Santa Monica-based children’s party planner makes Zoom celebrations pop with princesses and superheroes

By Shanee Edwards

Having a birthday during the pandemic can be a bummer, especially for children. Sure, drive-by parties with decorated cars and honking horns are an option to help your kiddo feel special, but it’s hard to engage with Grandma from her Buick. Now, there’s a new way to celebrate that special day that’s actually exciting, fun and meaningful: Santa Monica-based children’s party company Send in the Clowns is offering Zoom parties with your favorite movie and comic book princesses and superheroes.

Send in the Clowns founder Leesa Zelken has run her children’s party business for nearly 30 years, offering characters like “Frozen’s” Elsa or “Toy Story’s” Buzz Lightyear to perform in-person at your children’s party and engage the kids in games, songs and cake-eating. But when all social gatherings ceased in March due to the pandemic, Zelken wasn’t sure her business could stay open.

“My business, knock wood, has always been on a trajectory of growth and demand thanks to living in Los Angeles where having someone help you plan your child’s birthday party becomes a necessity for parents,” says Zelken. “But on March 17, we had about 50 events on the calendar, big and small, they all unraveled. Every single one.”

As Zelken gave out refunds and called her performers to let them know their gigs were canceled, she had an aha moment.

“It instantly hit me. Not what we can’t do, but what we can do. We can still put on a costume, we can create a platform and visit people virtually,” she says.

Like her IRL parties, she prioritized making the process for a virtual party as easy and meaningful for the parents as possible. “The original idea was, let’s make a really clever intake form that parents can sit [with] for a minute, during what was feeling like a frantic and terrifying time, and relish their child’s milestone moment,” she says. The form helped her to craft loving sentiments for what she calls a Kideo Video,™️ which is a prerecorded, personalized video from the child’s favorite character.

That morphed into live Zoom parties Zelken calls Zoomabrations™️. These can be virtual parties with friends and grandparents hosted by a character where they play games like freeze dance, Simon Says and hide-and-seek, which are huge hits for younger kids, according to Zelken. They also do magic and puppet shows.

“We can do anywhere from a 15 to 20-minute pop-on visit with just the child and their family, but it can expand to 30, 45 or even a whole hour if we’re doing a classroom visit – we have a lot of those coming up for Halloween.”

Clearly, Send in the Clown’s virtual business is thriving. But for Zelken, it’s about more than turning a profit. She’s not only excited that she’s able to keep her performers employed in a time where acting gigs are few and far between, but also, “We’re bringing families together. Grandparents still can’t come to see their grandkids if they live far away. The Zoomabration™️ becomes a way for everyone to get together but without the awkwardness.” Zelken describes that moment where everyone is on Zoom and they don’t know what to say or how to keep the energy going.

“The minute we introduce our character, they’re the emcee. They’re the one creating the fun and Grandma and Grandpa are freeze dancing or doing superhero training,” she says.

Zelken says the response from clients has been overwhelmingly positive. “I can’t put my finger on it why [throwing virtual parties] feels that way so much. I think it’s just feeling the loss of things and being surprised by their [kid’s] resilience, watching their children feel their same birthday joy and everybody can share that together,” she says.

Aww! Proof that everyone needs a celebration now and then.

Zoomabrations™️ start at $85 and are customizable. Visit sendintheclownsla.com to learn more.

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