I’ve had my share of unconventional employment opportunities. At the ripe old age of 21 I can say that I’ve worked as a singing tour guide, an elementary school engineering teacher, a Spanish tutor, a writer and most recently, a magician’s assistant. My resume is as extensive as it is eccentric; it grows stranger with every passing day.
This spring I had the opportunity to pursue what will undoubtedly be my most bizarre professional endeavor yet. I auditioned for Neverland Entertainment, a Michigan-based company that specializes in providing character performers for parties and events. A week later I found myself in a red wig, fake eyelashes and a mermaid tail, singing as a “professional princess” at a children’s party.
I’ve never had more fun in my entire life.
I’m a drama major, and I’ve been heavily involved with the theatrical community since I was in middle school. The initial appeal of character acting was rooted in my desire to perform. Nevertheless, nothing I learned in my collegiate training would adequately prepare me for the bizarre adventures that came with “princessing.”
In my brief time as a professional princess, I’ve had some unusual adventures. I performed as Elsa at a party for a three-year-old girl in June. After the party, I began walking to my car only to hear one of the aunts at the party scream, “Bye Elsa! Thanks for coming to the hood!” Just last weekend I performed at a party as a zombie cheerleader. While I played tag with the kids, one little girl pulled me aside and whispered, “Do you ever get asthma?”
Kids truly say the darndest things.
I recently interviewed two veteran princesses at the company in an attempt to plumb the depths of the fairytale industry. Madison, CEO of Neverland Entertainment and fellow professional princess, has been performing at parties for over seven years; she had enough stories to fill a novel.
“Kids sometimes get way too inquisitive; I had a party with this one little boy who would not stop asking questions. He asked, ‘How’d you get here?’ I said, ‘A magical dragon’ because I was playing Cinderella at the time. I wasn’t wearing gloves as Cinderella, and I wasn’t wearing a wedding ring and the kid asked, ‘Where’s your wedding ring?’ I was like, ‘Oh I decided not to wear it so I left it in the castle,’ and he said, ‘Well I think you don’t actually love Prince Charming; I think you love me and you should marry me instead. If you loved him, you would wear your wedding ring.’ I said, ‘I can’t marry you. I’m already married to Prince Charming’ and he said, ‘So what? Just have two husbands.’ He was adorable, but he wasn’t joking. Then he took my hands, and he pulled me down to his level and said, ‘I want to go back to the castle with you and I want to marry you.’”
This happens to us on a regular basis, and it’s not the weirdest comment by a long shot.
Hanna, another seasoned professional princess, once performed at a library event where one of the kids pulled her aside at the end of the show and asked her if she and Madison were breastfed as children. Hanna says, “I didn’t know what to say, so I just told the little girl how much I liked her necklace to distract her.” True to character, a princess remains prim and proper in response to the most bizarre inquiries.
And that’s just what the kids say. The parents are an entirely different story.
“One woman asked me what my rates were as I was in costume as Elsa,” Madison says. “She kept asking me where I got my wig, and how much I charged.” It’s an often-overlooked challenge princesses face. Despite the strange questions from kids — and adults — we must stay in character at all times. As a built-in insurance policy, many companies will have a character attendant accompany characters to events to ensure that they do not break character. Attendants typically take on the logistical components of running a party so the actors can focus on performing.
Hanna says that her strangest party experience was not as a professional princess but as a character attendant. She was in charge of orchestrating a party with an actor playing Spider-Man. As she began to escort Spider-Man back to his car, she was immediately stopped by the mother of the birthday boy. “We have a surprise for Spider-Man. We want him to meet the Easter Bunny!” Hanna says, “Out came an Easter Bunny who looked like he had been mugged on the way to the party. He had a gigantic head and wore a suit that was four sizes too big. Not to mention he was wearing tennis shoes and gray gloves under his bunny costume.”
Needless to say, it’s not a career for the faint of heart. Madison says, “I wish people understood how difficult it was; I wish people understood the amount of energy it takes. It takes a lot, you have to know all the lines, all the songs, everything, for 15 characters at one time. It’s such a breadth of knowledge that people don’t even realize. On top of that you have to be good with kids, have good party management and be really good on your toes. It’s not just putting on a costume and walking into a party: It’s hard work. It’s rewarding but it’s hard work. I wish more people saw that.”
As Hanna puts it, “Princessing is like being a preschool teacher, an actor, a singer and a camp counselor all rolled into one.” And yet, each weekend we find ourselves doing it all over again. I recall my first party; it was a small family party, just an eight-year-old girl and her immediate family. I sang a few songs, we played a few games, we took pictures and told stories. I thought little of it at the time.
Hanna tells me that after the party, the father of the birthday girl pulled her aside to tip us and said, “You have no idea how much this means to me. Thank you so much for making my little girl smile.”
Amid all of the remarks and questions we get — the strange, the wildly inappropriate and the roaringly hilarious — comments like that, when we’re reminded of how important our job truly is, keep us coming back every weekend. We don our wigs and gowns, we sing and dance and play endless games of tag, all with the knowledge that our presence brings a touch of magic to those who need it most.