Bratty parents are my biggest challenge

Bratty parents are my biggest challenge

SINGAPORE - Her job is about getting into skin-tight, neon-coloured costumes and prancing around on stage with Teletubbies, Barney, and Mickey Mouse.

On weekends, you can catch children's show host Miss Caitanya Tan singing and dancing at shopping centres to the high-pitched squeals of delight of young children.

The 26-year-old says the job is mostly fun, as she is passionate about storytelling and performing through song.

"But people don't realise how hard it is to speak when kids are screaming and parents are shooting strange looks at a grown woman jumping around with a mascot."

Wardrobe malfunctions are par for the course. She recently had to put on a pair of lime-green leggings so tight that they left nothing to the imagination. "Thank goodness there was a bright purple skirt on top of the leggings," she says.

These tight costumes are partly why she hits the gym at least every other day.

Staying in shape makes you more marketable to clients.

And while the average gym-goer furrows his brows while pounding the treadmill, Miss Tan is usually humming or singing the song she has to learn, while running.

For Miss Tan, it is not an unenthusiastic crowd that is her biggest challenge, but bratty parents.

She remembers when a parent wrote a complaint letter to the company that hired her, just because the parent's child was not picked to receive a special prize on stage.

"They were supposed to raise their hands and supply the correct answer to the question I was asking to get the prize.

"There were two of them waving wildly at around the same time, and I could only pick one," she explains.

The animated and straight-talking woman says that getting yelled at is also part of the job, especially when she has to manage the meet-and-greet sessions which take place after the characters perform.

"15 minutes is plenty of time for the 'sauna suits' worn by the mascots to take their toll, so as the host I need to keep things going.

"This sometimes means I need to countdown the photo-taking session pretty quickly, as there are up to 50 families waiting to come on stage.

"A particular parent yelled at me after the photo was taken, saying 'wait lah. Count 1, 2, 3, so fast, people aren't ready yet!'

"In a situation like that, it's a real challenge to explain to those parents, without spoiling the 'magic' for the children, that there are actually real people in the suits. It is seriously hot in there, not to mention claustrophobic," she points out.

After Miss Tan graduated from Lasalle College of the Arts three years ago, she played the role of BeBe, a reporter in a musical called The Golden Mickeys at Disneyland in Hong Kong.

Having to speak in Cantonese was a challenge, says Miss Tan, who is not proficient in the dialect.

"Sometimes, I got told by the native Cantonese speakers that I said some strange things unintentionally. For example, instead of saying the words 'special guests' when greeting them, I ended up saying 'strange guests'.

Just a small difference in tone, and the meaning is entirely different, she laments in mock horror.

One of the biggest misconceptions people have is that she leads the life of a starving artist.

"I have gotten on taxis where after I tell them what I do, the driver asks me, 'This one, can make money ah?'" she says.

As a fresh graduate, Miss Tan was paid about $5,000 a month to work in Disneyland Hong Kong.

There, she met her boyfriend Mr Mickael Bellemene, a juggler. These days, part of her income comes from being his manager.

The freelancer declines to reveal how much she makes, but says that a dancer performing at a corporate event can easily cost organisers a few hundred dollars.

"The biggest perk of the job is probably the amount of free time and flexibility it offers."

But there are sacrifices. If not for her job, she would have an arm full of tattoos.

She would also have half her head shaved instead of the long, straight flowing locks she sports now.

But the sweet moments of the job keep her going.

"Recently, one child came up to me with a piece of confetti, and told me that it was for me. He also gave a bunch to Tinky Winky, one of the Teletubbies.

"For the record, I did pass on the message and the gift, of course!"

Secrets of the trade

1. When you've got to get through a long day with multiple shows, keeping a couple of energy drinks close really helps. Keeping up the magic for the children is key.

2. If there is a problem with a character's suit, tell the audience that the character has an 'achy tummy', and will be out in a few minutes after feeling better. It's about being creative!

3. Always remember that at the end of the day, your job is to entertain, promote and sell. This mindset helps you to keep that smile on when you're feeling lousy on the inside.


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