Party With a Princess
Bring the magic of storybook characters to your event
by Stephanie Gibson Lepore
Content Director, Bham Family magazine
Photographs courtesy of Lara Vickery
Another creative local grows up, and Birmingham gets lucky enough to hang on to their talent. Lara Vickery spent her childhood in McCalla and attended Alabama School of Fine Arts. Having fallen in love with theatre at a young age, she began acting classes at UAB and through Town and Gown Theater’s Summerfest summer camps when she was about 8 years old, going on to ASFA in 7th grade to major in Theatre Arts. After graduation in 1988, she moved to Los Angeles to attend the American Academy of Dramatic Arts West. To earn extra money while in school, she began doing makeup and fashion styling for photo shoots. Birmingham lured her back to the University of Montevallo, where she finished her BFA in Acting in 1991.
With school complete, Lara went to work as a professional actor in children’s and regional theatre. Her makeup styling experience came in handy when MAC Cosmetics launched a second location in the south and hired her as their assistant manager. Advancing quickly, Lara spent 13 years with MAC, the last decade as southeast regional director of artist training and development, where she opened 124 locations and loaned her skills to nine states, Puerto Rico, and Bermuda. “I had amazing opportunities as a MAC Senior Artist, working events like New York Fashion Week, Miami Swim Fashion Week, Fashion Week of the Americas, Broadway Bares, Fashion Cares Toronto, and numerous televised awards shows, pageants, and musical acts,” she says.
Lara moved on to Apple and remains in corporate America, though in 2014 she and her husband, Daniel, started their business that would become The Enchanted Princesses. “We have been in the business of doing parties ever since!” says Lara, who runs the family business while also juggling her “real” job as sales and training coordinator for IT Cosmetics in Alabama and northern Mississippi. She’s also mom to daughter Oona, a sophomore at ASFA majoring in theatre. (Oona is on the family business, too: She portrays Tinker Bell, Peter Pan, and Alice in Wonderland.)
Daniel, a theatrical properties and set designer who specializes in the unusual, “is an amazing sculptor who works in all mediums including clay, stone, and wood foam,” says Lara. “He has worked for multiple theatre, film, and television companies including HBO, Cartoon Network, and Nippon TV (Japan).” Together the two, friends since they were teens and married for close to 20 years, are a creative force. Daniel fell into balloon twisting as a parent volunteer at Oona’s school, and Lara had a love of bringing storybook characters to life. The couple closed their girls’ boutique—which offered special occasion clothing for birthdays and Disney trips, plus in-house princess parties. “At that time there were only a few companies offering quality in-home princess performers around the South. The idea of offering performers who come to your event seemed like a great way of bringing my love of theatre, fairytales, and Disney characters into one business,” says Lara. It was a natural progression for Lara, who has always loved fairytales, mermaids, and pirates and is a huge Disney fan. “Part of my job at MAC was to provide training and information on new products and techniques to the Disney World Cosmetology Department, and I loved getting to go behind the scenes in Orlando and see the performers transforming into characters,” she says.
“We started in-home parties in summer 2014, and I still have two of my original princesses working with me. My first-ever princess hire was Charlotte Clare Wickersham (now Norris). She was a freshman getting her BFA in musical theatre at the University of Montevallo, and now she is the theatre and show choir teacher at Pelham Park Middle School. She’s our primary Snow Queen and Little Mermaid, but she offers a huge range of beloved characters from movies to books and plays. Josie Jackson joined us in 2015 and is now our primary Snow Princess and Fairy Face Painter. She is an exceptional costumer and creates all her own costumes.”
Currently, The Enchanted Princesses offers well over 100 characters, including favorite movie princesses, superheroes, villains, pirates, mermaids, fairies, and preschool characters. “The only three mascot-style characters we offer are Beauty’s Beast, the Easter Bunny in the spring, and everyone’s favorite snowman from October through March,” says Lara. “We do all sorts of events, including one-on-one playdates with a princess, character visits for small sleepover parties, entertainers for large birthday parties for children, teens, or adults, and large corporate events.” Lately, they find themselves doing more entertaining for adults and family parties. “We offer party atmosphere characters including Alice in Wonderland characters, roaring 20s performers, pirates, and swimming mermaids for your pool. Adults love whimsy as much as kids and are truly delighted to find characters they can interact with at events. It also adds authenticity to your themed event and gives your guests the perfect photo opportunity.”
A huge part of The Enchanted Princesses’ appeal is the ability to customize a character visit to your party needs. Performers are booked by the hour and typically that allows time for an arrival where they make a big deal about being invited, reading a story, painting nails, teaching a princess class, and singing a signature song or two. “Our princess and superhero performers are actual actors and actresses, and they stay in character the entire time, so they do not face paint or do balloons,” says Lara. They do offer a costumed balloon twister and seasonal fairy or mermaid tattoo artists and face painters.
When hiring performers, Lara considers a range of factors. “There are many amazing-looking performers, but to be truly good at what we do, there are a lot of other factors that come in to play besides quality of costume and how you look. You need great improvisation skills and—honestly—physical stamina. People don’t realize how hard it is to wear a wig, princess dress, corset, petticoat, and heels in the summer heat and still look and act like a princess,” says Lara. “During the last eight years, I have really enjoyed watching our young performers come, grow, and move on to exciting careers in music, opera, teaching, theatre, the military, and even at Disney. Being a party performer is magical, but it is also really hard work mentally and physically! It teaches you to think on your feet, and you learn a tremendous amount about people and how to relate to them. Like so many service industry jobs, it is something I wish everyone had the chance to do just once. Although, unlike waiters and waitresses, our clients are under 21 and typically far better behaved!”
“My favorite part of owning the business is honestly seeing the delight on children’s faces when their favorite character arrives at their door in real life. Those expressions are magical! Just like all moms, I try to balance everything. I have so much respect for parents who try to make childhood as magical as possible for their kids. The reality is that none of us can be that way all the time. The everyday stresses of work, family, and life in general get the best of us sometimes. Our job as a party entertainment company is to take some of the stress off the parents. Our performers are very experienced, and they truly have seen it all, so they are better equipped to transition a party from a meltdown situation onto the next activity without a hitch. As a parent it is almost impossible to do that, even when you do it every day!”
“I have long since passed princess performer age, but I do still occasionally get to play a villain or do fairy face painting. My favorite thing to do is perform everyone’s favorite Frozen snowman! He loves warm hugs and, wow, does he get a lot of them from children and adults. From behind his eyes, I have gotten to see hundreds of amazing smiles. In these days of rising costs, a trip to Disney has become cost-prohibitive for many people. We get to bring that storybook magic right to them at a fraction of the cost, without them ever leaving the comfort of their homes.”
Note: Enchanted Princesses is in no way affiliated with Disney, nor do they claim to offer exact representation of any proprietary characters they own. Instead, they offer cosplay likenesses of favorite characters from stories and movies. For more information, visit facebook.com/theenchantedprincesses.