Whatever it takes to generate glee for children.
Sharpe, a Lakeland resident, portrays more than 50 characters, from Snow White to Wonder Woman, as founder and operator of Dreams Come True Entertainment. The company, which Sharpe started in 2012, provides characters from fairy tales and superhero stories to attend birthday parties and other events.
She estimates that she has attended perhaps 2,000 kids' gatherings since first appearing as Belle from "Beauty and the Beast" at a girl's birthday party seven years ago.
"You're making a difference for somebody every time you put on that outfit," Sharpe said. "This might be the only time they meet Cinderella. You're going to be in that family's memories forever."
Sharpe, a graduate of Lakeland High School and Florida Southern College, has operated the business out of her home and vehicle since its founding. She hopes finally to secure a permanent venue in Lakeland - "my own big princess castle" - this summer, a step that would allow her to stage such group events as tea parties and storytelling sessions and put the business on sounder financial ground.
"Since I started, I've never paid myself once," Sharpe said. "I've been subsisting on pixie dust."
Instead, she said, she has directed all profits toward costumes and other company expenses.
An established location would also enable Sharpe to raise more money for charity events, a key element of her business. Dreams Come True Entertainment will hold one of its two annual fundraisers, the Royal True Love Fairytale Ball, on Sunday. May 17, at The Event Factory in Town 'n' Country, near Tampa.
Sharpe, 32, said she has been intrigued by fables and drawn toward performing since early childhood. As a girl, she would organize productions based on movies or plays, casting her sister and cousins in various roles during annual family beach vacations at Anna Maria Island.
Sharpe's family had annual passes to Walt Disney World and visited regularly during her childhood. She said she later worked at the theme park, driving a boat on the Jungle Cruise and serving as a character attendant.
The idea for the business arose in 2011 when Sharpe noticed costumes for fairy tale characters being sold on Etsy, a commerce website for artists and craftspeople. She got in touch with a woman in California and wound up buying some 20 wigs from her.
"Since I've been so familiar with fairy tales, I thought it would be the perfect job," Sharpe said. "I was only going to start with a few characters, but I ended up thinking, 'Goodness, what if somebody else wants something I didn't have?' So I got all the characters I could think of that someone might want."
Sharpe, a slender woman with a youthful bearing, said she was jittery before portraying Belle at that first birthday party. Since then, she has expanded her repertoire and grown comfortable in all of her roles. She estimates she now owns 60 wigs and about 150 costumes.
Jessica Wilt, Sharpe's best friend, helps with the business, serving as a character attendant and photographer.
"I was amazed whenever I first saw her in character," Wilt said. "She is so good at staying in character, like if someone will come ask her a question and try to trip her up, she always has an answer. Even older kids, if they start out not believing in her, they will believe she's the real one by the end of the party."
Though many of the characters resemble those popularized in animated Disney movies, Sharpe said most of them, from "Cinderella" to "Frozen," derive from stories in the public domain. To elude the wrath of Disney's lawyers, Sharpe bills her company's characters as, for example, The Little Mermaid rather than Ariel and the Snow Queen rather than Elsa from "Frozen."
The 2013 release of "Frozen," a computer-animated musical, spawned a glut of new character-appearance businesses trying to capitalize on the movie's popularity, Sharpe said. Her business declined for a few years, one of the periods she has taught as an income source. She now teaches part-time at a private school in Tampa.
Sharpe said she has worked virtually every weekend since creating her business, appearing at up to nine events in a day. Her rates range from $150 for a 30-minute "Pixie Dust Package," including a story or sing- or dance-along and photo opportunities, to $400 for a two-hour, "Happily Ever After" package.
Sharpe has recruited a company of part-time helpers to portray princes and female characters, such as the Arabian Princess, whose ethnicity she can't convey. She has found some part-timers through auditions and discovered others on her own, such as a waiter at a local seafood restaurant who displayed a natural rapport with Sharpe's niece.
For the vast majority of events, though, Sharpe herself inhabits the character. She has learned to apply her makeup in under 20 minutes, and she has become adept at changing costumes in her vehicle.
Sharpe employs wigs for all of the characters, with a notable exception. Her actual hair extends to her lower back because she said the flowing mane enhances her appearance when she plays a mermaid.
She also enlists her own pets for events - Pascal, her pet chameleon, when she plays Rapunzel, and Ichabod, her second pet frog, as a sidekick to the Frog Princess.
Sharpe said she researches the backgrounds of all her personas so that she can maintain "character integrity," only speaking or behaving in keeping with the fairy tale or superhero story. "Once you put on the costume, you are 100 percent the character," she said.
Children - and even adults - sometimes ask Sharpe to display the powers of the character she is portraying, such as the Snow Queen's capacity to manipulate ice and snow. When she first added that character, Sharpe would say she couldn't summon snow outside the queen's own habitat, but now she deploys a snow-making device at parties.
Sharpe said she typically performs at birthday parties for girls in the 2-to-6 age range. She said some parents have hired her to perform at events for a series of their children.
Wilt said she still delights in seeing the reactions of the young children.
"They usually freak out, especially if it's (the Snow Queen) or something big," Wilt said. "Sometimes they get a little overwhelmed and cry and seem upset, but they just need to calm down. It's adorable."
Sharpe has also performed for adults with intellectual disabilities, such as a recent birthday party for a woman turning 38.
Sharpe said she has welcomed any opportunity to help charitable causes since forming her business. She stages two major events each year, a True Love Ball in the spring and a Holiday Ball in December, and she said all proceeds will be used for her company's charity work.
Sharpe also attends fundraising events such as the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation's annual walk in Munn Park and the International Rett Syndrome Foundation's Strollathon at Lake Parker Park. She said she also makes free appearances at birthday parties for children with medical problems or special needs and sometimes visits children at local hospitals.
Though her business is oriented toward children, Sharpe said she occasionally visits a nursing home to bestow cheer upon the residents.
"I believe for Mother's Day last year, I came as Snow White and sang to them," she said. "One of the older gentlemen was holding my hand when I was singing, 'Someday My Prince Will Come'."
Information from: The Ledger (Lakeland, Fla.), http://www.theledger.com
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