Kitchener-Waterloo

Children's entertainers find new ways to reach audiences in Waterloo region

Children's entertainers who rely on birthday parties and community events for income are facing a new reality because of COVID-19. Many are adapting to find new ways to reach their young audiences.

Important for children to have 'joy and magic' during challenging times, entertainer says

Actors Ciara Moules, as Anna from the movie Frozen, and Jayme Armstrong, as Elsa, connected with children over the weekend in one-on-one calls through Skype and FaceTime. Children's entertainers in Waterloo region are adapting to not being able to interact with people face-to-face while events are cancelled during COVID-19. (Provided by Jayme Armstrong)

Birthday parties, community events and festivals — all are cancelled right now as people are told to stay home to flatten the curve for COVID-19.

Those cancellations are hitting children's entertainers hard, many of whom rely on those events as a source of income.

But many are adapting as best they can. On Saturday, Jayme Armstrong and Ciara Moules, dressed as the sisters from the movie Frozen, connected with young fans of the movie through Skype or FaceTime.

Armstrong owns Enchanted Entertainment, which connects actors who dress like Disney princesses or superheroes with parents and groups who want those characters at their parties and events.

"This is definitely a new and different process for us," she said of taking interactions online. "We're used to super interactive experiences with our young, little guests."

Saturday was their first set of calls and Armstrong said they had a good response from people who wanted Anna and Elsa to call their children.

Armstrong says it's important for people to keep interacting and engaging with people, and for children, sometimes they're feeling that connection with characters they're seeing on their TV screens.

"I think during this really challenging time, it's important for children to have interaction in their lives and excitement and joy and magic," she said. 

Listen to the interview with Jayme Armstrong:

Cancellations to the end of June

If there's a major children's event in Waterloo region, it's almost guaranteed musician Erick Traplin will be there. 

Traplin says he's put some money away for a rainy day, but he expects to rely on the $2,000 a month promised by the federal government.

"I'm cancelled up to the end of June right now," he said. "I really appreciate that the government has kicked in that $2,000 a month for small business … I'm going to be counting on that for sure because I really can't make any money here."

The popular performer has adapted in a few ways to his new reality, too. On Saturday, he performed at the Court at Laurelwood Retirement Residence in Waterloo, setting up on the sidewalk while residents stood on their balconies to listen to him.

He also has some Facebook Lives coming up, including one with the Kitchener Public Library on Wednesday morning.

He said with rules regularly changing on gatherings and physical distancing, it's also hard to plan, but he's trying to keep people updated via his Facebook page for any events.

Watch a short video of Traplin's performance on Saturday:

A 'what just happened' feeling

The initial reaction to various cancellations and closures for balloon artist Drew Ripley was shock.

"The event industry all of a sudden stopped," he said.

Once he got over the "what just happened" feeling, he started using the time to perfect a new show he's working on. He's cleaned out his basement to use as a workspace and is in contact with his director every few days to go over videos of his practice performances.

Ripley says he has plans to go online in the future, but not just yet. He's optimistic about the future. He says he doesn't have a timeline in mind for when he hopes things will return to normal, but he's positive "it'll come back."

Ripley has been through hardship before. More than a decade ago, he and his wife were working corporate jobs when they were both laid off within six months of each other. During that time, his mother died unexpectedly, the neighbour hit their car and they couldn't afford to pay the deductible, and he launched a new career in the entertainment business.

He said they got through that, so he keeps a positive attitude that they'll get through this.

"Humans have this incredible knack to get through things," he said.

Balloon artist Drew Ripley, who is seen here talking with CBC K-W's The Morning Edition host Craig Norris in this file photo, says he's using this slowdown in events to work on a new show, but he admits to missing seeing children and his shows. (Kate Bueckert/CBC News)

'I miss the kids'

Ripley says he's an extrovert, so it's been hard not to interact with people.

"I miss the kids horribly," he said.

Traplin also misses seeing the faces of people as he performs.

"It's like I'm living in the Twilight Zone, is what it's like. But, things will settle," he said. "You just take it day-by-day. I still have my music. The funny thing is when I do a Facebook Live event, I can feel people out there, so it's almost like playing for somebody. There's a certain amount of excitement there."

Armstrong says she's concerned about how long the closures will last. She's also an actor and director at Drayton Entertainment, which has cancelled shows in light of COVID-19. The people who work for her at Enchanted Entertainment have also expressed their concerns and worries to her.

"We've been heavily impacted as artists," she said. 

"There are concerns all over this industry right now about how to move forward, how to make money, but also the mental health of people," she added. "I'm from an industry of people who absolutely love to share what they do, so being able to continue to do that is good, not only for our clients, but also for our performers."

Actors Ciara Moules and Jayme Armstrong wave to children via a Skype call on Saturday. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

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