of producing a show over the course of six days.

How fabulous is it for these students who will be brought to the shows’ marketing and management meetings, taken backstage and into box offices, attending rehearsals, and meeting with stage managers and other professionals working on each production.

I wish they had this program back in the day when I was in high school!

Congrats to all the students participating.



  • Valerie Smaldone

    Valerie Smaldone is a 5-time Billboard Magazine Award winner and is well known for her unprecedented success holding the #1 on-air position in the New York radio market on 106.7 Life-FM, an iHeart station. She has hosted, produced, and created several award-winning nationally syndicated programs featuring in-depth interviews with stars like Paul McCartney, Celine Dion, Rod Stewart, Elton John and Mariah Carey among others. Her radio talk show "Bagels and Broadway" highlighted theatre and food personalities. She is an accomplished interviewer and voice artist heard on commercials, narrations, promos and audiobooks, as well as a sought after live announcer. Most recently, Valerie produced and directed a film, The Thursday Night Club, featuring pop diva Gloria Gaynor in her movie acting debut. She is one of the creators and producers of a docu-series, Divine Renovation, starring Erik Estrada, on streaming networks soon.

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