The business of being a princess

Megan Lawrence, founder of Storytime Princesses, portrays Belle from "Beauty and the Beast" at birthday parties and festivals. There are certain skills to master, such as dancing and keeping children entertained, when it comes to being a princess.
Courtesy of Megan Lawrence

It takes a lot of work to become a princess. For Sikeston, Missouri, resident Megan Lawrence, it's all part of the job.

Lawrence runs Storytime Princesses, a party and event business where almost every member portrays one or more Disney princesses.

"The more animated you can be, the more fun it is ... you have to do it with as much enthusiasm the tenth time as the first," Lawrence said. "... The princess's job is to make sure this is the most fun and exciting thing ever."

She and her princesses attend birthday parties, tea parties, meet and greets, festivals and other community events across Southeast Missouri, from Perryville to New Madrid. Lawrence's team consists of herself and 14 other princesses portraying Disney characters Belle, Jasmine, Anna, Elsa, Rapunzel, Cinderella, Tiana and Snow White.

Her husband, Adam, helps with transportation and a few makeup artists make sure each princess is ready to perform.

Most princesses start out as assistants, working with event organizers and parents behind the scenes to make parties run smoothly. Lawrence often shows them the ropes herself — she performs as either Belle or Jasmine — and gets them ready for their crowning moment.

Cadence Easley, right, practices a princess's speech during a "coronation ceremony" before the cake cutting at a birthday party. Her friend Georgia Matukewicz, left, stands in for the birthday girl.
Christopher Borro

Proper princesses

Punctuality, reliability and dedication are hallmarks of being a princess. Princesses must familiarize themselves with their characters, from the gestures they make to the way they talk.

"As much as possible, avoid using conjunctions as it instantly adds a touch of precociousness to your speech," Lawrence said. "It also makes you slow down your talking, because it's kind of nerve-wracking to talk to children when you know that every camera is recording you."

She said she recommends princesses-in-training watch their respective Disney films to get acquainted with their characters.

Being a princess is all about being polite and proper, Lawrence said. This is both part of the various characters' personas as well as in respect to customers and clients.

When hosting birthday parties, every event — sing-alongs, dances and games — is planned down to the exact minute. A parent who pays for a two-hour party gets an exactly 122-minute experience.

Princesses must be clean, leave their phones in their cars, cover up tattoos and not go overboard with perfume. Each princess has a particular dress and wig they must wear. They say "my pleasure" instead of "you're welcome" and always address children as princes or princesses.

Lawrence said men must always be addressed as "Prince Charming", while women are referred to as grown-ups so princesses don't assume their relation to children.

A buttefly lands on the finger of Kailyn McIntyre as she portrays Snow White. Storytime Princesses founder Megan Lawrence said Snow White is one of the more difficult princesses to master because of the unique gestures the character does.
Courtesy of Megan Lawrence

Opening chapters

Lawrence said being a parent helped her get into the mindset of a princess.

"Having a daughter, we princessed all the time with her growing up. Now I've got two more boys so we don't princess quite as much, but we role-play quite a lot," she said. "We have fun, we dance, so I think I've got the party aspect of it down."

Having a daughter trained Lawrence for the role in more ways than one. When her firstborn Loralee was born, she had to spend the first month of her daughter's life at the Ronald McDonald House in St. Louis while Loralee was at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital for operations.

Four years later, Lawrence wanted to show her daughter where she had lived during her surgeries. Discovering some volunteers had been unable to cook for guest families, Lawrence ordered them pizza.

She and her family then began volunteering to serve food at the Ronald McDonald House.

On Oct. 31, 2016, while volunteering, Loralee went as the Nintendo character Mario for Halloween; her mom dressed as Princess Peach.

"We had four people stop us that day, four moms, saying 'Would you please talk to my child, she just wants to talk to you because you look like a princess,'" Lawrence said.

She obliged and later that night saw Facebook videos of college students dressing as princesses and visiting hospitals. Lawrence bought a Belle outfit the very next day.

Throughout 2017, Lawrence would go to the children's hospital and Ronald McDonald House monthly to meet with kids as Belle. Then she became pregnant and could no longer fit in her dress, and not long after that the coronavirus pandemic led to the hospital no longer accepting volunteer visitors.

She tried volunteering as Belle in nursing homes but found residents there didn't know who the character was.

"So I've got these costumes, I want to interact with children. Lets do parties," Lawrence said. "So myself and the few costumes that I had erupted into this business it is today."

Megan Lawrence walks princesses-in-training through a typical birthday party event Wednesday, Nov. 15. She employs 14 girls and women at Storytime Princesses, though since many are busy high school or university students she must rely on different rosters throughout the year.
Christopher Borro

Crowning moments

Georgia Matukewicz and Cadence Easley are princesses-in-training. The two high school students started working for Storytime Princesses just two months ago.

"I was hanging out with Cadence and our cross country group ... and Emily (Marriott), who is Megan's niece, was like, 'I need princesses for this event at Beggs Family Farm,'" Matukewicz said. "Me and Cadence were like, 'I want to dress up in a pretty dress and go hang out with kids.' So that's what we did and we had a great time and it's been fun."

The event at Beggs Family Farm was just two days later, so Matukewicz and Easley didn't have much time to prepare. It was nerve-wracking, the former said, but exciting, and she said she couldn't wait to do it again.

Olivia Walker, on the other hand, had prior princess experience when she joined Storytime Princesses. She had long been a part of the SoutheastHEALTH Foundation's Princess Tea event and met Lawrence there.

"When she came to me (and said), 'Hey, we need more princesses,' I was like, 'I got it, I'm all for it.' I love seeing the smiles on kids' faces is what it is."

Walker said being a princess allows her to be a role model and set good examples for the kids. She has not done a birthday party with Storytime Princesses, but she has become Lawrence's go-to princess for tea parties.

"I also have nieces, so babysitting them is just princess movies on replay all the time," Walker said. "Occasionally, for their birthdays, I'll do voice recordings for them. I can make myself sound like some princesses."

Having younger kids in the family, she added, is a good way to get into the role.

Lawrence herself has a theater background and recruited a few of her friends with theater experience to be princesses. That experience, she added, helps her to enter the mind of Belle or Jasmine during performances.

She said she wants to bring her whole cadre of princesses to the children's hospital once they start allowing volunteer visitors again.

"... When you're in the hospital for an extended amount of time with your child and you're constantly trying to raise her spirits on your own ... (it's a relief) when someone else comes to make your child smile and you smile, too," she said. "Belle was that someone for so many families. It was an honor to be able to serve that way."

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