Today we’d like to introduce you to Katherine Kirchoff.
Hi Katherine, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
I started “princessing” in 2014 when my friend and college roommate got a similar job in Springfield, MO. It was my first semester after graduating high school, and college had thrown me a huge emotional and mental curveball, bringing undiagnosed mental illness to the forefront of my life. The sort of suspension of reality that came with that type of job (in addition to my history and experience in theater, dance, and vocal performance) made it seem like the perfect job for my life circumstances.
I was cast as a couple of characters for that Springfield company, but before I could physically attend any gigs, life circumstances brought me back to the St. Louis area, where I grew up. Still wanting to pursue that type of performance-based job, I looked for similar companies in the St. Louis area and found one based out of Maplewood, MO called Once Upon a Bash (which tragically has since closed). I auditioned for them and was hired on the spot as well as given a party to attend that very weekend.
It wasn’t long before I was hooked. Like many girls growing up, I loved princesses, and I just so happen to also have been an absolute tyrant of a detail-oriented child, so all of these details about princess characters were locked in this memory vault, and it was finally their time to shine. I started making my own dresses to try and get closer in accuracy to the character garments to become more believable for kids.
This pattern would set the tone for the rest of my character performance hobby-career hybrid. A little over a year from my first gig, I applied for the 2016 Fall Disney College Program and was accepted shockingly quickly (based on others’ experiences). A couple of months passed and I attended a character performer audition for the program, and I was notified quickly that my role in the parks was changing to character performer. A couple of months and another princess company later, I was headed to Orlando to be a character for a theme park that may or may not rhyme with Shmalt Disney World.
I finished the program in early 2017 and came back to St. Louis with professional character training and a whole lot of experience. In addition to my time as a theme park character, I also had worked almost the entire time with a separate character company in Orlando as well. The combination of training from both the theme park as well as ex-theme park performers completely revolutionized how I saw my performances and the characters as a whole. I resumed searching for a new character company to work for.
From 2017-2018, I worked for three more princess companies, searching for the ever-elusive quality trifecta of good costumes, good performance & performers, and good character integrity. By late September 2018, after chewing my way through a total of 7 character companies, 5 of which in the St. Louis area, I decided it was time to start my own company. Even in the oversaturated market of STL, I thought that my passion and dedication to creating a believable character experience would create a company that was both memorable and would stand out amidst the noise. I wanted to make a company where the characters would make even adults wonder if magic was real for a moment.
I had been making my own princess dresses for a more cosplay-type situation for years, so by the time I came to this decision, I had a closet of 6-7 characters that were ready to go. Coincidentally, I was also finishing up my Bachelor’s Degree in Graphic Design at the time, so creating everything from social media accounts to an appealing website and dealing with SEO to creating content and advertisements all in a cohesive brand identity was something I was literally trained to do. Shockingly, the name “St. Louis Princess Parties” was not taken, so I filled out the LLC form, and there it was. Officially my own company.
I had a friend at the time who helped organize the business side of things, and together we gathered a small team of contracted performers. One of them, Zibby Nolting, became one of the cornerstones of company growth. Almost all of the performers contracted during the first year were referred by Zibby, and she herself was an absolute powerhouse of a performer, boasting one of the best singing voices I’ve ever heard. My goal was to create a company where people could give part of themselves and in turn, become permanently woven into the fabric of the company and its evolution.
Slowly, but pretty quickly in terms of actual business growth, more people became contracted, I made more costumes, ordered and styled more wigs, and the company grew. We were able to snag a couple of gigs at the end of 2018 with the Botanical Gardens and Kiener Plaza as well as a volunteer organization called Butterfly Dreams, and those were critical to who we were to become. 2019 was a big year for us, starting with an event with the Butterfly House and quickly gaining traction. In June of 2019, we were in the St. Louis Pride Parade. From there, we started working more and more with Kiener Plaza, attending multiple events over the summer and early fall months. In December of 2019, we had at least two events every weekend and ended the year on KMOV with Kiener Plaza’s Winterfest.
Then, of course, 2020 happened. It would be easy to lament over the hardships of the year and how COVID affected business, but I think it’s more fitting to admire how quickly and how creatively everyone on the team adapted. In the span of days, my team was creating online content for kids to enjoy. Sing along storytimes, dancing exercise videos, door-to-door visits, and even entire online parties. My team was there, and they put their all into it. It was truly a surreal moment, and it made me so proud.
Then, we have 2021. Our current year. Some of my contractors are hitting three years as a part of this company. I have seen incredible growth, and I have seen that passion that found me in 2014 overtake these performers. Even saying this out, it’s overwhelming to think about how proud I am—of the company, of these performers, of myself. So far in 2021, we have partnered for events with the Magic House, the Butterfly House and are planning our holiday season with other local St. Louis small businesses. We have been in the St. Louis Post Dispatch. We have been in a float in the downtown 4th of July parade. We have made literal countless magical moments and made dreams come true.
I like to think that we are fulfilling my dream of making moments so magical that even adults wonder if the characters are real. It’s hard not to be proud—I’ve made most of these dresses. Each are truly one of a kind. I trained these performers. It’s an absolute joy to see what they create from there. I am so in awe of the growth that has happened already, and I like to think that if the detail-oriented monster child of my past self were to see all this today, she’d believe it was real too.
Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
It was absolutely not a smooth road. I am fortunate that I learned to “roll with the punches” before I started this company. There have been several struggles on a personal level as well as in a broader sense. Personally, it has been and still is difficult to find the balance between this company, my 9-5 day job, and my personal relationships. Sometimes this company is a money and energy pit. Sometimes it creates the happiest moments of my life. All of it takes work, and it can be hard to find the time for that, especially during and after COVID.
It is also a struggle sometimes dealing with people. Most of the performers I contract are completely and utterly wonderful, and I could write books about what amazing people they are. There is the occasional bad egg, but I try to maintain a no-drama environment where people can feel safe to grow and make mistakes.
I could write another ten paragraphs about the difficulties of trying to keep business during a pandemic, especially as a company that deals with in-person entertainment. And like all other companies but very specifically stressful to small companies, competition is fierce. I have a hard time separating myself from the company and understanding that it isn’t personal, but that’s something I need to work on for myself. Ultimately the goal should be to make sure that kids see their role models and have an experience that is so magical and real that their imagination never is restricted or dulled.
Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
Character work is a unique job that requires a combination and proficiency in many skill sets. Improvisation is the first and foremost of those skills. As a hired performing character, it is our job to entertain groups of children with only our voices and our movements. Ultimately, our performance is what allows kids to decide if they’re witnessing a fraud or something truly magical. I know it isn’t that serious in reality, but in my head, I believe that one bad performance could possibly ruin someone’s belief in magic. If a kid sees you and says you’re not real, that has the potential to change their childhood forever. A memory that should be of a magical princess could easily become a memory of when they stopped believing in that particular character, much like Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. I remember vividly when my parents told me Santa wasn’t real, and that could easily be substituted with a poor character performance. I once had a child cry when I worked with another company because I walked in with a poor quality costume and wig, and the child knew I wasn’t a real princess. It didn’t matter how good of a performance I gave. I knew that that kid didn’t believe. I saw the façade snap in front of me. My goal is to never allow that to happen in my company, not under my watch, not under my training.
I train my performers to understand the fundamental differences between each character they play. Far too often do I see someone with a generic princess voice and generic movements that carry between all characters. Each character is different from their body language to their vocal cadence. Even though each of these characters are completely based in fantasy, it is my job and the job of my performers to seamlessly integrate their personalities and traits into our own for however long the event or party is. I am fortunate to have the training from [redacted] theme park and its performers. It truly did revolutionize how I saw these characters and how to translate them into the real world.
Even on a superficial level, I try to make sure these characters stand out from the rest. I make almost all of the costumes myself, and the costumes I do not I end up commissioning from close friends or designers. My vision with each character is to incorporate elements from their widely-known portrayals, often through animation, and add details that blend them with inspiration from historical fashion. The dresses each much not only look familiar to children but also to look royal to the untrained eye. One of my greatest prides is the creation of each of these garments and the intricate training that goes into each character. If they can convince me, then they can convince anyone. Probably.
Can you share something surprising about yourself?
This is completely counterintuitive to my work with my company, but I actually don’t really like kids’ media that much. I love the movies and experiences that make me nostalgic and that have extraordinary detail and I relate to as a creative person, but other than that, I have many other interests that are much more prevalent in my life. Other than the copious amount of princess garments and wigs and the occasional decorative figurine in my apartment, I really don’t fill my space or life with that type of stuff.
I’m also pretty introverted. I can put on a great show, but I would rather play video games or sleep at pretty much any point of the day. After any character event, regardless if I perform or just assist, I pretty much just lay down on the ground when I get home until I gain enough energy to make a coffee or something.
I’m also absolutely terrible with kids. I’m fantastic whenever I know I have their attention, and I have my nice itinerary of tried-and-true activities, but just in day-to-day life, I have no idea how to interact with children. I have to put on the character mask in order to have any idea what to do.
Lastly, I 100% make most of the costumes the night before or the week of. My superpower is being able to crank out a ballgown in less than 12 hours.
- Ruby Package – 30 min – $105
- Sapphire Standard – 60 min – $180
- Emerald Extravagance – 90 min – $300 AND includes an extra character
- Virtual Meet & Greet – 15 min – $45
- Email: email@example.com
- Website: stlouisprincessparties.com
- Instagram: stlprincessparties
- Facebook: facebook.com/stlouisprincessparties
Ashley Fisher Photography Katherine Kirchoff Lyssa Jay Zibby Nolting