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Sonoma County Princesses Spread Joy Amid Pandemic

A magical feel-good story we could all use right now.

As Sonoma County residents continue to shelter at home, two women, dressed whimsically as princesses and characters from fairytales, busy themselves bringing hope, love and magic to local children and others in need.

In pre-pandemic times, Katie Kelley of Petaluma and Jessica Martin of Santa Rosa brought their brand of wonder via real-life visits and party drop-ins. On weekends, the two were prone to dress up and wander the streets of Petaluma in princess character — just so they could see people smile.

“It doesn’t matter how old you are, if you’re out and about in public and you see someone come by dressed as [one of your kid’s favorite princesses] or [one of your favorite princesses from when you were a kid], it’s going to make you happy,” said Kelley, 35. “That, more than anything, is why we do what we do.”

Amid the current public health crisis, the two women have modified their magic experiences to allow for six feet of distance and taking princess encounters to a virtual realm.

“It’s all about feeling connected,” said Martin, 27. “Right now that makes all the difference in the world.”

Katie Kelley and Jessica Martin. (Courtesy of Hope, Love and Magic)

Last week, the princesses led virtual story times and art classes on Facebook Live and Zoom. Accoutered in sparkly masks, they also showed up to a child’s birthday parade — standing a throne’s length apart as they waved to friends and family members passing by in their cars.

“It’s a scary and uncertain and upside-down time in our world,” said Kelley. “Now, more than ever, we have to be hopeful that no matter how bad things might seem, it will get better and there is still wonder in the world and we will get through this.”

Kelley and Martin’s costumes and personas vary depending on the engagement. Most of the time, the magic duo dress up like beloved leading ladies in popular fairytales and movie adaptations. When requested, the two show their versatility by replacing tutus for capes and assuming alter ego roles as superheroes. Martin, an accomplished costume designer and seamstress, has made just about all the costumes and accessories herself.

During appearances, both women embrace their characters wholeheartedly. Even computers and cell phones are prone to morph into “magic mirrors” to enable virtual connections. For children in need of an extra pick-me-up, parents can even arrange a customized video chat with princesses Kelley and Martin.

“It’s pretty amazing to watch kids get so into it,” said Kelley, a single mom to an 8-year-old daughter named Emmalina. “To us, it’s just a Zoom chat. But to them, it’s the most magical and incredible thing ever.”

Loni Ward, a Petaluma mother whose 3-year-old daughter has had multiple sessions with the princesses, said her daughter is convinced Kelley is a real-life princess.

“Each chat brings a little normal back to her life and lifts her mood when she is bored with the monotonous days,” Ward wrote in a recent email. “It’s different from watching a show or movie or playing a game [because] the characters are able to make real connections.”

When not occupied with royal duties, princesses Kelley and Martin busy themselves with “day jobs” at Alchemia, a Santa Rosa arts organization for adults and children with developmental disabilities. Kelley specializes in performing arts, while Martin does visual arts. Kelley is also the director at Young Actors Studio in Santa Rosa and currently is teaching a playwriting class for teenagers. Martin helps manage the Create It! do-it-yourself pottery studio in downtown Sebastopol, and takes sewing commissions.

Katie Kelley. (Courtesy of Hope, Love and Magic)

The creative pair, “princessing” since 2012, have done a wide variety of engagements, from house parties to hospital meet-and-greets, since joining forces in 2017 to launch Hope, Love and Magic. They were awarded a City of Santa Rosa Merit Award in 2018 for their efforts to raise spirits by making the rounds at local shelters dressed as princesses in the aftermath of the Tubbs Fire.

Looking forward, Kelley and Martin said they will continue their virtual and social-distanced princess experiences so long as public safety requires.

Meanwhile, the duo offers a Zoom singalong with characters from a popular movie about sisters from a chilly faraway land on May 29 at 7 p.m.

Martin also offers a weekly session in conjunction with Create It. From 11 a.m. to noon every Wednesday, she assumes the persona of a different character, reads a story, and leads participating children in an art lesson on Facebook Live.

“I know there’s no such thing as magic wands and ‘Bippity Boppity Boo,’ but I believe there is magic inside of each of us,” she said. “Even when things seem dark—like now—there’s always hope.”

To book a princess from Hope, Love and Magic, email hopeloveandmagic@gmail.com. As of press time, private virtual character visits including story time and singalong cost $35 for 15 minutes and $60 for 30 minutes. Party appearances start at $50 per character per hour.

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