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Showing Her Character

While it would have been easy for Courtney Paige Allen to succumb to the effects of autism and EDS, she is making magic for kids while keeping her focus on the most magical place on earth.

Article
Michele Chiappetta
Photos
Chelsi Fisher
Posted
July 28, 2018

Remember those days you spent as a kid, throwing a blanket or towel over your shoulders as a cape to play superheroes in the backyard? For children, the art of dressing up and playing pretend is a fun no-brainer. As adults, the world of cosplaying and costumed performance art may seem a little more out of reach.

For many people, though, cosplaying is more than a hobby. For some, it’s also a career. And for some, it’s a literal lifesaver — a way to bring magic into their own personal world, and into the lives of others. And that’s where you’ll find Courtney Paige Allen of Owasso.

Allen is a bubbly, beautiful 20-year-old whose positive energy is refreshing. Seeing her bright smile and contagious joy, it’s almost impossible to imagine her having challenges. But she’s had plenty.

Diagnosed with Asperger’s (a form of autism) at age 7, Allen has had a lot to overcome. “As a person with autism, people don’t understand me,” she says. “People make the wrong assumptions.” Autism can make it hard for those who have it to build relationships and recognize social rules that others take for granted. “I’m very awkward,” she says. “It’s hard for me to look people in the eye.”

Allen attended Asperger’s support groups for years to become more comfortable with everyday activities such as making eye contact and socializing. She has faced bullying her entire life too, she says. But she refuses to let autism put her into a box.

Courtney Allen's love for cosplaying is a powerful outlet for her creativity. (Photo: Chelsi Fisher)
Courtney Allen's love for cosplaying is a powerful outlet for her creativity. (Photo: Chelsi Fisher)

“It’s not something that defines me,” Allen says. “It’s not something that makes me different from you in a bad way. It gives me this insanely amazing gift. I feel like it makes me stronger.” She shared this message live on Instagram, as a way to show other children who have autism that the diagnosis is “not a curse.”

“You are special, you are beautiful, no matter what,” she says.

Asperger’s is not the only challenge she faces. Allen has also been diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a condition that affects the joints and connective tissues. EDS has put a stop to Allen’s dream of being a dancer with Cirque du Soleil, but she’s not letting it keep her from living life.

“I want to live now,” says Allen. “I want to make a difference now, because in 10 years, I may not be able to do that. At 30 or 40, I will probably be in a wheelchair half of the time.”

Her love for cosplaying is a powerful outlet for her creativity. And it started young. “My whole life, I’ve loved dressing up,” she says. “I’ve loved being a character. Year-round as a child, I was a reindeer. I didn’t go anywhere without my reindeer antlers. I had a collection. I think that’s probably where it started. I was always in some kind of costume.”

Allen started her own business, The Storybook Princesses, dressing up for children’s parties. (Photo: Chelsi Fisher)
Allen started her own business, The Storybook Princesses, dressing up for children’s parties. (Photo: Chelsi Fisher)

When she was 12, she attended Tokyo in Tulsa for the first time. It inspired her to dress up on a larger scale than she ever had before. For those who may not have experience with cosplaying, many of the costumes are handmade, often in such detail that they are works of art, rivaling anything crafted on a Hollywood set.

Allen says her first cosplaying costume was Erza, a character from the Japanese manga series Fairy Tail. Since then, she has made costumes for and performed numerous other characters, including Tinkerbell, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Rapunzel, Ariel, Elsa, Wonder Woman and many others. She often spends hours sewing beads on dresses and styling wigs to recreate the look and feel we’ve seen onscreen.

Three years ago, Allen started her own business, The Storybook Princesses, dressing up for children’s parties. She studies the characters in detail, learning their physical movements, studying their well-known lines and songs, and mimicking the sound of their voices to create as close a representation of the character as possible. Parents and children alike love her heartfelt performances.

Making magic for children is, in a nutshell, what makes Allen come alive. In addition to her business, she visits children in hospitals and does other charity work through her business as well as in connection with Okie Elsa and Friends, Tulsa Pop Culture Expo, and Heroes of Tomorrow.

Allen says that if she knows a child wants a princess party but the parents can’t afford it due to medical bills, she’ll do what she can to help. “If I know about it, more than likely, I’ll go,” she says. “It’s not about the money. It’s about this child being able to have a miracle in their life. For that one moment, that child gets to feel normal, to have their mind off whatever’s going on. And that’s what’s important.”

With such a passion for her work, it’s hard to imagine Allen putting her business on pause. But she’ll be doing just that for four months this fall, as she fulfills a lifelong dream — attending the Disney College Program in Florida. The program allows college students to study and work at Disney World. It’s a competitive program, gaining thousands of applications; only 15-25 percent of applicants are reportedly accepted.

When Allen received the good news that she was accepted, she was thrilled. “I cried,” she says. “This is my first time doing it. I plan on going back in 2020 to be a princess. This time around, I’m with the rides and attractions.” Allen will get to see how Disney works behind the scenes, including private tours and classes on how theme parks work.

“You’ll be seeing so much work that goes into making the magic,” she says. “And you get to make the magic for those kids. That’s my favorite thing in the world.”

Attending Disney’s college program will be her first time away from home, a big change for both her and her family. But Allen is looking forward to the experience.

“I’m ready for this change,” she says. “It’s probably one of the biggest things that’s happened in my life.”

September 2019 Cover