What's it like working as a princess? We aimed to find out. The Kalamazoo company Once Upon A Princess lets you rent a princess, prince, or superhero for a child’s birthday party or any number of events.
Kathryn Morton Parker started the business about six years ago after moving back to Kalamazoo from Los Angeles. There she got degrees in theater and biblical studies while working as a princess on the side.
“And when I moved back to Michigan to be with family, I said what do I miss the most about California? Of course I miss the weather, especially this time of year. I miss my friends. But I miss spending my weekends brightening little girls’ and boys’ faces,” says Parker.
So she got a costume made and started working solo.
“Yeah, it started out just me - one dress, one performer - and I was going to as many events as I could. Obviously one person can only be in one place at one time, so I maxed out my capacity pretty quickly there,”she says.
Now the company has five to eight performers, depending on the season. Parker says three of her former employees have even started their own princess companies. She says being a princess is so much more than showing up in a costume - you have to know how to work with kids:
“I can remember being at a little girl’s birthday party and she had a little brother who was probably 3 or 4, a few years younger than she was. And she loved the princess, but her brother loved the princess and he would not do anything without him being right by my side. ‘Watch me go down the slide.’ I probably watched him go down the slide 30 times that day.”
You have to set a good example.
“So how do we do that as a princess? We talk about obeying the 'king and queen of the castle.' And using your manners, your princess manners - saying please and thank you,” Parker says.
And, of course, you also have to know how to sing.
Princesses have to stay in character too. Parker says sometimes adults will ask them questions about their real lives:
“Our performers all do a great job of finding a way to answer that question but stay in character in front of the children at the same time. It’s so fun to see them be able to switch gears like that and answer. You know they’ll say, ‘Well how long have you been performing like this?’ ‘Oh, I’ve just loved singing my whole life’ or whatever the answer is. So they do a nice job with that.”
Disney, like any other long-standing company, has gone through some changes. Kristin Gustavson has performed as Snow White and Belle. She says it’s been interesting to see how princesses have modernized:
“For example, like Snow White who’s the oldest versus Elsa or The Snow Queen - who’s completely new and definitely focusing a lot about freedom and being yourself and not worrying about if you need somebody else to complete your life. And while Snow White never worried about that, for example, but she was a bit different. She was a lot more reserved than The Snow Queen.”
Whatever form princesses take, kids can’t seem to get enough of them.
“I think it’s just because we can look up to them and we can hope we can be like them," says Gustavson.
"We can see like very important things about them. They are so happy and they follow their dreams, they chase their dreams. They don’t let things hold them back.”