Created in 2018, Broadway Hearts was born when founder, Jessica Radetsky, had a vision of allowing children undergoing treatment for illness to experience a Broadway show in a unique way. Radetsky is a Broadway performer herself, and she always cherished the special shows where a family from Make-A-Wish would be present. After noticing that some of those visits resulted in cancellations, she decided to bring Broadway to the child in treatment instead.
It was no secret to Radetsky that music, song, and laughter could help make anybody feel better. Thus, Broadway Hearts emerged as a group of professional performers from various Broadway and theatrical shows that bring the show to the children so they would not miss the magical experience of a performance.
Let’s talk about this incredible not-for-profit you created back in 2018, Broadway Hearts. What was the spark that set this idea in motion?
Thank you! I’m in the Broadway production of the Phantom of the Opera, and one night in 2017, I came downstairs from my dressing room at the ‘places’ call, and there was a sign posted on the call board about a Make-A-Wish child coming to see the show that night. Those shows were some of my absolute favorites to be a part of as we had the option to stay after the show to meet with the child and their family. I truly loved those evenings. I loved the opportunity to get to know those kids and their families. On this particular evening, the child’s visit to the show was cancelled. It affected me in a profound way and I found myself continuing to think about this child in the following days. It was then I had the thought that instead of having the kids come to us, perhaps I could find a way to bring Broadway to them. The idea for Broadway Hearts was born! It took some time to put into action, but within a few months I had one hospital on board. That quickly turned into two, and then three and so on … and we’ve never stopped growing and evolving. My love for what we’re doing keeps growing and expanding as well.
What has been the most rewarding part of working with Broadway Hearts?
The kids! The kids we visit are incredibly inspiring. They go through so much in their young lives, and they seem to live very much in the present moment. It’s a reminder of what’s important and we try to meet them, energetically, on that level. To see them light up when we sing their favorite song, or to hear peals of laughter and have a parent tell us they haven’t heard their child laugh that way in months – there’s nothing better than that! Well, perhaps if we could do just that in every children’s hospital, in every city across the country. Or rather, globally. That’s the goal! Those moments are why I started this Foundation. Having that feedback reinforces the drive to create more programming, expand our reach and continue furthering our mission.
Obviously, Broadway shows had a very challenging time during the COVID surge and many places were simply closed. How did Broadway Hearts adapt and continue their mission through this really difficult time?
Yes, it was a very tough time for those in the performing arts industry, which included all of our Broadway Hearts volunteers. We all lost our livelihood in the blink of an eye – it was wild. Literally on March 12th, 2020, many of us performed in our matinee shows, and then were sent home for our evening show, not to return to work for 19 months! I remember my fiancé (who is also a Broadway performer) and I went down to a completely deserted Times Square and sat outside of our theater and just wept. In a usually overflowing tourist area, there was not another person to be seen for blocks. It felt unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.
On the other side … we were extraordinarily lucky with Broadway Hearts in that we were able to take almost all of our visits with our children’s hospitals online. Not only that, but we were able to expand our reach to hospitals across the country. The most amazing part, was that we were now able to reach every child in the hospital through their in-house tv system, not just the kids healthy enough to join us in person in our previous live visits. This was a huge revelation, if there was a silver lining! Moving forward, even when we’re able to return to in-person visits, we’ll never stop offering virtual visits as well. We want every child in the hospital to be a part of our programming. Taking Broadway Hearts virtual during the pandemic not only allowed our volunteers an opportunity to stay connected as a community, but it grew into a grounding, lovely routine. It became a weekly meeting place for all of us to feel a sense of connection with each other and the kids, and to give back during such an uneasy, isolated time. It also allowed us as an organization the chance to expand at a speed which was much greater than we ever expected. It was truly a wonderful opportunity that came out of a really dark time.
How has Broadway Hearts changed your life personally?
Broadway Hearts has completely changed my life! I felt so fortunate as a professional dancer to have that great passion for my profession, to truly love my work. To have a passion like that come along twice in my life has been a giant surprise and I’m so grateful. Being of service to these kids in treatment is what I go to sleep and wake up thinking about. It’s become the driving force in my life. What can I do to make our programs better for these extraordinary kids, what should come next? How do I best serve our volunteers, how do I raise the funds to enable us to do more …. it’s what I think about all day long.
What does the future hold for Broadway Hearts?
We are actively fundraising to support our current programs and to create new ones. Our Broadway Hearts Backstage program, where we bring a medically cleared child in treatment and their family into the city for a magical Broadway experience (hotel, dinner, a show of their choice, cast meet and greet … the works!) is going strong locally, and our hope is to bring kids from other states to participate as well! Any airlines reading this, we’d love to partner with you! This program is so lovely. The memories that we get to help create for these unbelievable kids are so special. Our hope is that they have these new beautiful, fun memories to draw upon when they might need them the most. We’re seeking sponsors for all aspects of the program, Broadway show tickets, restaurant and hotel partners, etc. The forever dream is to expand our virtual programming to as many children’s hospitals as possible, here and abroad … Broadway Hearts Global has a nice ring to it! https://broadwayhearts.org/