Every girl dreams of being a princess, but Melissa Schlenvogt lives that dream every day.
The 26-year-old woman, who grew up on her family’s Town of Port Washington farm, has been traveling the world since 2014, portraying Cinderella in her first show, “Three Classic Fairy Tales,” and now playing Snow White in “Mickey and Minnie’s Doorway to Magic.”
Schlenvogt, the daughter of Lee and Pam Schlenvogt, has visited 17 countries, and since each show is performed in the official language of the country in which it’s staged, Schlenvogt has been learning at least a smattering of numerous languages.
“This upcoming year, I’ll have to learn Japanese,” she said.
The troupe, which puts on as many as three shows a day, works with a language coach in each country to learn their roles, but that doesn’t mean they’re fluent, Schlenvogt said.
“I’m really good at faking it,” she said, adding they also use a recorded track for some shows.
In Mandarin, Schlenvogt said, “I can say ‘hello’ and ‘do not give me gluten or I will die,’” noting she has a serious gluten allergy.
In Brazil, she said, they were there so long that she was able to pick up words and combine them with the language used in the show well enough to hold a basic, everyday conversation with natives.
For a small-town farm girl like Schlenvogt, traveling the world is nothing short of amazing.
“I really love it. I love learning about new cultures,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of different experiences and I’ve learned from all of them. To pick up and move to so many countries is amazing — I’ve loved every minute.”
Her favorite place to visit so far was probably Myanmar, Schlenvogt said.
“It was modernized but it wasn’t Westernized,” she said. “There was no fast food, no ATMs.
“There’s so much history there. People wear their religious dress everyday. And they’re really wonderful people.”
From her home base in Florida, Schlenvogt tours the world with the Disney shows, which are staged by Feld Entertainment, and works in the shows and parades at Disney World in the off season.
It’s a lifestyle she loves.
“I’m very easily satisfied picking up and moving, trying a new adventure,” Schlenvogt said. “I’ve lived out of a suitcase for two years now. I’ve gotten good at packing.”
She’s also thrilled to be portraying Disney princesses.
“My 6-year-old self is very happy,” she said. “It’s really awesome. It’s cool that my dream gets to come true while I’m making little girls’ dreams come true.
“I’ve been a Disney kid all my life. The stories are classics, things everyone wants to be part of.”
When she performs, she becomes a different person, Schlenvogt said.
For most shows, that happens when she dons the dress, but when she played Cinderella, she said, it was the glass slippers that gave her the persona.
“Those shoes, they get you,” she said, adding, “They’re surprisingly comfortable.”
The current show is interactive, with “magic words” revealed to the audience that, when used, determine what will happen next.
“It’s one of my favorite shows,” Schlenvogt said.
During the scene in which Snow White’s stepmother, disguised as a hag, offers her an apple, Schlenvogt will turn to the audience and ask, “Should I take a bite?”
“From every direction, people yell, ‘No, no. ‘It’s poison.’ All those little voices — it’s so cool.”
Audiences worldwide respond differently to the shows, Schlenvogt said. In Japan, it’s considered rude to clap and cheer, she said.
“It’s a show of respect to be quiet,” she said. “It threw me off the first time. I came off the stage and said, ‘Were we that bad?’”
She was quickly reassured as her fellow actors and crew told her, “They really liked it.”
In China, the show was greeted with quiet clapping — “like golf clapping,” Schlenvogt said — while in Brazil the applause was deafening.
“It’s something you adapt to,” she said.
The current show is touring throughout South America and the U.S. — the closest performance to Port is in Moline, Ill. — but that’s not the only thing keeping Schlenvogt busy.
She’s also working toward a master’s degree in international business from the University of Birmingham in England.
Schlenvogt, a 2008 Port High graduate who earned her bachelor’s degree in dance from Hunter College in New York City, said her time in Myanmar in 2014 convinced her to return to school.
The troupe’s performances were the first Western shows to be staged there, she said. She wants to be part of exposing people to one another’s culture, and in the process creating a greater appreciation for and audience for art.
“It’s what I need to do. It’s art, it’s culture, it’s international business,” Schlenvogt said. “If people don’t enjoy art, there’s no room for performance.”
She expects to receive her master’s degree in June 2018.
“Then we’ll see what happens next,” Schlenvogt said. “I want to keep performing, but I do want to do other things, too. I want to explore other aspects of the performance industry.”
But while she’s not sure what direction her future will take, there’s one thing Schlenvogt is sure of.
“Performing will always be part of my life,” she said. “It’s my passion. It’s what I live for.”
Image Information: With a backdrop of a cornfield, silos and a barn, Melissa Schlenvogt was photographed last week on her family’s Town of Port Washington farm. Photo by Sam Arendt