Star-faced clown touches girls' hearts

Tara Cash takes 30 seconds to connect personally with each child at birthday party performances

Every princess needs character and heart. Beauty alone doesn't fly. "If you are just a pretty face and you don't have anything behind it, it's not interesting," says Tara Cash, founder of TLC Parties in Sonoma County. The company's performers entertain at girls' birthday celebrations.

Tara Cash

At age 16, Cash wanted to be a model. She headed for Los Angeles after dropping out of high school in New Jersey then earning a GED. She was drawn to the elegant acting of classic film stars such as Rita Hayworth. Among a sea of striking women in L.A., she found work as a sportswear model, landed a commercial for Suave hair care and played a role in an Everclear music video. Sometimes she would audition in a roomful of 60 women who looked almost exactly like her. "I didn't like it," she says. "In L.A., the kind of attention I was getting made me not want to get attention any more. To be in L.A. you have to have a strong sense of self. I got out of the business."

She moved to Sonoma County to be with her husband, an abstract artist. In 2004 at age 30, she happened upon a blue wig and dress of the same color, invented a non-scary clown character using painted stars on her cheeks, named the character "Star the Clown" and launched TLC Parties. "I like to dress up," she says, laughing.

The business took off and continued to flourish during the recession. "The economy is kind of funny. It's a little wonky, but it's still busier than last year," she says. Now she has six "princesses" who perform on contract at hundreds of weekend girls' parties throughout the year. She still performs at about 30 herself.

"You can have a beautiful princess. If she is not fun or engaging for the kids, what's the point?"

Cash trains princesses herself. Mostly she seeks young women who can connect with children. Mere attractiveness is not enough. "You can have a beautiful princess. If she is not fun or engaging for the kids," she says, "what's the point? The look is less important than the connection."

Before starting her own business, Cash worked, in addition to modeling, as a bank teller and skate park monitor. "Wear your helmet!" she says.

Girls and women begin to compete with each other in unhealthy ways at a very young age. "There's competition about looks, boyfriends, status," Cash observes. "There's something really sad about the way women interact with each other. At age four, girls compare dresses."

"I had a lot of that when I was going into modeling at 16," Cash continues. "It really hurt my heart and my feelings deeply. If I can encourage women to have camaraderie—that's very powerful. It starts with girls."

She aims to demonstrate for girls how to connect in genuine, heartfelt ways. "When I am in a party, I try to be a role model. To be nice. No matter who is wearing what beautiful dress, every princess is beautiful. We are here to have a good time and be friends," she says. She can't force such values upon her young partygoers. "It's a hope."

If Cash builds her business upon such a foundation of aware consciousness, then the business tends to attract clients who are similar, she finds.

Entertaining at parties requires a flexible imagination. Sometimes Cash draws girls into an imaginary world she spins. Other times Cash goes into the girls' fantasy domain. "It depends who has imagination at the moment," she says. "Sometimes they throw something in my court. Oh, of course I play with unicorns!"

"You have to gather their attention," she goes on. "It seems like a simple job. But there's a lot to it. You have to be present in the moment. How are the parents doing? How are the kids?" She manages a party as if it were a stage. Her job is to let parents relax and enjoy their own party. "People are tired," Cash says.

Tara Cash Star clown

Part of the role her performers play is to provide focused attention. "I didn't get the attention I needed as a kid," Cash says. "I see how important that is. I carve out 30 seconds to make that time for each kid. I take a moment to really connect with that little being inside, the essence of her being, the core of the person."

Sometimes it's not the birthday girl who desperately needs attention, but the sibling, who may feel left out or abandoned. "Some kids are behaviorally difficult, but if I can cut through that, we are there together. They just unfold. I am present with her in every way. They can say anything they want."

In that 30-second poignant spotlight, some girls express painful feelings. For instance, during a recent party Cash asked a child named Sarah how she was. "Oh, I'm not good, but I'm supposed to say I'm good," Sarah divulged. "Mommy moved out." Her parents were heading for divorce.

"We just had a minute," Cash recalls. "She needed somebody to hear her. Then she was off playing again. It's like holding presence for her, holding space for her."

At the end of a party Cash may notice one little girl with whom she did not connect. "I see one little being I did not get to. It's 1:00. We have a 45-minute drive. We have to go. That's heartbreaking. I usually do something."

About five years ago, "Someone did it for me," Cash says about creating a space for authentic connection. "It was so profound." She grins. "We could change the world if we could bottle this!"

"I don't do well with conflict. I get scared . . . she was very, very, very, very angry."

Occasionally the business throws her curves. One time a princess had her car break down and she failed to make it to a party. The birthday girl's enraged mother called Cash. "I don't do well with conflict," Cash says. "I get scared. She was very, very, very, very angry. Aggressively angry. I had to figure out how to deal with that in the moment, make it right for her. I had to work through my own things in order to stand up and be present. Hold space, let her get it all out." The woman's anger subsided.

"I really do love kids," Cash says. Children are as much her clients as the parents. She and her princesses stay in character the entire time they perform at a party. "If I break character with the parents, the kids are right there," watching, Cash says. She laughs. "I don't do it to nauseum. With women it's easier to go further. They play along."

"I didn't have a very good business mind," Cash admits. "I never thought that I could start a business, let alone have it be successful. I'm still amazed."

—James Dunn
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