On the Job: Tammy Baar has a costume for all seasons
December 20, 2013
Editor's note: "On the Job" is a series that profiles locals and the work they do. It runs every other Thursday in The Aspen Times.
Dressed in festive green and red with bells ringing around her neck, Ms. Jingle Bells was decked out in her full holiday outfit last week for the Beach Holiday Reception, held at the Willow Creek Bistro.
Ms. Bells was with her boss, Santa Claus, and the two delighted the children attending the reception. It's not easy to upstage Santa Claus, but on this evening, the children flocked around Ms. Bells all night as she joked, performed magic tricks and painted many smiling faces with Christmas characters or whatever else they requested.
"The kids love Jingle Bells because she loves them," Santa said. "We're here to make the kids smile and have a good time, and tonight there's a lot of smiling kids."
Jingle Bells is just one of many characters that Tammy Baar performs as within the realm of her business, Kidtoons Productions.
Baar not only performs — she also contracts other local performers for events she books, like Santa Claus or the guitar-playing Harmony Sisters.
She started her business in the Aspen area in 1996 and in that time has performed for thousands of children. Besides Jingle Bells and Mrs. Santa Claus, her characters include Buttons the Clown, Princess Tammy, Maxie the Pirate, Penelope Potter (Harry's third cousin) and many more.
"There's very few children in this valley that I don't know," Baar said. "The younger kids often don't recognize me, but they know they know me. A lot of times they make me feel like a rock star — I love it."
When Baar says she works with kids all of the time, believe her. Not only does she perform an average of 100 times a year as part of Kidtoons, but she's been directing plays at Aspen Elementary School for 17 years, teaching Music Together — a program that introduces music to young children— for 10 years and directing kids in musicals at Theatre Aspen.
Baar was born and raised in Aspen before attending the University of Southern California, where she earned her master's degree in fine arts in 1981. She's been married to her husband, Fred, since 1985, and the couple have two kids — Shannon, 23, and C.J., 12.
She's worked with children most of her life, going back to baby-sitting as a teenager in Aspen. When she came home on her breaks from college, she started the Aspen Children's Theater program in 1979. While attending school in Los Angeles, she taught television-commercial workshops for children.
When Shannon was ready to start kindergarten in 1995, the family moved back to Aspen from California. Baar worked at the Crystal Palace for a year but needed to find another job. She recalled hiring a kids performer in California for, in her words, "way too much money" and thought she could do something similar.
She garnered some costumes and got a few friends to dress up with her and march in the Aspen Fourth of July Parade while handing out cards advertising characters for birthday parties.
"I got calls and business the next day," Baar said. "Nobody was offering this kind of service in the valley. I found my niche."
At the first party she performed, Baar played Ariel from "The Little Mermaid" and came to the party armed with a karaoke cassette tape and some face paints. She really had no game plan, but the party was a success, and soon Baar realized she was a natural at this type of entertainment for kids.
She eventually created her own characters and added magic tricks and balloon art to her repertoire. Her most popular character is Buttons the Clown, but performing at Christmas might be her favorite.
"I love being Mrs. Claus or Jingle Bells," she said. "The kids can't figure out how I know their names or remember something they said or did the year before. Christmas is truly a magical time, and everyone is typically in a great mood, which makes performing that much more fun."
Aspen resident Lauren Elston knows Baar after having her children participate in the Music Together program. She's also hired Baar for several birthday parties.
"Tammy puts her whole heart into teaching our children a true love of music and gift of imagination," Elston said. "The children adore her. You can watch as Tammy's music and storytelling transports the children to these other worlds of fantasy. We're so lucky to have Tammy and all she brings to our town."
Kidtoons has become a successful business in many ways for Baar while allowing her to continue working with the many valley kids she's grown to care for.
"It's seriously fun what I do," Baar said. "Having the opportunity to make kids happy and feel better about themselves is incredibly rewarding. There's nothing to prove to them. Children don't judge — they love."
Baar will participate in several free performances in Aspen before Christmas as Mrs. Claus. On Friday she'll be at the Limelight with ornament decorating and storytelling from 3 to 5 p.m. She also wrote and is directing the Christmas pageant at Snowmass Chapel at 9 a.m. on Dec. 22, called "The Best Christmas Present Ever!"
She'll then perform with Santa Claus from 3 to 5 p.m. on Dec. 22 at the Aspen Fire Department.
For more information about Baar and her business, go to http://www.kidtoons.com.