Why should I "princess" with Feeling Fanciful?
Here are just a few of the reasons our team members say working with our company is one of the best “professional princessing” experiences you could have!
- We have fun with each other – on and off the clock!
- We grow our talents and passions – and get paid to do it!
- We chase our dreams – and have a say in our availability!
- We help each other as a team – every performer has an assistant!
- We are compensated well – above average per event hour AND for training!
- We know that we matter – and have a voice in the company!
- We are always confident – given everything we need to be successful!
- We take ownership of our craft – and have a say in our booking potential!
- We have access to quality voice lessons – at an incredible discounted rate!
- We are happy and fulfilled – making dreams come true!
What are the work hours like for Fanciful Performers?
Typically parties are booked with the company anywhere from 9am-9pm on Saturdays and 1pm (sometimes earlier) until 9pm on Sundays – most parties take place in the afternoons. There is a mandatory monthly training held typically on the 1st or 2nd Sunday evening of every month from 6-9pm, where we enjoy connecting with each other over some sort of treat and honing our craft into excellence. (Those who miss are required to makeup the training session within one week of the missed training date.)
Our performers can be booked for an event up until the Monday before any particular weekend, at which point they are free to make their own plans. (We sometimes receive requests for parties up to a few days before a weekend, but our performers are not expected to provide availability at that point – it’s just nice if they can book the extra party!) Performers can also be booked for an event as far as 6 months in advance.
Our performers establish their ongoing available work hours every six months, on the 1st day of March and September, and they keep that availability consistent for that duration of time. To work with Feeling Fanciful, one must be able to provide a decent number of hours available for booking parties on primarily Saturdays & Sundays, since that is when most events take place. Friday evening availability is a plus, as is any other availability throughout the week, but Saturday and/or Sunday availability is absolutely essential! A certain number of time off hours is excused and permitted based upon the performer’s availability, and an unlimited time off is permitted for acting and sining gigs outside the character entertainment field (those hours count as “training” and make us good at what we do).
Due to the nature of the character entertainment industry, there is no guaranteed number of party hours to be worked each weekend. Some months have more birthdays than others and some months do not cater as well to birthday parties or special events for the general public. For example, a performer may work more than 5 different events in a single weekend and then go unbooked for the next two – any number of scenarios can take place, and that’s the part of our industry that keeps us on our toes!
What is the compensation like for Fanciful Performers?
We believe in compensating our team members for the time it takes to prepare for each event outside event hours in addition to the event hours themselves, and that’s why we compensate our performers more than the average princess party company. Our performers are paid no less than $60/event hour + traveling fees + any optional gratuity provided by the client. Traveling fees to any particular zip code are determined by our Trip Calculator. Traveling fees are split evenly between performers for events with more than one. Our Party Assistants are paid $20/event hour. Training hours, any required photoshoots, costume fittings, and “castle attendant” positions are paid $10/hour. Our team members are paid on the 7th of each month via bank transfer for the event hours completed during the previous calendar month. For example, everyone receives their bank transfer for the event hours completed in the month of June on July 7th.
What is the training program like for Fanciful Performers?
Unlike most princess party companies, we pay our performers to train to be the best they can be! Once a new performer is taken on board, they meet for an initial 2-3 hour training with Heidi Hood to go over the Employee Handbook, Company Policies & Procedures, etc. This is followed by observing a party and then attending another party as an assistant to the performer. Once our performers have completed the above steps successfully, and have been successfully cast as a given number of character(s), they are put up on the web site and open for bookings! After that, they are required to attend the monthly trainings with the rest of the performers (typically held on the 1st or 2nd Sunday of each month from 6-9pm).
What is the booking process like for Fanciful Performers?
We pride ourselves as a company in the fact that 1) our booking processes are completely streamlined online (making it easier for clients to book with us at anytime), and 2) our clients get to choose who they would like to perform their party (eliminating any hierarchy within our team and promoting ownership of our craft as performers). Our clients have the ability to get to know our Fanciful Team members on our web site before choosing who they would like to book to perform their party. They also have the ability to book a party online at anytime, based upon the availability listed there for each character. By selecting from our different package and performer options on each character page, our clients can view the different options on the calendar before making their final selections and checking out online completely without assistance! Our Performers receive a confirmation email and notification via our scheduling app as soon as they have been booked for a party. The Event Details for the party are then collected by the company from the client and emailed to the performers no later than the Monday or Tuesday before the weekend of the event.
What is the timing protocol for performers and party assistants the day of a party?
Our performers arrive in full character makeup and “wig ready” (with their hair in pin curls and wearing a wig cap) at our “castle” in Waxahachie, TX 75165 no later than 30 minutes before they are to depart for their event venue. Fifteen minutes is added to every driving route calculated using Google Maps, and they drive to their party from there. Their assigned party assistant for that day may either carpool with them from “the castle” or meet them at the event venue. Our performers and party assistants arrive to each event 15 minutes beforehand in order to find a place to park a safe distance out of line of sight from the venue, cue up their Bluetooth speakers, touch up costumes/makeup, review their party kit, walk to the venue, etc.
What determines if someone is booked as a performer or party assistant?
If a team member is not booked as a performer for a particular weekend, they will most likely be scheduled to assist another performer for that weekend. Party assistants are an integral part of the fanciful goings-on, ensuring everyone’s safety and that both the princess and the birthday mom are taken care of for the length of the party. In addition to making our parties the highest quality that they are, party assistants provide a fantastic way for us to learn from each other, train on the job, and build the our team spirit. According to our current team members: “they help create friendships along the way and make the parties 10x’s better!”
Do Fanciful Performers have to provide anything for themselves to do the job?
Our performers are provided with everything from costumes, wigs, props, training, company polo, party planning, bookings, and more! The only things our performers currently provide for themselves are their transportation vehicles, makeup, shoes, and colored contact lenses (if necessary). While the company fronts the money to get the shoes and contacts ordered for them, our performers purchase their shoes and contacts with the money out of their first paycheck(s) and purchase their own makeup supplies. And of course, to work with Feeling Fanciful, it is essential to have a reliable vehicle for driving around the metroplex.
Can Fanciful Performers work for other character entertainment companies?
As valued employees of our company, our performers do not create conflicts of interest by working for competing character entertainment companies or performing parties on their own. Our performers do, however, market themselves under the Feeling Fanciful umbrella as professional princesses, and have the ability to increase their potential for bookings by following the company guidelines to an impressive Instagram presence and collecting positive reviews for their personal company web page. At Feeling Fanciful, the client chooses who they would like to perform their party when they book; so there is no hierarchy system, and everyone has a say in their own success!
What happens if a Fanciful Performer cannot keep their 6-month minimum commitment?
Due to the investment we make each time we hire a new performer, all of our performers have agreed to work for the company a minimum of 6 months. If they are unable to keep their commitment for whatever reason, they have agreed to repay the company for their training and integration costs (unless they have completed a minimum of 10 events as a performer within that six months).
What else should I know about being a Fanciful Performer?
We highly recommend reviewing our web site thoroughly and getting to know our company as you consider this opportunity! Check out our Reviews, FAQ’s, Terms of Service, Party Packages, About Page, Making a Difference, What Makes Us Special, and more, to get to know us! Roam our web site and feel free to Contact Us if you have any further questions or inquiries. We look forward to connecting with you, and we hope you understand what a truly wonderful opportunity it is to be a Fanciful Princess!
I want to know more about "professional princessing!"
Wonderful!! We agree that you should know as much as you can when considering a job in this industry; so we’ve collected some excerpts from M. Alice LeGrow’s Party Princess Handbook that we believe articulate the nature of this industry beautifully – enjoy!
Party performers are a special breed. We’re part artist, part kindergarten teacher, part actor, part imaginary celebrity and part DJ. We pump the party up, do some entertaining, guide the kids through activities, kick out the jams, keep the dancing going and wrap it all up with a fun finish. The fact that our party crowd is under three feet tall and wearing Spongebob sneakers doesn’t make them any less great to entertain. The misguided visual of hard-to-please, disgruntled kids at birthdays is very rare for us. Kids are there to party! They’re ready for fun! They want to dance and sing and play games and eat pizza and go nuts. And we’re there to make sure it all happens.
But we do so much more than just party. We’re also there to bring some magic into the lives of families who can’t afford several thousand dollars to fly to far-away theme parks, or take expensive vacations. We’re there for the kids in hospitals who can’t go home for their own birthdays. We’re there for disabled children who can’t leave their homes and go to a show or a carnival, or who have special needs and require a one-on-one performer who will take the time to get to know them. We’re there at charity events to help raise money for schools, hospitals and community centers. We march in town parades, greet kids at the local ice rinks and wave to crowds at park tree-lighting ceremonies during the holidays.
Most importantly, we’re not in it for the financial rewards. Ask any veteran party performer and they’ll tell you that they endure low pay, sweating in costumes and the ridicule of just about everyone with a day job, because they love the kids. They love making kids happy. The sight of a child having their whole year made because you showed up to their party is what keeps this industry going. Sure, there are a few bad apples out there . . . the princesses who don’t realize that “princess” is just their job title, not their actual birthright; the lousy performers who think a terrible routine is “good enough for a bunch of kids”; the owner starting up a cheap character company just because they think it’ll be easy money. Every industry has some less-than-stellar members. But for the vast majority of us, doing it for the kids is what it’s all about. Being surrounded by happy little smiles and knowing that you helped make their day is the best payment you can get from this line of work. We’re not in it to be rich or famous . . . we’re in it for someone other than ourselves.
Is this the right job for you?
Did you know that for a few fleeting years, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were mascot characters at Disney-MGM? Not many people remember that. But I remember it. My parents had taken us on our one and only family vacation to Disney World in 1992, and at the emotional apex of our trip, my little brother and I met the Turtles.
We were huge fans, growing up overseas on a military base in Europe and playing ninja turtles with the other kids on the base. The sight of those turtle mascots, live and in-person, sent me into shock, and my brother into what I can only imagine was a child-sized heart attack. We mobbed those foamy costumes, got our pictures taken, collected their autographs and generally were of the opinion that life was all downhill from that glorious moment. Deep down, we knew they weren’t real turtles. But when you’re a kid and you see a character you love, reality and fantasy blur together in a weird way. Your brain knows it’s not real, but your heart says it’s the most real thing in the world. I hugged the costumed suit of Leonardo like the last lifeboat on the Titanic.
Fast-forward to today, and I am inside a turtle mascot suit, painstakingly handmade by me to an exacting standard of “just generic enough,” so as not to infringe too much on the copyrights of my beloved childhood heroes, while still satisfying the Awesomeness quotient. I can’t believe I’ve finally made this costume and actually get to perform in it. Originally I volunteered to make it from scratch for a charity event, out of my own pocket, just for the thrill of being my favorite character. It wasn’t cheap and it wasn’t easy. I’d never even made a mascot before. But with weeks of research, saving for supplies and a lot of hard work, it was finally complete.
When at last the day came to wear it for the first time, my handler ushered me into the roomful of kids. I’d hardly gotten in the door of the venue before I felt a tugging sensation around my middle. Looking down through the quarter-sized eyehole opening, I saw a little boy hugging me around the waist as hard as he could, like he never wanted to let go.
Twenty-three years earlier, I did the same thing to another actor . . . and now here I was, in the same suit, as the same character, with a kid hugging me. It struck me that when I was the kid, I thought meeting my hero was the best feeling in life. Now that I was in the suit, I knew that sharing that kind of moment with this little boy was really the best feeling. Making a child this happy was better than meeting my heroes, or even playing them, and the strangeness of it coming full-circle from my own childhood made it somehow even better. It was hard to put into words just what I was feeling. I wish I could go back in time and tell the actor in that original turtle suit. He would have understood.
So with that sappy, feel-good anecdote out of the way, what exactly is the party performer industry?
First, a few things about what it isn’t. It’s not an industry for those looking to make easy money with little work. It’s not for people wanting to launch their acting careers. It’s not a clock-in, clock-out job that you drop the minute your scheduled time is up. It’s not for divas and people who demand the spotlight. And obviously, it’s not for people who can’t handle being around kids.
But if you’re the kind of person who loves kids and can talk to them even when they’re upset, crying or disgruntled; if you’re the kind of person who is responsible, always on time and never makes excuses at work; if you have offbeat talents and a knack for making people laugh; if you are infinitely patient, know how to keep your temper and can smile even through the most difficult and stressful moments . . . then you’re the kind of person the industry wants.
Notice that nowhere in the above paragraph does it say, “drop-dead gorgeous.” A common misconception, especially for princess performers, is that you have to be terribly good-looking to get the job. Although looks matter for some characters, the industry is not set on a seesaw of “beautiful” versus “take a hike.”
Attractiveness and youth are on a spectrum, and what kind of job you want in this line of work will slide the requirements up or down that spectrum. Princess? Well, you should definitely be at least average-looking and somewhat resemble the character for which they’re auditioning you, even if that means using a lot of makeup to do it. Mascot performer? You could be missing every tooth in your head and have five noses. So long as you can act well inside the suit and keep up your energy, you’re golden.
There is a host of other factors that are far more important than your looks. Possibly the most important factor is are you good with kids? Tolerating children or “thinking babies are cute” is not the same thing as being able to break up a tantrum, circumvent a pre-nap meltdown or draw out an incredibly shy child’s inner party animal. Most party companies will prefer an average-looking performer who is great with kids, over a stunningly beautiful performer who can’t control children at all.
My rule of thumb is that if you can’t imagine yourself as a teacher for a day, dealing with minor squabbles, spilled drinks, endless annoying interruptions and potty breaks, then you are not cut out for the job. Because although we are entertainers and technically not required to act like babysitters on top of that, we always have to deal with problems at parties, since the parents hardly ever step in to help once our performance has started. It’s up to us to keep the peace as much as possible. I’ve worked with performers who have stood like statues in corners at events, or chatted with parents while doing nothing to control the group of kids or lead them in activities. I can live without those performers, no matter how pretty they are, and so can the children.
As of the moment I write this, I’m heading toward my 34th birthday. That’s considered an advanced age for the work that I do, which is mostly princessing. The majority of other character performers I know fall between the ages of 16 and 25. But I have a young face and even though I’m literally twice the age of some of my co-workers, my boss knows that I’m great with kids and I never let an awkward pause or dull moment interrupt my work at parties. The ability to keep your audience engaged, entertained and happy is more important than being the perfect age, looking the part, or owning your own costume.
Because we play characters, many fans of licensed characters want to join the industry. Disney fans, Marvel and DC cosplayers and others who want to “be their favorite character for a living” mistakenly believe that they can act out their fantasy in this job. It’s only when they join up and find out that they’re expected to be more like a teacher than a character, that they either quit or wise up fast. Party performing is not make-believe for wannabe princesses and heroes who crave the spotlight, the audience and the shiny costume. If you’re getting into this job only to please yourself, look elsewhere. Once you put that costume on, everything you do is for the kids . . . from helping with crafts, to singing over a dozen shouting children, to cleaning errant sticky hand- prints off your outfit with a smile.
But if you really have the dedication, the determination and the motivation to make children happy, then you can succeed in this industry. There’s a place for absolutely everyone of all shapes and sizes and all the eclectic talents they bring with them. It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it!
“Everyone has talent. It’s just a matter of moving around until you find out what it is.” ~George Lucas
Time to get down to business and do an honest review of yourself as a performer. In this section, we’ll do a self-assessment to determine your level of skill, your aptitude for certain character work, your unique abilities and what kind of role in party performing is best for you.
To start with, we’ll assume that you’re good with children. If you aren’t sure you have this most fundamental of qualities, cross off all of the following statements that apply to you:
- I have babysitting experience (neighbors, younger relatives besides siblings, etc.)
- I’m comfortable around lots of smaller children.
- I actively engage smaller children in conversation.
- I don’t lose my temper with children, even when they’re being difficult or annoying.
- I genuinely like children and find them funny.
- I can relate to children, listening to what they have tosay, instead of dismissing them.
- I don’t “talk down” to children.
- I don’t think children’s problems are less importantthan adult ones.
- I know how to ask a child to do something in a kind, but firm manner
- If a child gets unruly or upset, I can calmly talk them down without shouting
- I’m not upset by a child sneezing, drooling or spitting up on me
- I understand that children are often happy, sad, angry and scared very quickly in turn. It’s just part of being a kid and I know how to deal with it, without becoming frustrated.
- People tell me I’m good with children.
If you’ve crossed off most of these items, or are confident that you could do so after a little practice, then you should be fine. That last item on the list is important . . . some people may think they’re great with kids, but really aren’t, while others who don’t think so may be surprisingly good with them. As I like to tell people, I began this job by just needing extra money. I was recommended to try it by a friend who is also a party princess. Even though I insisted I was no good with children, everyone who knew me said I was great with them. “You had them eating out of your hand,” my dad said in amazement once, at a comic book library event I hosted for some kids ten and under. “You’re like a kid-magnet,” more than one manager has declared at most retail jobs I’ve had. “They just love you!” It wasn’t until I really listened to my friends and family that I embraced this ability to create a rapport with kids and made it the focal point of my character performing.
You don’t need to be the ultimate kid-magnet to work this job. Plenty of people start off more than a bit nervous around kids, but learn to love it. The most important qualities to have are:
Patience to deal with talkative, squirmy, or grabby kids, as well as shy kids who watch you from the corner but refuse to play, or bossy kids who want to hog your attention while everyone else gets pushed to the side. You can never lose your temper on this job, not for a moment.
Confidence to take control of the group and gently but firmly lead them through activities and routines, without letting everything descend into chaos. You must be a leader and make sure that everything is done fairly and peacefully, without arguments or conflict. It’s your job to set the tone and pace of the activities.
Compassion, because kids are kids, not adults. They don’t understand the world as we do. They make mistakes and don’t realize it. They bump their head on something and cry for twenty minutes like it’s the end of the world, only to stop immediately and be distracted by a colorful balloon. Remember that being kids doesn’t mean their pain is any less than yours, or their problems any less upsetting. Something a parent might find hilarious, like a kid’s pants falling down in the middle of a dance, may be humiliating to the child in question. Compassion will help you see the world as they do and understand their fears, their insecurities and their needs. Once you know that you have the intellectual and emotional skills needed to work with children on a regular basis, we can look at some other requirements for the job.
Are you physically capable of doing the work?
Something that doesn’t often get brought up is the issue of the physical demands of this kind of work. A character performer skipping around and waving to all the children may look happy and at ease, but they’re likely battling a heavy or restrictive costume, profuse sweating, uncomfortable shoes or the back pain of being asked to lift and hold 30-lb. children over and over for tons of photo-ops. If you have back and/or neck problems, difficulty standing for long periods of time, are highly susceptible to heat stroke or exhaustion, or don’t have a lot of physical stamina, then this job may not be right for you. I was in a car accident about a year after I started my work as a performer, and even after physical therapy, I couldn’t work a party for months. I still have trouble to this day because of lingering back problems, so I have to decline to lift children and sometimes turn down longer or more difficult events. It’s not an easy job to do, unless you stay in shape.
The requirements of some jobs within party performing can limit the types of roles suited to those with disabilities. However, there are still roles available to those who have trouble walking or who have other difficulties that may keep them from actually playing a character. Face-painters often work seated and stationary, as well as do some balloon artists. There are also always positions for hosts and hostesses, who are assistants that set up the party items beforehand, act as a liaison with the parents or venue owners, help the character performer or mascot between sets, set up and hand out crafting or activity items, collect pay from the clients and clean up any party items or props before departure. Hosts can also double as face-painters at parties, or do small activities like glitter tattoos and nail-painting. Hosting is a very important job and a vital role for larger parties or events. You may be required to carry large plastic tote bins or rolling luggage full of props and supplies, but for much of the party you will remain seated and out of the way of the performance, so it’s not as physically demanding.
Can you deal with the emotions that inevitably come from interacting with sick children, disabled children, dying children?
One very important aspect about being a character performer is that we do a lot of charity work. Party performers are sometimes hired to work at hospitals or other locations where the children to be entertained are disabled or seriously ill. More often than not, though, we’re asked to perform on a volunteer basis at these places. No one will tell a company that they must do it. It’s not a legal requirement. It’s just implicitly understood that every company gives back to the community as much as possible and this way of thinking is endemic to the industry. We do it because it’s just what we do. Every year, hundreds of thousands of dollars in free appearances, parties and giveaways are donated to hospitals, charity foundations and individual families in need.
What this means to you is that as a performer, you may be expected to volunteer occasionally for one of these events. Nearly every performer I know jumps at the chance, even though they don’t get paid anything for it. Who wouldn’t want the opportunity to make a sick child happy for a day?
But many first-time performers aren’t emotionally prepared for their first encounter with sick or disabled children. Some people who are great with healthy kids are conversely terrible with seeing children in pain. It’s not something with which they can comfortably deal. When you do a hospital visit, you will inevitably be confronted by very sick children, some of whom will undoubtedly not survive their illness. If you regularly visit the same hospitals, as I do, you will learn not to inquire after certain patients you met the last time, because they may be deceased or transferred to another hospital for more specialized treatment.
It’s a hard lesson to learn and some people may just know instinctively that they’re not cut out for it. This doesn’t mean that you can’t be a party performer, but you should make your eventual employer aware of this and offer to help out with charity efforts in some other way – by distributing fliers, helping assemble gift bags, acting as a driver for other performers and so on.
You may also be hired to work with special-needs children on a fairly regular basis. Lots of families with special-needs children bring entertainment to their home because their child can’t physically go to a theme park, has trouble socializing outside of the home, or has emotional limitations that make it hard for them to enjoy public venues. I’ve done parties for kids with Down syndrome, children with hearing and sight problems and even a set of three autistic siblings. You need to have extra-special patience, understanding and focus when dealing with special-needs children, who may be startled or afraid of strangers, or may need limited-stimulation activities in order to feel comfortable and focused. These are things you’ll discuss with your boss when training for the job. For now, just be aware that it’s something you may eventually have to do as part of your work.
Can you control a large group of children and speak commandingly, but nicely?
Are you naturally shy and don’t like telling people what to do? Unfortunately, about half of a party performer’s job involves telling children what to do, or asking them nicely. We never say the word “no” or give direct orders, but we are still responsible for making sure the children follow our direction. “Can we all sit in a circle now?” “Can everyone have a seat at the cake table?” “Can everybody get their listening ears on for the story?” “Can we all stand up and get ready to dance?” “Can we be quieter so everyone can hear the song?” We always phrase it as a question aimed at the entire group, but there should never be any doubt that it’s a very gentle order, not a request. Children need structure, even at a party, which is what we provide: structured and planned entertainment.
Even if you’re just at a meet-and-greet, waving and taking photos, you need to know how to tell a child what to do, if only for their own safety. “Can we please be careful with that?” is something you need to learn how to say to a child who is playing with sound equipment, or pulling at your costume and threatening to tip you over onto themselves, or making towards the table with the cake-cutting knife lying on it. You’re not bossing children when you tell them what to do at a party. You’re making sure that the event goes as planned and that all the activities have a time and place to happen, so everyone has the maximum amount of fun with the least number of mishaps.
Beginning Your Bookings
Congrats, you’ve got the job! Now it’s time to buckle down and start learning the business quickly, so you can begin booking and making money. Since this job is quite different from clocking in at the office every morning, there are some things you should know first about what to expect.
At the Hub
To start, most party company activity revolves around the home base, or Hub. This location is where character performers come to meet and change, where hosts retrieve their daily supplies of games, crafts and paints, where all the costumes and props are stored and often where paychecks may be left for pick-up. The Hub is usually located at the owner’s own house or in a rented business space. It may be as simple as a renovated basement, or as elaborate as a separate store-front, with a backstage area and a front shop space for hosting parties.
Wherever it’s located, the Hub is where you will report on work days, to suit up in costume and apply any makeup or details. Your boss will give you start times for each gig (which is when you are expected to actually enter each party), but also may either build time into the schedule for your arrival and changing at the Hub, or require you to arrive at a certain specific time beforehand. You should know where the Hub is located, exactly how long it takes you to get there from your house (with and without traffic) and what the rules are for entry. Is it only unlocked at certain times or on certain days? If it’s in a house, can you just walk in, or will that disturb family members? Is there a hidden key around outside? Find out exactly how you gain entry to the Hub and what that will mean for your routine. You may have to wait in the morning until the boss arrives to unlock the doors. Or she may leave the doors open and you can come and go as you please. Whatever the setup, be sure to give yourself plenty of time to arrive without being late, especially in light of traffic. “There was traffic on the way” is an excuse that doesn’t hold water at most companies. Performers are expected to account for it and leave lots of extra time for travel, as well as to check online sources for travel updates along their route.
Respecting the Communal Space
Inside the Hub, there will be a specific storage system for every item you use on the job. Costumes will be hung up, wigs will be stored and props will be sorted, all in their proper places. You will be expected to follow the rules of maintenance and not leave costumes on the floor, or accessories in pockets, or shoes strewn about. There may be days when you have to run back to the Hub and hurriedly change into a new costume for a second or third party, leaving no time to clean up. But always remember to tidy up your mess at the end of the day, when all the parties are finished. This is especially true of any cosmetics tables, which often become a wreck after half a dozen performers have messed about with them in the morning. Put things back just the way you found them, and it’ll cut down on delays for everyone.
Be sure to always hang up your costume neatly and inform your boss if there are any tears, stains or damage she should know about. Replace your wig on a wig stand or wherever you got it from. Collect up hair pins and safety pins, putting them all back where they belong. Put props and accessories away in their own bins. Remember, you’re not just setting things right for your boss, but for all the performers who have to share the space with you.
It pays to get used to changing in front of others, since that’s undoubtedly what you’ll be doing. You’ll often be expected to change in front of people of the opposite sex as well, so if you’re shy, wear leggings and an undershirt beneath your costume.
A boss may require performers to wear tank tops or other underclothes, to protect the costumes from sweat and keep it from showing through while performing. You should also bring your own stick-on dress shields and adhere them inside the underarms of the costume to minimize any sweating damage. Just be sure to remove them before you leave for the day!
Costumes are dispensed based foremost by character, then by size. Since most of the costumes will be one size fits most, a lot of lacing and adjusting may go into making the costume fit you. There will also be shoes that likely will be in a few standard sizes. They may not fit you perfectly, and if you can clear it with your boss to supply your own shoes, you’ll avoid the pain of wearing too-tight shoes for the day.
Whatever you can do to prepare before you arrive will help get you out the door and to your gig faster, as well as take up less time at the changing station and the makeup mirror, so other performers can use them. Most people apply almost all of their makeup at home, and just do a few final touches with rouge and false lashes after getting into costume. It’s also more sanitary to carry and use your own makeup, even if your boss provides some for you. It cuts down on swapping bacteria among performers.
You usually won’t have more than twenty minutes to get into costume and you may not even get a chance to return to the Hub for a change later in the day, so second and third costumes may have to be brought with you in garment bags, so that you can change in the car or a bathroom. Be sure that you bring all the items for these later costumes, including matching shoes and props!
Makeup and Wigs
Applying character makeup is very necessary. I see a lot of posts online from younger party performers who say, “I don’t need to wear makeup with my costumes, as I have a flawless complexion already!”
It’s kind of a silly insult to insinuate that the reason all the rest of us are wearing makeup is to hide bad complexions. We’re wearing it because it goes with the costume. If you have a large, colorful costume on, plus a wig, your plain and un- adorned face is going to look oddly washed-out in comparison, especially in photos. There will be a significant visual imbalance between your face and the rest of you. When you see us troweling on rouge, it’s not to look younger or prettier, but to help our faces keep pace with the costumes. It also helps us mold our faces to better resemble the character. I know when I take my wig off after a gig, I laugh at how overly made up and heavy-handed my face looks, with all that character makeup on it. But when I put on my wig without doing my makeup first, my face seems to shrink into the wig and my features look tired and less distinct.
For those reasons, makeup is essential and should never be skipped for a character. And since you’re always being photographed by parents, you need makeup in order to make your features stand out and not get washed away by flash photography, bad lighting, or just a lousy camera. Even male characters can do with a few touch-ups of foundation to even out their skin and a darkening of the eyes and eyebrows with powder or liner, to make them stand out better.
If you’re not confident in your makeup skills, ask another performer or your boss to help you. Just realize that you will be expected to learn quickly and do your own makeup, as others may not always have time to help you and do their own makeup as well. Character makeup tutorials online will help you greatly in learning how to nail down your look, as well as do tricky things like apply colored contacts and false lashes.
Be sure to use a lip liner pen and a brush for a nice, smooth lipstick application, and keep pieces of paper handy with you to blot your lipstick on in the car, just before entering parties. I always end up with lipstick on my teeth, so I make a habit of rubbing my tongue over the front of my teeth every few minutes during a party, while my back is turned to the children.
As for wigs, they’re easily put in place and shouldn’t move around on your head, so long as you remember to check the elastic straps in the back inside band of the wig. Little plastic hooks on the straps should connect to a row of tiny ribbon loops, allowing you to widen the wig, or cinch it smaller. Always use a wig cap to tuck your hair and keep it in place. I recommend open-top netting caps, as they’re much better for your hair than the usual pantyhose-like caps. Avoid making your own hair into a ponytail or braid first, if you can possibly avoid it, as it creates lumps under the wig.
Put your wig on by holding it in the front center of the hairline with one hand and the very back center with the other. Apply the back of the wig to your head first, positioning it and then pulling down on the front to snug it into place. Once it’s in place, check the back of the wig again and pull it down at the root, to make sure it covers all of your own hair. Little tabs on either side of the wig that correspond with where natural sideburns would be can be found underneath the hair. Pull on these and center the wig by adjusting them to right in front of your ears, so that the wig is centered. Always be sure to use matching-color hair pins to secure your wig. Even if you’re sure it won’t fall off by itself, put two or three pins in at the sides to prevent kids from grabbing and pulling your wig off mid-party. Make sure the wig hair doesn’t hang in your face or get caught in your lip gloss. I recommend doing makeup first, then your wig. Otherwise you’ll struggle to keep wig hair out of your face while trying to apply makeup.
An Average Day
During a day of parties (usually a Saturday or a Sunday), you can expect to do anywhere from one to five parties in a single day. I usually burn out after four, but I know some performers who regularly do up to six. However, the average is usually from one to three events per day. If you have multiple parties, remember to bring a bottle of water and some small snacks like granola bars and other portable sources of fast energy, because you’ll get very hungry in between gigs! Many bosses discourage performers from eating while in costume, in order to protect the outfits from spills. So you will often eat in between changing for the next party, or throw a towel across the lap of your costume and eat only things that don’t stain, like crackers or nuts. Meatball subs are not the best idea for a snack item.
You or the party host will have a list of all the clients for the day, their contact numbers and the name and age of the birthday child. This is essential, because greeting the child by name and showing that you know how old they’re turning that day is standard for the business.
More importantly, you must remain in character as much as humanly possible. Remember that as long as you have the costume on, you are that character to absolutely everyone, even with a second costume visibly in tow. If a child asks what you’re doing in the local gas station, tell them you’re visiting from your kingdom and wanted to see the town. If you have the time to stop and pose for pictures with kids who really want one, by all means do so. It may seem ridiculous to stay in character for a bunch of strangers who aren’t even paying you, but you never know how many may be future customers. And every action reflects on your company, so avoid swearing, shouting or acting rude while in costume. Behave just as you would if you were at an event.
Keep cards for your company handy while in public and give them out to curious people, with your name and title written on the back of each card (for example, Princess Bethany or Pirate Josh). Referrals from employees can translate into bonus pay from your employer and lets your boss know that you’re working hard to help with promotion.
On the Road
Using your own vehicle is a lot more convenient than being hauled around in the party wagon or the host’s car, but you have to be prepared for lots of different situations which may arise. Always gas up your car the night before a day of parties.
Every precaution must be taken to be sure that you arrive on time, or with time to spare. Lateness is not tolerated on the job…
Parents who have promised their child a visit at 3:00 don’t want to hear you calling up to complain about traffic and giving a revised ETA of 3:30. It may seem trivial, but many parties include guests and family members who can’t stay for the entire party, but definitely want to be present when you arrive. There’s also a small window of time during which young children stay happy and cooperative at parties, before they get tired and cranky and need a nap. And it’s a very poor reflection on the whole company if you constantly arrive a few minutes late to every event.
In order to get there on time, give yourself a very generous window for travel. My minimum for a route that expects no traffic jams is an extra twenty minutes on top of estimated travel time, and I check MapQuest (which always seems to give much shorter travel estimates) against my GPS (which seems more accurate). I also print a paper copy of the direc- tions to make sure I know where I’m going, even if I lose GPS or phone satellite. I also include the parent name and phone number, child’s name and age on the paper for reference.
Twenty minutes seems like a lot of time to kill, especially if you don’t think there will be traffic. But I’ve yet to arrive at more than five parties with lots of time to spare. I always seem to need the extra time to get around traffic, to deal with unexpected roadblocks or to cope with weather. If it’s close to rush hour or I know there will be traffic on the route, I automatically bump the extra time to 30 minutes or more.
Even if you arrive ten minutes early, that’s a good ten minutes you can spend in your car, fixing up your costume or makeup and rehearsing songs or standard greetings. So always err on the side of being early!
You should always keep receipts from tolls and gas for your boss, and for your own records. Your boss will usually compensate you for unusual distances traveled, as well as any tolls. As for yourself, you’ll have to account on your yearly taxes for all the income you earn through this job, but you can deduct expenses like supplies and vehicle wear and tear. The government will allow an automatic deduction of 15 cents per every mile you travel for work, to cover the cost of maintenance on your car. So keep a good record of every single party you do and what the total mileage was for each day. I have a very small notebook on my desk in which I record every party, including information like the date, location, what I was paid, if I received a tip and how many miles I drove. At the end of the year, I can consult this book for my taxes.
In the Ranks
Working as a character performer means being part of a team. Many performers will have to work together at events, playing off each other’s characters and providing synchronized entertainment.
Even if your character is a robot and your partner is a fairy, you will have to work as if you have something in common. Don’t ignore your partnered performer just because your characters are from different genres. Work as a team and help each other out when kids ask tricky questions, or the group gets unruly. Team players are vital to a party company and those who can’t get along will quickly find themselves without a job. So remember that if you’re dressed as a glamorous princess, the other glamorous princess in the room is no less important than you, even if their character is less popular with kids. Never order a partner around, but always ask politely if they can help you with an activity and maintain the image that you are the best of friends.
Partnering with Other Companies
Occasionally, a well-meaning event planner will book performers from your company alongside performers from another company, sometimes your direct competition, often without telling you. Nothing’s more infuriating than arriving at an event to see some strange characters already there. Clients never seem to get the idea that we don’t like to work with our competition. Financial rivalry aside, character performers are very protective of the photos that are taken of them on the job, because our image and reputation online depends almost entirely on these pictures. If you book us next to a terrible company with awful costumes and photos of both of us together start to circulate online, parents always assume we’re both from the same company, and that those awful costumes are our costumes. Different companies have different standards and they hate to be mixed and mistaken for each other.
Worst of all are the penny-pinching planners who decide to save money on a character or two by getting a relative or friend of the family to play them, in a bad Halloween costume. I know a lot of companies who, while not exactly storming out of the party, will do everything in their power to distance themselves from that person and not be captured in photos with them. This may seem petty and cruel, but our digital media is our livelihood. When a customer sees a badly- dressed girl in a second-rate costume with our company tagged on Facebook, our reputation takes a nosedive. Added to which, we can’t control the actions of performers who don’t work for us. If someone shows up drunk, makes inappropriate jokes, is a terrible singer, or behaves badly in a public space, we can’t stop them. And it reflects right back on our own company.
There have even been cases of unscrupulous rival companies taking joint photos from events and posting them on their own social media, passing our actors and costumes off as their own. It’s an underhanded, unprofessional thing to do, but it happens.
Believe me, we don’t like to alienate the poor girl whose uncle talked her into dressing up as a bargain-bin Sleeping Beauty, or the brand-new party company that hasn’t been able to save up for good costumes yet. They probably feel extremely self- conscious among veteran performers who have expensive costumes and a killer routine. We will do everything in our power to be nice and friendly to them before and after the event, but for the sake of our company, we cannot be photographed together.
Beside all that, it’s just hard to establish a rapport with a performer you don’t know, or to decide what activities to do if your respective companies have completely different routines. Different companies have different modes of acting that they instill in their characters and we can’t account for that. At best, we end up looking awkward and forced with each other, which does not make for a perfect party for the children.
If you find that you unexpectedly have to work with a rival company, be polite and accommodating by working with them in any activity, but discreetly try to get your boss’ or host’s opinion on whether you should be in photos with them, or whether your characters should be unusually busy on the other side of the event at all times. Ultimately that’s a call only your boss can make, much like the angry call she’ll make later to the clueless event planner.
Reporting Illness and Emergencies
Getting sick happens to all humans, but most especially to party performers. Colds and fevers abound in this profession, because we’re around children and invariably catch any little thing they may be carrying. Much like teachers, we have a reputation for getting sick from little kids frequently. But unlike teachers, we see a different group of fifteen or twenty kids up to four times on weekends, meaning we’re exposed to as many as eighty brand-new children every single week, or three hundred and twenty new children a month, or three thousand, eight hundred and forty different children a year. That’s a lot of potential colds.
I always like playing Cinderella, because she has long gloves that cut down on how much skin contact I have with the kids. But the fact is that no matter how protective your costume, children will hug you, kiss you, sneeze and cough on you and even wipe their noses on you. Sometimes they lick you for absolutely no reason at all. There’s just no way to avoid being constantly exposed to illness.
Because of this, and because it’s unthinkable to do a party while sick and risk infecting a child or infant, we have to be very careful to have backups in place for emergencies. The moment you feel a bit under the weather or a cold coming on, you must tell your boss. Working sick as a party performer is not just unethical, it’s actually much harder than just showing up sick to your office or retail job. Your face looks bad, your energy flags, your voice sounds awful and your entire performance will definitely suffer. Everyone will be able to tell that you’re sick and the parents will not be pleased. I don’t even want to know what would happen if you barfed on a child. A lawsuit, probably.
Even if you really need the money, or you think you might get better by the time of the party, tell your boss when you feel something coming on. A backup must be put in place, just to be sure. I once had a cold come up the morning of the party itself. I felt fine the day before, but just a short time before the gig (halfway through doing my makeup for it, in fact), I was struck with a terrible stomach pain that later turned into a fever in a matter of hours. Luckily, my boss happened to have someone who could cover for me. Don’t take chances . . . always report in the minute you feel sick, even if it’s days before the party. Better to cancel and let someone healthy do the party, than to sniffle your way through a gig and later get a furious call from a mom who insists you made her child sick.
Moving Up in the Ranks
There’s always room for advancement at a party company. New performers who dedicate themselves to their work and are diligent in promoting the company will find that they are given more bookings as time goes on. A lot of companies often have more performers on call than they do available bookings, so priority for work is given to veterans and the most reliable of the group. By always being on time, getting good feedback from clients and doing your best to work well with your boss and your co-workers, you can eventually become one of the go-to performers for the company and will get a lot more work, raises and priority gigs for your trouble.
ON THE JOB
Character performing isn’t just a matter of showing up in costume and waving! You need to be skilled in improv, storytelling and acting for each particular character, as well as knowing the rules of the business and how to work with your specific company and its other employees. Your behavior and routine must be tailored for each event, from tiny household parties to large, community-sponsored appearances.