Tamela Aldridge on Transforming Children’s Lives Through the Power of Play

Now more than ever, creative play is key — and Tamela is setting the stage

“I like the power of storytelling. I like the power of being able to imagine something different,” says Tamela Aldridge. “Because if you can imagine it, you can make it happen.”

Tamela is the Executive Director of Only Make Believe (OMB), a non-profit organization that creates and performs interactive theatre for children in hospitals, care facilities, and special education programs.

“For a variety of reasons, these children can’t go to a theatre,” she says. “We bring the magic of the theatre to them.”

Empowering Children with Challenges
With a core belief that a child’s imagination is a valuable part of healing and learning, OMB’s programs are centered around enabling children to take an active part in creating a world of fantasy and fun in order to break through the boundaries of physical and developmental challenges.

“Many of our participants have serious medical conditions and developmental disabilities, but we see beyond that and we want them to see beyond that,” says Tamela.

“During our in-person programs, the kids can dress up in costumes and it’s truly transformational. We give them the opportunity to forget about something like losing their hair to cancer treatments and instead be excited about wearing a crown and acting out a scene. They can just be kids.”

From Make Believe to Making Moves 

A graduate of Howard University with and an alum of the William Esper Studio acting program, Tamela was living in New York and working as a professional actor when she discovered Only Make Believe in 2008. After seeing one of the programs and auditioning to be involved, she instantly knew she had found more than just another acting gig.
“I completely fell in love with it,” she says.

Serendipitously, the organization was looking to expand into a second branch, and Tamela was relocating to Washington DC as she and her husband prepared to settle into the most important role of their lives—parents.

In 2012 she launched the Washington DC branch of Only Make Believe as the DC Regional Director, hiring a small group of notable local actors to step in and run the program performances while she went on maternity leave.

Becoming a mother was an experience that changed her trajectory, inspiring her to look at the bigger picture and help the organization reach its full potential. 

“I wanted us to be in more places, impacting the lives of pediatric patients and more children with special needs,” says Tamela.

After being promoted to Executive Director of the organization, she was able to realize that dream and has since expanded the program to Philadelphia, Boston, and Dallas. 

A Bright Spot in Dark Times
Tamela admits the COVID-19 pandemic rocked the organization’s model, which pivoted to digital programs that include performances as well as interactive filmmaking and editing workshops.   

Though it was initially a challenge, Tamela says this time has also provided an opportunity to reach more people through digital access. 

“We’re working on a strategic plan so we can get back into our partner facilities, for in-person programming, but going forward, we want to keep this digital programming,” she says. “It provides a way for us to serve kids nationally.”

While the pandemic has isolated children socially, these virtual zoom programs bring dynamic visuals, performances, and learning opportunities right to children who need it more than ever.

“We’re meeting them where they are,” says Tamela.  “And it helps turn this digital world where they spend so much time into a place of emotional learning and connection.”

Tamela’s attitude of finding the silver lining is something she wants to pass on to others. Life, she says, has many twists and turns, but there’s always opportunity.

“We have to keep ourselves open,” she says. “We must be open to whatever may come our way.”