Children’s Dreams Made Real: The Story of The Enchanted Cottage

By Annette Dawm, WorkStory Ambassador

Caleigh Allen is the creator of Ever After Entertainment in Atlanta, Georgia. Together with Jenna Bell and several other actors and artists in Atlanta, Caleigh’s company creates an entertainment experience like no other. The goal is to create “The Enchanted Cottage” a fairy tale venue where children and their families can enjoy a magical experience with their favourite characters, without the high costs of a theme park. Currently, actors involved with the company spend much of their time in character and on the road driving to birthday parties, meet-and-greets and charitable events. After two successful years in business, they are ready to find a physical venue where children visit The Snow Queen and her sister or even a mermaid! Pirates, princes and superheroes are also part of the company where they strive to have “Children’s Dreams Made Real.”

Recently, Jenna participated in an “AMA – Ask me Anything” on Reddit to describe what it’s like to work as a princess. It snowballed to other websites including the Facebook page of fitness guru, Richard Simmons. “That was such a cool moment!” Jenna laughed, “Caleigh sent me a screen shot and I just couldn’t believe it. Even more amazing was that he posted an article, based off another article, based off my Reddit and I realized, ‘Wow…This is really spreading. People are actually interested in what we are trying to do here!’ I was afraid when I offered to do the AMA that I would get no questions at all, so to see the support has been so uplifting.”

“This project is very near and dear to our hearts,” both women explained. “…We realized there really isn’t a ‘home’ for this industry. People work out of rented office buildings, or their houses, and we thought, ‘what if we made a place where we can all come together, as a co-op and benefit?’ Everyone can be involved with events… and whatever fantastical things we think of, at a lower cost, to help cross promote and allow these small businesses to get exposure and grow.” Part of their mission also includes working with sick children and their families.

Essentially, the idea for Ever After Entertainment came from Caleigh’s childhood love of fairy tales and her father’s success as an entrepreneur.   “I have a degree in Musical Theatre and a love for all fairy tales …. Add those two together, and you get an adult who started a princess entertainment company! ….My father was always a role model for entrepreneurship. He [made] his own company that eventually was dissolved into Technicolor and Sony with him near the top. …When I was younger I didn’t realize he set the stage for me to succeed. His advice for me [was] ‘Don’t stop believing, never stop growing, and love what you do.’” she explained. As her dream becomes a reality, Caleigh finds it most rewarding that she can share the experience with her dad, and that she is able to represent women in the workforce.

“… As a woman especially, it’s so much harder for us in the world of business to be taken seriously and to succeed. The fact that I have been successful in this cutthroat world with a princess company means the world to me; and to have my father support me is everything. In addition to being a “full-time princess”, Caleigh also makes and sells her own flower crowns.

Jenna joined the company on a whim and describes herself as a “part-time princess” because her character work only takes place on weekends.  “During the week I work as a digital artist, doing graphic design and computer animation. On the weekends I am usually spending my time as The Snow Queen-- and sometimes as a few other princess favourites as well. I graduated with my BFA in animation, with an obvious interest in fairy tales, and a desire to be a Disney animator. I ended up moving to Atlanta to work for Turner Broadcasting, and during a huge Halloween parade I decided to dress up as The Snow Queen. Well, I couldn’t walk ten feet without people stopping me for pictures, and was eventually approached by someone holding children’s events at a nearby ice-rink. They needed a Snow Queen character for the parties. At first I was timid about it all. I’ve never acted in my life.and  kept asking my friends, ‘Is this weird? Do people do this?’ Finally my good friend Kyle urged me to give it a try, and I thank him for that push…I met Caleigh and other wonderful people in this industry and it’s become a part of my life [that] I don’t think I can live without now.”

Jenna even took her role as The Snow Queen to Thailand, which is also how the cottage came about. “I had planned to go to an underprivileged school to deliver school supplies, but when my guide found out what I did on the weekends she was ecstatic.… I put on a blue dress from my backpack, and she wrote ‘The Snow Queen’ in Thai on my name tag. The kids were shy at first, but soon as she told them ‘who I was’ they all came running toward me and basically tackled me with hugs and kisses. It was just wonderful. I wasn’t there long, but by the end of it our guide brought over the principal and translated his thank you to me. He bowed and told me those kids will never have a day like this again, and that I brought them an experience they will never forget. It meant the world to them. It was such an interesting perspective for me because I’m just me you know? [I’m] just playing this character. It’s amazing how you can bring hope in the simplest ways, and after that I was inspired to do more. I came home … and reached out to Caleigh and said ‘So I have this idea for a cottage….’ We’ve been working towards that dream ever since.”

Despite what seem to be very magical jobs and goals, there are many challenges as well. Caleigh notes that “Making magic for children is usually great [but] every so often, it’s not. Sometimes you have crazy parents or clients who try to make your job harder, but you can’t let them! I love to perform and I love entertaining kids, so that’s definitely not the hard part. Usually the scheduling and dealing with fussy clients is a lot worse than the children.”

Jenna finds that her biggest challenge is “commanding a room full of strangers” because “Some kids believe, some don’t. But if you can convince the non-believers that you’re ‘real’, then you’ll be leaving on a high note…and in the good graces of the guests, which means recommendations for more events.”

 “… Many parents ask for us to just come in with this grand entrance of singing and dancing, but we have to explain, even though we are the child’s ‘favourite character’ that will still scare them.... It’s better to ease into it, because the kids can be nervous too! From there we read stories, sing songs, take pictures, and participate in games. ….We may be there for anywhere from an hour to four hours, and we have to always be in character and make sure each family walks away with a smile” Bell continued.

Despite the challenges, most of their days end happily ever after, making it all worth it for Caleigh Allen and Jenna Bell.  For more information you can visit their website and like their Facebook page. You can also follow them on Twitter (Caleigh / Jenna) on Twitter and for updates on The Enchanted Cottage.