SAINT JOHN – For Kristen Anderson, transforming into a princess is a normal part of her weekends.
Anderson is the creator of Magical Memories Princess Parties & Superheroes, the first company of its kind established in New Brunswick.
Even for her three-year-old daughter Lilia, the transformation is an ordinary occurrence for her mother. She can go from Snow White to a certain Ice Queen’s red-headed sister on weekends.
“It’s just her normal, she knows them all and asks, ‘Mama is Belle? Mama is going to go to a birthday party?'” said Anderson. “She just knows that I’m going to a birthday party and she knows who I am, every time.”
Anderson developed the idea for Magical Memories after she dressed up as Belle for Halloween and a friend asked her to visit her niece in costume. She created the company in 2012 and took her time gradually growing it and the repertoire of characters.
While some of the company’s costumes are ordered, many others are made by local seamstresses. Janet Stewart-Robertson, who lives in Rothesay, made Anderson’s princess costumes.
“So many times over the years I’ll bring her a picture I’ve printed off from the Internet and a handful of material that I chose at Fabricville and I say, ‘this is what I want in this picture, and here’s a pile of material. Can you make this for me?’ ” Anderson chuckled remembering how Janet works her magic.
The company has six regular cast members, three boys and three girls, with a larger pool of part-timers who Anderson can pull from to do charity events or the odd birthday party.
For Victor Szymanski, a regular community theatre actor and performer in the Saint John Theatre Company’s productions since 2015, it’s one of the favourite jobs he’s had.
“There’s something so special about seeing kids’ eyes open in wonder when a superhero comes to the door,” said Szymanski, who has also played multiple superheroes and princes.
“One thing that I really value about Magical Memories Princess Parties is how mindful Kristen is of speaking to kids in a way that’s fun and engaging, but also meaningful.”
He adds the company focuses on making sure a child isn’t just entertained, but also supported; that there are more important things than looking like the character.
The company’s primary market is aged two-to-seven, although it has entertained parties for slightly older kids. Robertson added superheroes alongside the princesses in 2015 in order to tap into another market and create more event opportunities.
Superheroes are equally requested by boys and girls, and it is ordinary for boys to request princesses.
“There’s a little guy’s birthday and he is having the Ice Queen; we see that too, which is awesome,” she said.
The company averages anywhere between four to 12 events per month. “It’s hit or miss but I don’t think we ever really do any less than four to five a month, and that’s a low,” said Anderson.
Last December they did more than 15 events; November and December are some of the year’s busiest months as the prime time for company Christmas parties and children’s entertainment.
The general experience starts with a cast member making their entrance and greeting the children, then doing an activity together, (chosen from a variety of options ahead of time). Then a dance and sing-along are held, and a group photo is taken followed by the farewell.
“My favourite is families that have numerous children and I will do their parties for three years and then almost jump down to the next sibling,” said Anderson. “I continue to do their parties and I like to see this family grow that I didn’t have a relationship with before. I get to follow all of their children as they keep using us,” she said.
The company also does between six-to-10 volunteer events a year, mostly through Make-A-Wish Foundation. This year will be the third year they are taking part in Children’s Wish’s Superhero and Princess Party. They also offer discounted rates for charities.
Magical Memories is a good side gig and does make enough for Anderson to pay herself and her staff. She adds that anything leftover after updating and repairing costumes goes back into the business.
Anderson works full-time as Make-A-Wish Foundation of Canada’s Development Coordinator and previously worked as an educator funding support to families and children.
“My primary thing was just the feeling I got out of it and the fact that I got to dress up as a princess, all the time,” said Anderson, emphasizing money is not the motivating factor behind Magical Memories. “I got into it because of the joy of it and the magic of it.”
Along with including more superheroes to the Magical Memories’ cast – Wonder Woman being a recent addition, Anderson’s plans for 2020 focus on including original characters, including two unicorn princesses and an original swimming mermaid.
Anderson’s mailman can attest to the company’s success – going by the number of packages she receives like clockwork.
“If I’m not ordering costumes, I’m ordering party supplies, so we constantly have packages arriving to our house all the time,” said Anderson.
“The mailman said to me the other day – I don’t often see him because I’m at work during the day, but I did catch him one day and he was like, ‘You get A LOT of packages!’”