Jill Fonteno talks about the character entertainment industry


In 2021 Jill Fonteno, owner of Jack and Jill’s Storybook Co. was forced to leave college and move back home to Nederland due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

She received a message from a high school classmate that Belles & Bows Character Co., which previously was located in Southeast Texas, was looking for employees. It wasn’t long before she fell in love with the work and, in early 2022, she decided she wanted to do something of her own.

The Enterprise sat down with Fonteno to learn more about what it takes to run a character entertainment business:

Q: How did Jack and Jill’s get its start?

A: I’m a college student and in 2021 whenever COVID first broke out, I was forced to move back home from my college, which was 7 1/2 hours away. I started working for party princess company called Belles & Bows Character Company. I fell in love with the business and the kids and just seeing their faces with the characters.

So, around February 2022, I decided that it was time for me to move out on my own. I just prayed one night, and I was like, ‘God, if it’s meant for me to stay with this business, show me. If it’s not, show me where I’m meant to go.’

He gave me this vision of me on a stage with a bunch of princesses and then just this name Jack and Jill Storybook Co., and the next day I called my mom and told her that we were starting my own business, and it’s just been God. He has provided for every single one of our costumes. He has given us so many amazing opportunities. We have been able to make an impact on so many kids’ lives.

Q: What inspired you to start a character entertainment business?

A: The main thing for me whenever I started this company was because, there’s nothing really around here, and parents can’t afford to send their kids to Disney. It is very expensive. 

I was just like, I can do something and give back to this community, I’m going to do it. We have had such an amazing impact on this community — the number of kids that we’ve been able to make an impact on. I was always sick in the hospital growing up when I was younger, and so I decided I wanted to create an opportunity for parents with kids, who have cancer.

Q: What did you want to be growing up?

A: I wanted to be a lot of different things growing up. Whenever I was little, I wanted to be an ice skater because I was addicted to Minnie Mouse and Mickey’s Twice Upon a Christmas. Then I wanted to be a singer, then I wanted to be a baker because I love to cook.

Then I wanted to be a teacher and that was like my big thing. That’s what I was actually going to school for — music education. I wanted to be an elementary music teacher. Now I’m in this business and I’m like, I’m an entrepreneur, and this is where I’m really meant to be, because I can bring all of my talents together.

Q: What is it like owning a character entertainment business?

A: It’s very different from any business that you would think of because…I manage everything. I manage my social media; I manage my website; I manage fixing the wigs, fixing the costumes and in other businesses, you don’t really see that side of things. There’s usually a whole team to help you.

There’s also just the aspect of character entertainment — you want to make sure that you have that family presence with your community and with your team. Because we’ll do parties with Rapunzel and Spiderman together, or Batman and Captain America, and you have to come up with a way that the kids know that you’re not breaking the magic and act like they actually know each other.

So, for each of our characters, I make Q&A document so if kids ask them a question, they know how to answer it in character. They also receive information on the mannerisms of each character and the poses for each character, because we take a lot of pictures and we always want to make sure that we differentiate our poses with the kids, because some kids might not want to put their hands on their hips and pose. Some kids may want to be crazy.

So, for Mirabel — that’s one of my main characters who I play — I do this thing called the tiger pose. Her best friend, her primo (cousin), Antonio talks to animals. So, we do a tiger pose. We just put up our little claws and they scrunch up their faces, and they love it, and the parents love it too because it gives them a funny picture.

Q: What would you say to someone wanting to open a similar business?

A: Be prepared for what’s to come, because no party is the same, no event is the same. Always make sure that you’re able to improvise, for sure.

We did a Batman party on Sunday. Most birthday parties, we do a super-hero initiation ceremony, then we do our superhero training camp, a craft and we take pictures and play with the kids. Well, this little boy was in love with Batman, but there wasn’t a lot of space for us to do like a superhero training camp. So, we improvised and we taught them little exercises, like how to do Hulk punches, and we jumped on the ground and shook their trailer, and we taught them how to do Iron Man blasters. We taught them how to throw Batarangs and different things like that.

They also didn’t want to do the craft. Instead they wanted to go play in the kid’s bedroom. So, that’s what Batman did. He played with them for a good 30 minutes in their bedroom. They got out every single piece of Batman merchandise that they had, and our performer was like, ‘How did you get that picture of me? How did you get that picture?’ Or they were like, ‘Can you show us how you build your Batarang? Can you show us the weapons in your utility belt?’ W

We also do on parties where parents don’t want to do anything that’s included in the package. They just want us to be there and play with the kids. So, we’ve done that, too. Or there are parties where they’ve had extra activities that they would like us to include. So, we’ve done that as well. You never know what to anticipate, but you always know that when we leave, those kids are going to have a smile on their faces.

Another thing is to be ready to give back to the community and be ready to give your time for your characters, because that’s the best way to get your name out there. We did a party, and all these parents saw us. We pass out business cards and they contact us the next day for their child’s birthday party.

That is like the biggest thing — word-of-mouth is our biggest form of advertisement, and we love it so much. I love hearing the stories of parents experiences working with us and their kids never forgetting about us and telling their parents, telling their teachers about working with us. It’s fun.

Q: Tell me about some of the reactions you get from kids/people when they see the characters come in?

A: Some parents tell their kids that someone is coming and then other parents don’t tell their kids at all. The Batman party that we did, they didn’t tell their little boy. Batman just walks through the door and the kid is decked out in a Batman shirt, and he sees him and he just drops his toys. He looks at him and he’s like, ‘Batman!’ and almost jumped over the couch to go and give him a big hug.

And it’s just so fun because these kids, they don’t know. They think this is the actual character. That’s the fun part.

Everyone goes nuts for Spider-Man, even the adults go nuts for Spider-Man. We had an event yesterday for Spider-Man and Super Girl, and there were so many old ladies who wanted to take a picture with Spider-Man. 

Q: How do you decide which characters to add and do you retire any?

A: We haven’t retired any characters yet. There are some characters that we offer just for the holiday seasons, that’s a big thing.

One of the ways that we figure out which characters to get is when we receive at least three requests for a character. Then we’ll look into how much the costume is going to cost and see if we can find a performer, who can play that character, before we even consider buying that costume. We want to make sure that if we have a character of a different background, they are represented. And there’s some characters who speak different languages in different movies. There’s some characters who do sign language or love art and things like that, and we want to make sure that our performers have a passion for that and they can show that off whenever they go to these events.

So, our Rapunzel  works as a face painter as well. She loves art, and that’s a very fun thing. Rapunzel’s also big into constellations. In her tower, she has books about astrology. So, we have that included in our character sheet for our employees so that they know what to mention with the kids. Some things you didn’t even know that the kids would know, they know. So, we want to make sure that they’re prepared for what’s to come.

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