REAL PRINCESSES COME TO PARTY: AMAZING FAIRYTALE PARTIES BRINGS LIFE TO CELEBRATIONS, LEAVES MEMORIES BEHIND
For 3-year-old Faith Vonbergen, it was as if they had stepped right out of a fairy tale. Five princesses, gowns flowing and smiles beaming, danced and sang before her eyes.
"Cinderella," she whispered with wide eyes locked upon her favorite princess.
A moment later, she dashed off across Howarth Park with dozens of other children to greet the royalty.
The princesses -- each borrowing the recognizable likeness of Disney and cinema characters -- are performers with Amazing Fairytale Parties giving a recent Sunday afternoon show in Howarth Park.
The local company entertains children with performances by Tinkerbell, Alice in Wonderland, Rapunzel and Spiderman, complete with singing, dancing and storytelling.
The company's theatrical origins stem from founder and owner Stephanie St. James-Werba, 38. She was nominated in 2008 for an NAACP Theater Award for her performance as Squeak in "The Color Purple (musical) and won the 2010 San Francisco Broadway World Fan Award for best leading actress in 6th Street Playhouse's production of "Rent," but sought more ways to use her talents.
Open only since January, Amazing Fairytale Parties attracted a whirl of talent with an open call for performers.
"I wasn't sure there would be anyone who would want to put on this costume and go sing for children," she said. "I didn't know if there would be people who want this. But the response has been overwhelming."
The actors on her staff work regularly in regional theaters such as Spreckels and 6th St. Playhouse, and include Peter Warden, Kelsey Mielle Byrne, Katie Kelley and graduating Maria Carrillo senior Allegra O'Rourke.
While Sonoma County's theater scene is vibrant, it's difficult to earn a living wage without taking on multiple jobs. Most venues are community theaters, usually offering their performers a small stipend.
St. James-Werba is pleased to offer her performers at least $50 per performance.
"Seeing that was the case, it's nice to be able to say 'Hi, I have a job for you,'" she said. "That's an amazing thing for a lot of these actors. They get to hone their craft and practice their skills in a nonthreatening environment because it's with kids. You can't really fail with kids, and they get paid."
Such was the appeal for Byrne, 22, one of the company's performing princesses. Byrne met St. James-Werba while performing together in "Rent" back in 2010.
"It's fun to watch (movie roles) as an adult and then figure out how to portray them," Byrne said. "Not just as some crazy over-the-top character, but as a person. I can't afford to be in theater right now, but I'm already wishing I was in one. For now, I really like being a fairy tale."
Party prices start at $125 for a meet and greet with one princess or superhero, $200-$275 for an hour to 90 minutes of performance, face painting, tea parties, princess makeovers or superhero training.
Actors' roles also can include pirate, Superman, Batman, Star Wars characters, Spiderman, Sleeping Beauty, Snow Princess, Ariel the Little Mermaid and Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz.
Salaries aren't the only business cost. St. James-Werba constantly adds costumes to keep up with requests, ordering custom tailored dresses, wigs and (for Tinkerbell) wings. Rapunzel's wig alone cost $500.
St.James-Werba hopes free performances in places like Howard Park, local libraries and children's hospital wards will help spread the word about her business.
"You've got to look at it from the eyes of a child," she said. "Here's this beautiful girl in this extravagant costume, and she really looks like this character who's come to life. She's telling you the story that you know, and she's singing you the songs from the movie that you can sing, along with all your friends."
Said Byrne, dress as Snow Princess, "There's just something really special about that as a memory they can keep forever. I do it because I love it."
Contact Amazing Fairytale Parties at 595-4056, amazingfairytaleparties.com.
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