Bring the Magic

Krystin Wingfield, the Lantern Princess, dances with a young guest. Besides having a theater or music background, each princess must have a “bubbly personality” in order to bring the fairy tale to life.

In today’s complicated, chaotic world, Krystal Ayling wants to give kids a chance to focus on the princess, rather than the evil queen.

“When I was a child, I was a tomboy – I didn’t care for fairy tales and was into sports,” Ayling said. “As I became an adult, I learned how scary the world is, and seeing the pure innocence of my daughter now and how she loves fairy tales, that inspired me.”

Krystin Wingfield is the Lantern Princess.

Dani Coan portrays the Frog Princess.

Ayling founded Apex-based Party Like a Princess in September 2019. While the pandemic changed her business model – princesses had to float in on Zoom, rather than via pumpkin carriage or magic carpet – Ayling says it also opened new castle doors and gave her exposure she might not have had otherwise thanks to her ability to offer virtual events.

Party Like a Princess offers virtual and in-person birthday parties and events with a live princess, where Ayling notes, all COVID protections are in place. All of the Party Like a Princess packages include a musical entrance, live performance, photo and story time with the princess, and add-ons are available ranging from games and crafts to etiquette lessons. Events are always customizable, she says.

Krystal Ayling, the owner of Party Like a Princess, makes sure everything goes smoothly at the company’s Spring Fling, held at Paramount Event Venue in Morrisville.

Performing the “royal wave” while on parade is an essential skill for princesses of all ages.

The idea came to Ayling after she attended other local events with her daughter, where she found herself waiting in line for hours for something as simple as face painting from someone in costume. She thought about how she’d do it better and decided to turn those ideas into a business.

Ayling prides herself on the magic of the experience. This isn’t just a girl in a costume; this is a performer who brings a true fairy tale experience to children.

“I scout people who have a passion for theater and music,” she said. “It’s not just anybody putting on a dress. It’s people who want to be a princess and have that bubbly personality.”

Grace Gibbons, a former Disney performer, portrays the Snow Spirit.

Denise Sherow is the Magic Carpet Princess.

While copyright protections mean Ayling must use original princesses, rather than re-creating big-name princesses at her events, there will be something familiar to children about the princesses who, to name a few, include the mermaid princess, the snow sisters, and the latest addition, the Jedi princess.

Though she promotes wonder and mirth, Ayling herself is clearly the business mind behind the organization – something she will happily admit herself.

“I am not a performer,” she said with a laugh. “I came into this as a former business owner and as a parent.”

Stephanie Amortmont snaps a selfie with her daughter, Ansley, 6.

Three-year-old Addison Howell waves to the princesses while sitting with mom, Kayla, of Zebulon.

Ayling, who owned a field hockey league in New York prior to moving to North Carolina, works behind the scenes to make sure everything is perfect from when a princess appears at a party or event to the time she leaves.

“For me, quality is everything,” Ayling said. “I never want someone to walk away and wonder why it cost what it did.”

When the children gather and the lights come up, it’s up to the princess to ensure that the children believe.

Lily Salyer portrays the Sleepy Princess.

DeAnna Giovacchini is the Jedi Princess.

That’s where Grace Gibbons comes in. Gibbons has experience as an actual Disney performer on cruise ships and in New York City.

The pandemic impacted her as well, and she is currently living in Raleigh while on furlough. Disney’s loss was Ayling’s gain, however, as Gibbons now brings her charm and performance skills to children here in the Triangle.

It was Gibbons’ mom who saw one of Ayling’s advertisements in a local performers group. She knew how much Gibbons missed performing during the pandemic and encouraged her to apply.

The Sleepy Princess reads a story to her young audience and their parents.

Apex sisters Brynn, 3, and Every Barthelson, 5, dance with one of the Snow Sisters.

Gibbons currently works not only as a princess, but also as part of Ayling’s support team. She’s sewn masks to match the princess’s costumes, since masks are necessary for princesses in pandemic times. She cares for the wigs, which she says takes a certain know-how, since wigs do endure wear and tear and won’t grow back like real hair. She’s also done some costume tailoring, all of which she says adds to her own professional skill-set.

But listening to the lilt in Gibbons’ voice as she talks, it’s clearly the voice of a performer. That’s where she brings her all when she embodies any of the various princesses that Party Like a Princess offers.

“Kids know the difference between being genuine and being fake,” Gibbons said. “They can tell if the performer is genuine and believes that they are embodying that character.

“I always try to be as genuine as possible, and when I do that, I also leave the event or birthday just so happy.”

Grace Gibbons, the Snow Spirit, talks to guests at the Party Like a Princess Spring Fling.

Gibbons prepares in earnest for her roles. She says she grew up on princess movies, and so many are available today on television and through streaming services. Before she becomes a character for a Party Like a Princess event, Gibbons says she watches those movies. She listens to the princesses and watches how they move and interact, so she can bring similar inflections and actions to her character.

She credits Ayling with ensuring everything runs smoothly so that she can simply be that princess to the children in front of her.

“In theater, there’s performers and stage managers,” Gibbons said. “Krystal’s really the stage manager of the show that we’re putting on.”

“I feel like everything is going to flow smoothly when she is there. As a performer, it’s really comforting to know that my boss and my stage manager has my back.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *