When faced with the question, “So, what do you do for a living?” in my daily life, I often hesitate, because I know that the minute I tell someone my job title, I will have to follow up with an awkward explanation.
My name's M. Alice LeGrow, and I'm a professional princess.
I always wanted to be a comic-book artist.
I went to art school, earned a degree in sequential art and landed a job at a large publisher in Los Angeles just after graduating. For years, I wrote and illustrated a long graphic novel series called “Bizenghast,” which was published worldwide in more than a dozen languages.
But after my publisher closed its doors in 2012 and my series finished, I found myself without a new project and in need of quick money. I had some odd jobs and commissions, but nothing permanent.
That's when my friend Becky stepped in.
“Just become a party princess like me,” she said one day. “It's good money and easy for someone outgoing like you. You dress up as a princess, or fairy, or pirate, or whatever, then entertain at birthday parties.”
I wasn't big on working with children and the idea of being a birthday entertainer sounded pretty embarrassing, but I had few other options.
So I auditioned for a local character company I found through Google and was soon being outfitted as Alice in Wonderland for my first gig.
My apprehensions about being surrounded by screaming, tantrum-throwing kids disappeared on my very first day.
The children at parties adore their character entertainers and hero-worship them throughout the whole party. They want to hug you, hold your hand, tell you that you're wonderful and show you everything about themselves.
I never leave a party without a smile. The kids are so funny that it's impossible not to enjoy yourself.
“Look, Cinderella!” a little girl once said to me at her party, ushering me into a side room with great solemnity. “Look here! This … is Mister Fish.”
With a flourish of her six-year-old hands, she formally introduced me to a tiny goldfish in a bowl on the dining room table.
The birthday girl gazed at the thimble-sized fish as if he contained the wonders of the universe. I curtseyed as politely as I could and smiled at him.
“How do you do, Mister Fish!” I said. “I've never met a fish socially before! Do I shake your fin?”
The birthday girl jumped up and down, clapping her hands in delight at her goldfish getting to meet the Cinderella in person.
Being a party character is a wonderful job, not just because the children are so happy and eager to see you, although that certainly helps.
The pay is good, averaging around $40-$50 an hour, plus very good tips.
In addition to parties, we also do lots of charity visits to the local children's hospitals and shelters in our neighborhoods. I've worked with the Make-A-Wish Foundation and other great organizations to help brighten the lives of children in need.
You won't get rich working this job, but you'll be all the richer for the experience.
Who Can Be a Party Character?
The hours are easy, since most parties take place on the weekends.
Being a party character is a fantastic job for young high school and college students who are looking for extra work after school or in the summer. It's also terrific for parents who want just a few hours of extra work on the weekend.
There's no age limit for characters, so long as you have an air of youthfulness and energy to you.
If you're not comfortable being the princess, parties always need hostesses to help carry the princess' props, hand out crowns and craft activities and drive the princess to and from gigs.
There's also lots of demand for men, as pirates and superheroes never go out of style. Looks matter less than you think -- it's much more about having a positive attitude and friendly demeanor.
It's easy to get in contact with a local character company. Simply Google your town, or the nearest large city, and the terms “character company”, “party characters” or “party princess.”
Email the companies directly and ask for an audition. They’re usually happy to look at new applicants, especially people who just need a bit of part-time work.
Be aware that you'll have to provide a criminal record check, since you will be around children. If you're hired, the company will often take care of this for you. They'll also put you through simple training on their behavior standards and routines.
I never would have guessed that I'd work as a party character.
But not only has it helped me make ends meet and expand my portfolio of work, it's also made me consider doing other work with children.
In fact, I'm branching out in my character work to become a professional mermaid, performing at aquariums and outdoor events.
There's always something new to try in this field and I think I've learned more skills in a few years as a character than I would have at any other job.
Now when I hand out my business cards, I love to see the curious smiles on people's faces when they read:
M. Alice LeGrow is both an illustrator and a professional character entertainer, working in the Philadelphia area. She lives with one very magical turtle and two very ordinary cats.