SHSU Creates: Brandon Willis – Prince or Superhero?

Most teenagers mow lawns, or babysit to make money. SHSU freshman and theater major Brandon Willis spends his weekends making children’s dreams come true. For the past two years, Willis has been a Character Performer and Actor for Houston’s Fairytale Headquarters, specializing in Disney princes and superheroes.

Willis has mastered his fair share of characters and has hosted parties more times than he can count, but most often plays Spiderman, Prince Eric, and Flynn Rider. Most people dream of becoming Disney characters, or childhood superheroes, but Willis got his start by coincidence.

“I did High School Musical at my community theater and my director was Nick Thomas, who owns the Fairytale Headquarters,” Willis said. “He was having a party that weekend and needed someone to cover for Spiderman. I was free that Saturday and I just did it and have done it since.”

However, knowing the owner did not mean Willis could forgo the audition process.

“Everyone has to audition,” Willis said. “You email the company a headshot and theatrical resume, and then they call you and schedule a fitting at the headquarters to fit you for at least three characters. Then you do a photo shoot and hopefully get hired.”

Looking the part isn’t enough according to Willis and being an on-call takes a lot of training.

“There’s a month observation period where I’d go to parties, and be an assistant to learn how to do the parties,” Willis said. “There isn’t payment for that, but after a month I started doing those parties on my own.”

This unique side job offers seventeen male characters and has kept Willis occupied.

“I used to do them every weekend,” Willis said. “Now, I’m seasonal, so I do them every Christmas break, spring break, and summer. When I was at home, I worked every weekend.”

As an aspiring actor, Willis feels no other side job could allow such flexibility.

“It’s a very convenient job for theater people because you have rehearsal during the week and they’ll schedule you based on your availability,” Willis said.

Although it is a nice side job, Willis believes being a Disney prince, or any character actor, is much harder than it looks.

“People probably think it’s easy, but it’s a lot creativity, prep, and answering kid’s tricky questions,” Willis said. “The kids know the story better than anyone else and they try to trap you in lies, or try to figure things out. A lot of them are six or seven and smart enough to want the truth and they’ll say things like ‘I know you’re not real’, and it can be hard to go along with that.”

Willis believes the hardest part of being a Disney prince isn’t the performing, but prepping for the party.

“Prince Charming takes the most prep because of the hair, makeup, and the costume is difficult to put on,” Willis said. “He can take up to an hour and a half of prep. Spiderman is my favorite because he’s the easiest. I shower, put on the costume and mask, and I’m done.”

What’s next comes naturally to Willis as he has perfected his full routine for multiple characters.

“We’re required to do story time, then play three or four themed games, then we do coloring, talk to the kids, take pictures, and sing happy birthday,” Willis said. “Sometimes I have to sing or dance as Aladdin, or Flynn if parents request it. We’re given a lot of material, but we also come up with a lot. I came up with a lot of Spiderman stories and games. It just comes with experience.”

Of course, after years of performing, there are bound to be some awkward moments.

“I was Kristoff one time at this huge party with Anna, Elsa, and Olaf,” Willis said. “I was wearing a blonde wig and it was windy outside and I wasn’t wearing a wig cap. The wind blew off my hat and wig, and while I was dancing with Olaf, she hit her head and the giant head flew off. I put my hair back on and tried to say that Olaf melted a little. It was a weird thing.”

Luckily, the funny moments outweigh the embarrassing ones.

“One time during story time, a kid walked up to me, took off my Spiderman mask and whispered in my ear ‘I know who you really are’,” Willis said. “Then he started screaming that my real name was Peter Parker. I had to calm him down, but that was funny.”

Recollecting all the experiences Willis has had, he believes the best part is knowing he was able to make a child smile.

“You get to interact with kids a lot and see the magic come to life,” Willis said. “You get to make people happy, which is really fun. Every time I leave from a party my day feels a little bit brighter. The kids always enjoy it so much and that’s always great.”

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