It’s not every day that kids get to meet their on-screen idols, especially royalty like Cinderella and Snow White.
But kids throughout the Capital Region have had just that chance thanks to Bethany Marx and her team of actors at Hill City Ice Queen. For the past few years, especially around the holidays, they’ve donned intricately designed costumes and made appearances at the Schenectady Holiday Parade, Cookies with Santa and other popular events.
Starting last year, with the COVID-19 pandemic, the group has brought its holiday cheer right to the homes of Capital Region residents, from Saratoga Springs to Delmar, with neighborhood caroling events.
A few princesses sing carols in front of a ticket-buyer’s home, bring the children a small gift and take photos with them. Sometimes it’s the Snow Sisters; other times Cinderella or Rapunzel who come to carol. The lineup changes each caroling session.
“It got very popular because people were looking for things to do for the holidays and so much got completely canceled. It gave families with little kids something to do for the holidays. It also gave us something to do at the holidays, because most of our contracts got canceled,” Marx said.
The company had to add dates to the schedule last year because it got so busy. This year they’ve caroled in several neighborhoods. On Friday they’ll be in Latham, Colonie and Loudonville; on Saturday in Schenectady, Rotterdam and Scotia; and on Sunday in Delmar and Bethlehem.
Marx, who is an Oneonta resident and the associate professor of theatrical design at SUNY Oneonta, started the company about six years ago. There are nine regular performers, most of whom live in the Capital Region, where many of the company’s events are held.
Their cast includes a wide range of princesses like the Dragon Warrior Princess, the Never Fairy, Princess Beauty and the Little Mermaid. They also take on other roles from classic stories such as Alice in Wonderland,” “Snow White” and “Rapunzel.”
To prepare for each role, the actors spend a considerable amount of time researching and studying.
“We actually have a guidance form. It’s a list of personality traits and questions,” Marx said.
That includes everything from a character’s favorite foods, to their birthday, to information about their family members.
One actor, Stephanie Ward, even studies her character’s vocal patterns and body language.
“I like to [ask], ‘What are other things my character would do or know about in the context of the world?’ You might think it’s strange, but people ask you specific questions,” Ward said.
She usually plays one of the Snow Sisters along with Marx. Children have asked her what color her rug was in her room growing up and what was it like to be frozen solid. It helps to have answers at the ready, especially when it comes to explaining away modern-day technology that doesn’t typically fit in a princess’ world.
“We have to be able to play music at the party, so we all have a Bluetooth speaker that we travel with. So our Bluetooth speakers are our magic music boxes. We don’t quite know how they work, but our fairy godmother gave them to us and it plays music without an orchestra,” Marx said. “We usually keep our phones hidden in a purse so that the kids don’t see them at all, but if you had a technical issue and you had to get it out they don’t think anything of it. As long as Cinderella has Prince Charming as her background picture and a sparkly case, they’re sold. It’s something you have to think about from their perspective.”
The costumes also go a long way in helping the actors transform into their characters. Marx designs and makes most of the costumes, no small feat considering that each character has a few different costumes, each with matching masks.
There’s the periwinkle blue ball gown worn by Cinderella, complete with gloves and a black necklace; and the ice-blue dresses the Snow Sisters don, each with impressively detailed embroidery work. There’s the golden-yellow, off-the-shoulder ball gown worn by Princess Beauty. The list is long.
Wigs and stylized makeup complete the princess aesthetic and it typically takes actors an hour and a half to get ready for an event. The time it takes to prepare is made worth it by the reactions from kids, according to Ward.
“We just did the Schenectady parade. I love that parade,” Ward said. “You just feel like such a superstar, and you get to experience when a kid first sees you so many times.”
Throughout the year, Marx tries to offer families at every socioeconomic level a chance to meet their favorite princesses. She offers birthday party appearances, which include everything from crafts to singing to stories and games.
Those tend to have a higher cost, so the princesses also do free events such as the Schenectady Holiday Parade, as well as donation-based events.
“We try to make sure that we are accessible to all families,” Marx said. “There is in the Capital Region a wide variety of socioeconomic backgrounds, so birthday party appearances, while not horribly expensive … we recognize that that’s not a possibility for all families. But that doesn’t mean that their 3-year-old loves princesses any less than another child does.”
The caroling events are less pricey, coming in around $80 per household. They’ve also done similar Valentine’s Day and Halloween events.
For information on Hill City Ice Queen visit hillcityicequeen.com, and for more on the caroling events, visit hillcityicequeen.com.