Desperate Times Calls for Weird Measures
Words: Kenny Redublo
Photos: Melissa Burman
Taylor Reynolds is a princess. A part-time princess.
She drives over to “the Castle,” a Lake Merritt country club in Oakland, California that acts as the Magic Princess headquarters. She takes the elevator down to the basement by the swimming pool, and gets her costume for today’s party. The smell of chlorine and the pile of cheap costumes in front of her is a stark contrast to the regal scene a few floors above. Reynolds puts on her costume. The royal blue blouse with puffy red sleeves and a golden flowing skirt is completed with a red bow in her hair. She’s Snow White for the day. Snow White who smells of chlorine.
She gets into her ‘83 Datsun to get to the party in Tracy. She hopes her car can make the drive. It has overheated in the past. This isn’t the typical carriage for a princess.
This isn’t a typical job.
Reynolds dresses up as a princess, be it Snow White or any other copyrighted Disney princess, and goes to children’s birthday parties around the East Bay when she’s not going to class at San Francisco State University. This is the modern day party entertainer, with less nightmares and childhood trauma.
The pressures of paying tuition and living expenses give students no choice but to find a job. According to the 13.9 percent national unemployment rate among 20 to 24-year-olds, some students haven’t been as lucky. Jobs for students are sometimes necessary and they’re often few and far between.
Part time jobs like retail shops and food service are typical for students, but when those positions aren’t hiring, desperate measures need to be taken. Desperate and somewhat odd. At the party, Reynolds paints animals and animal features on the children’s faces. The parents order to only paint rabbits on the boy’s faces. Why? She doesn’t know. It’s just a weird order.
She answers the children’s questions with the proper poise of a princess. The ultra-feminine voice. The calculated movements. She has to talk to the kids like they’re babies.
“I would rather talk to kids as equals. Kids shouldn’t be talked to like babies.”
After the party, Reynolds takes off her costume and puts on her real personality.
“I’m not very girly,” said Reynolds.
She would rather curse incessantly than turn every swear word into a delicate substitution like “oh goodness!” or “darn it!”
Reynolds is a 19-year-old cinema major at SF State with a minor in journalism. She’s originally from Union City and now lives in the Noe Valley district of San Francisco.
She stands at the bus stop going home from SF State. Her nose is pierced in the septum and her dark hair is tossed by the wind of passing traffic, leaving her hair in disarray, but she doesn’t care. Her floral skirt is as a relaxed as her tone of voice. She talks to her friends about a rave she was at and how much the parents at the birthday parties would disapprove. Her eyes are blinking slow and she smiles with her eyes closed.
She was also once a debt collector.
“That was my first job in college,” said Reynolds. “I was a receptionist for a hardware company for a week and I got tricked into debt collecting.”
Reynolds sounds innocent enough on the phone and the hardware company used her to shake down customers and their mounting debts. She spent a year at the hardware company before moving to Magic Princess.
Though her jobs were complete opposites, each had its weird moments. She was hired at Magic Princess after a phone interview, even though the job is based on appearances, for example.
“Kris would ask me questions while speaking in a baby voice to see how I would answer the kids as a princess.”
Kris Cole is the owner of Magic Princess Parties Inc. She is a psychology graduate of University of California, Santa Cruz. She is also, supposedly, a trained ice dancer and country musician.
“It was late at night. I ended up on their website somehow,” said Reynolds. “[The job] sounded fun, so I applied.”
The Magic Princess website is a pink explosion of sparkles and stock cartoon images of princesses overlaid with confusing text of varying sizes. Cole’s picture greets visitors as she smiles, dressed as a fairy princess with a phone pressed to ear. The text below her photo screams “Call Us!” The same image is on the page twice.
The Magic Princess YouTube channel has six videos of Cole demonstrating the various services of the company. All are self-produced and have a public access television feel. Cole’s devotion to the princess persona is apparent in each video.
Reynolds was sent all over the East Bay, from East Oakland to Los Altos Hills. “There were totally different kids in those areas.” In Los Altos Hills, she asked the children to guess a picture she had and one of the kids guessed “a candelabra!”
“Those were the rich kids,” said Reynolds.
In East Oakland, the parents would be taking shots of tequila while the little girls would talk to Reynolds about “beating the shit out of” another girl.The 6-year-old girl was telling this to a princess.
Reynolds had to hold in her reactions to every odd experience to maintain the princess persona. After a while at the job, keeping everything in was taxing.
“I was past the point of mental exhaustion,” said Reynolds.
Reynolds now works at David’s Tea, a tea shop in Noe Valley. Reynolds had some good experiences at Magic Princess, but it was not worth the low pay.
“It was $30 an hour for about two to three hours each weekend, but driving to the party, dressing up, and dealing with kids added up.”
Working at Magic Princess had a lot of collateral damage. She says half of the time people thought she was a stripper.
For potential princesses, Reynolds advises staying positive, or at least faking it well.
“I hope they are good at pretending they are happy. All the time,” says Reynolds. “No matter what.”
Another desperate measure to find a way to make money is creating a new kind of job, especially if it spawns from a hobby.
Aria Blarg brings her quirky sensibility to her job as an artist and video gamer.
Aria Blarg loves video games. She surrounds herself with them. Her apartment is a shrine to her hobby. There are shelves, tables, entertainment centers, and boxes around her place filled with different controllers, consoles, and portals to various worlds. She has generations of consoles that have lived longer than she has.
When she plays these games, she’s on a journey to a different world. Usually, these games are solo experiences. But Aria is rarely alone in her gaming. A thousand others or more watch her when she plays.
Aria is a caster. She plays video games and people watch her play video games via Internet. They watch her every reaction, talk her through difficult parts, but most importantly, they build relationships.
Aria is an artist and it’s her main source of income. She sells her paintings to her audience or anyone else who has caught on to her Internet notoriety.
For about two years now, Aria runs ariablarg.tv, where she and her staff hold contests, throw raffles, write blogs, and interact with the community they have built. Video games are a hobby, but for Aria, it’s also her business.
“I never expected this to go this far,” said Aria. “I just thought ‘I play games. I’ve enjoyed watching someone play a game. Maybe other people would enjoy watching me playing a game.’ People work for me, which is weird to say.”
Aria is also a 21-year-old pre-nursing major at SF State and also taking courses at College of Marin. Due to budget cuts, she couldn’t get some classes at SF State, so she commutes to Marin. With only three courses left to complete in the pre-nursing program, Aria doesn’t have to suffer the commute for too long.
A fan bought her the site as a birthday present—she didn’t know what to do with it. The address linked to her show on twitch.tv, but her moderator thought the site could be more than just a link. He saw her potential and provide the means to reach new horizons. Aria’s show is now running with high definition video and audio.
With the technological leap from her humble beginnings streaming with low quality webcams and microphones to the high definition era, Aria’s viewership still comes for the personality that is Aria. Aria is still the quirky personality that built her community in the first place, just clearer and easier to hear.
Her hair has been every color of the rainbow. Today, Aria’s hair is a deep, vivid blue like the ocean. A month ago, her hair was bright pink and blonde. Her next hair color is unknown. Aria is a flirt. She can easily start a conversation with any girl in the room. She’s never been to this bar or event; it’s a new game. She loves the game aspect of picking up people just as much as she loves video games. It’s all in good fun, according to Aria.
She loves anything horror related, though she scares easily. That was one motivation to start casting in the first place. Aria figured since she loved watching people get scared and scream while playing horror video games, maybe someone would like watching her scream and hide from her computer screen.
Aria likes to keep her show queer friendly. With the video game culture presented as a predominantly male world, being a female playing video games is an easy target for internet negativity. Aria’s stance on equality and LGBT rights is reflected in her opposition to make the show about her gender. Other casters try to capitalize on the fact that they’re a female in a male dominated industry, but Aria sees that as a step backward for feminism and gender rights.
Trolling comes with the territory when you’re an Internet star. In some cases, she embraces the backlash, arguing that these comments are the most natural, yet hilarious. The first one was probably the one she’ll never forget.
“‘This girl needs a dick and goo,’” said the troller.
“I just found it hilarious,” said Aria, laughing. “No matter what you do on the Internet, there’s gonna be a positive response and a negative response. It only matters on what you’re doing.” Art is really what keeps her motivated. It took one positive response for Aria to keep painting during art school. A self portrait she had done for class was the best of her early paintings. Aria just wanted to draw and dreaded to paint. It was April of her freshman year and she was discouraged through the semester after producing lackluster paintings. She was going to drop out until she painted a self portrait.
“‘That looks exactly like you,’” said a fellow art student.
That compliment, amongst others, kept her painting throughout high school, even gaining her an award from Bank of America by her senior year.
Aria didn’t paint much after graduation. Going into college, she knew she wasn’t going to study art. She moved to San Francisco from Novato during her freshman year at SF State. At 19, she suffered a severe accident that poisoned a part of her brain. She was left mentally paralyzed and had to re-learn how to eat and other daily functions. During this year of recovery, the extensive help from the hospitals and staff motivated her to study nursing.
“I wanted to return the favor. I want to help people like they helped me.”
She balances her studies with her streaming schedule so neither is falling behind. The website has been increasing in popularity, gaining her a guest spot on twitch.tv’s community spotlight booth at Penny Arcade Expo 2012 this past August in Seattle.
This is Aria’s job. She is a caster. Other casters have a day job and the ad revenue of streaming supplement their real income, but some casters are young and find this as a replacement for that part-time job during high school.
“When we were their age, we would get a retail job,” said Jared Rea, twitch.tv community manager. “Instead of getting that retail job, Twitch is that job.”
Other programs on Twitch involve the popular competitive games like Starcraft 2 and Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 and with those programs, the casters are showcasing their high levels of skill.
The most common misconception of being a great caster is being a pro-gamer.
“What it really comes down to is being able to entertain,” said Rea. “If you’re not being watched for your skill, you’re being watched because you’re entertaining.”
Aria isn’t good at video games. She said it herself. She isn’t going to win the next Street Fighter tournament, but she entertains.