Ahwatukee native’s business enchants little girls - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Ahwatukee native’s business enchants little girls

February 27th, 2020 development
Ahwatukee native’s business enchants little girls

By Coty Dolores Miranda

Growing up in Ahwatukee, Rachel Forney, like many girls her age, was enthralled with all things Disney – especially Disney Princesses.

This love sparked Once Upon A Tiara, the company she started three years ago while attending Arizona State University as a business major.

Now a Chandler resident, her children’s entertainment company provides familiar-appearing fairy tale characters who charm girls with colorful ball gowns and sparkling tiaras.

They’re more than costumed entities, however. Her talented troupe of singers and dancers also provides services like face painting, tea parties and princess dance lessons.

“We opened in November of 2017, and have been thriving ever since. Once Upon a Tiara is operated and staffed by all women and we offer more than 20 characters,” said Forney, who often takes on the role of Princess Cindy.

“Our performers have extensive experience in singing, theatre, dance and child-care,” she added. “We travel all over the East Valley to make magic at dozens of events every month.”

Though Princess Cindy and her Ice Princess, Island Princess, Sleeping Princess, Princess Snow, Arabian Princess and even Tinker Fairy may look like characters from Disney movies or animated films, the ‘D’ word is never used or advertised as Disney characters.

But it was the love of Disney princesses which spawned the idea of sharing the princess characters with children, especially girls.

“Ask anyone in my family and they’ll tell you I adored Disney princesses,” the onetime Kyrene de la Sierra Elementary student.

“I remember being little and going to Disneyland and loving seeing the princesses,” Forney said. “Most of my toys were princess related, and I remember how important they were to me as a child. It’s a great memory having a strong passion for Disney princesses.”

This child-like wonder inspires grown-ups to hire Once Upon A Tiara for events like last October’s third annual Fairytale Ball sponsored by Chandler Public Library. The event is slated for June this year.

Area businesses like Ahwatukee’s Kid to Kid are among the regular businesses using Once Upon A Tiara for various promotions.

“Once Upon A Tiara has been wonderful to work with. Their princesses always look great and are very energetic and love interacting with the kids, and they do face painting as well,” said Brenda Spezzacatena, who has owned the children’s resale store with her husband Jon and mother Molly Varner for 15 years.

“The Once Upon A Tiara princesses do a great job staying in character and really connecting with the kids one-on-one,” said Spezzacatena. “We’ve used other companies in the past but now use Once Upon A Tiara exclusively. We have used them at our Kid to Kid in Ahwatukee for multiple special events and they never disappoint.”

Forney said selecting the young women of diverse nationalities is one of the keys to her business’ success.

“When we hire performers – and yes, they’re independent contractors – we look for girls who have a genuine desire to work with children,” said Forney.

“Of course, we look for talent and experience in singing, dancing, and acting as well. But there’s so much more to this job than just being talented in performing. Our performers have to be authentically kind and caring and must know how to talk to children and keep them engaged.”

But Forney doesn’t just have the young women throw on a ballgown and tiara before being sent out.

“You could look amazing, talk amazing but if you don’t know how to really connect with these children, it won’t work,” she explained, adding:

“We do extensive training on character knowledge, mannerisms, vocals, but when we hire performers, we look for girls who have a genuine attitude about this job and what it entails.

“We’re representing such well-loved characters that mean a lot to these children, and we want to make sure we do it as accurately as possible. And, of course, we try not to reference Disney at all and it goes into the training.”

Those young women selected to be a Once Upon A Tiara Princess come from a variety of careers or are currently college students, said Forney.

Josie McClain is an elementary school teacher who, even after accepting a new job at a rural school teaching second grade necessitated a move, kept her association with Once Upon A Tiara.

“Even though my Monday through Friday job is spent with kids, there’s just something so different about performing as a character. For one I’m not teaching them math,” laughed McClain.

“You stand for what your characters stand for,” she continued. “Each character our company provides has an important life lesson in her story. I also really love when the kids truly believe we’re the real deal.

“It makes the experience much better for them, as well as their parents,” McClain said. “And, like many millennial women, I grew up on the original Disney princesses so it’s just so cool to say I can be friends with one.”

McClain added her belief the time and care going into character training and costumes sets Once Upon A Tiara apart from similar companies.

“Another fun part about this job is the questions some kids think of. If we show up as their favorite character of all time, you better believe they will have some pretty difficult questions that almost stump us,” McClain said.

“We make sure to have an answer for everything, so we end up with some pretty funny stories and great memories,” added McClain, who has been with the company a year and is best known for her role as Snow Queen.

“And oh, the hugs: the hugs are also the best. Something that really means a lot to me is knowing we can provide this experience for children who might never be able to see the real deal at a theme park, and that’s really powerful.”

Having been active in performing arts in high school and college, McClain said she welcomed being able to perform again, especially being new to the area after moving from Michigan in 2016.

Forney also has a performance background and from that grew the idea for Once Upon A Tiara.

“I’ve been performing my whole life,” she said. “I started dancing at age 4, and then got into gymnastics. Then later, I did competitive cheerleading. I was involved with a similar company and though they focused on face painting, they also had some princesses and I was one of the main performers.

“When they closed five years ago, I found I was kind of missing it. Since I have a business background, I did it myself.”

One obstacle Forney has faced is age discrimination.

As a full-time Arizona State University senior, she said she finds she’s not always accorded the respect or legitimacy as she imagines an older businesswoman might be given.

“I do try to allude to the fact I’m a little older,” she admitted. “We’re doing very well, and I would like to see my age not even be a factor.

For more information on Once Upon A Tiara and to see upcoming events where princesses will appear, see OnceUponATiara.com. Information: 480-760-1195.