The music starts and all the heads in the room turn to watch your grand entrance. The outfit you are wearing instantly signifies your role in this event, and your co-star is standing in front of the audience, waiting to exchange the vows that you’ve written, rehearsed, and memorized. At the end of the ceremony, your kiss sends the audience into a standing ovation. Now, is it any surprise that I transitioned from the theatre into professional wedding planning?
Weddings ARE theatre. There are costumes, props, sound cues, set design, and each wedding has an all-star cast. (Sometimes people ask me what it’s like “dealing with brides” and I
jokingly ask them, “Have you ever worked with actors?”) So let me share a few lessons from the stage to help you and your co-star get through the production in one piece.
The first, and probably most important, lesson is this: The show must go on. Imagine that you get the sniffles the night before your wedding, or you tear your gown stepping out of the limo. The advice I would offer you is the same advice I once gave an actress who (against my recommendation) was enjoying a cup of black coffee in her white costume minutes before her big scene. Predictably, she ran full force into another actor backstage and… well, you get the picture. When something unpredictable happens, just remind yourself that your audience is waiting. If the florist sent you pink roses instead of red, or your perfect outdoor photo op gets rained out, just pick yourself up, dust yourself off (or quickly blot the coffee off your gown) and give your guests the show of your life. They’ll never know the difference.
Be true to the script. You and your future spouse are the playwrights and stars of the show; do what feels right to you. Sure, a production of Hamlet set in a futuristic space station played by all children might be an interesting concept, but I don’t think it’s what Shakespeare had in mind. If tossing the bouquet isn’t something you would do, don’t do it. If you’re a vegetarian, you don’t have to serve red meat to your guests. Now, that’s not to say you should completely alienate your guests in pursuit of all your wishes. Nobody ever made money by cutting “Summer Lovin'” from Grease. You don’t have to serve red meat, but make sure you have one heck of a pasta option. Your wedding is not the right time to introduce quinoa to your 90 year old grandmother.
It’s all in the details. To summarize Chekhov – don’t put a gun on stage if no one is going to fire it. In wedding terms, everything your guests encounter on the wedding day should be representative of your relationship and the way you’ve chosen to celebrate your mutual commitment to one another. (SIDEBAR: I remember the set design from a production of “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” at the Wilma Theater in Philadelphia. On the walls were huge, opulent paintings of children at play. If you recall the plot – or at least the plot for “Cruel Intentions” – you know it is basically the tale of overprivileged youth playing at games with other people’s lives. The paintings were a visual metaphor.) Using that same principle, so should all your design elements be visual metaphors for your love story. When I got married, I put a compass rose on the invitations, the welcome bags, and wedding programs. Our guests filled out vintage travel postcards instead of a guest book. The centerpieces were more exotic lanterns than flowers, and we put a gypsy Zoltar machine in the corner of the room. That is because my relationship with my husband is a journey, not a destination. I couldn’t wait to travel through life with him lighting the way, and I know our fortunes are stronger together than apart. And just for kicks we cut the wedding cake with a sword because, well, we’re theatre people and we love props.
Don’t forget about lighting. I know my lighting friends will love this one, but special event lighting is more than just an added expense. Not only does even the most basic uplighting or dance floor wash make your photos look that much better, it also helps set the scene nicely for your guests. Like a stage lit only by work lights, a wedding without lanterns, candlelight, uplighting, pin-spotting, or dance floor lighting has missed an opportunity to spend a little extra money for a lot more romance. Oh, and industry tip – when you see patterns or pictures drawn in light on the ground (like a wedding monogram), that’s called a gobo. Drop that word in your lighting conversation to sound like a pro.
Every wedding needs a stage manager. This is the most self-serving of all the lessons, but that doesn’t make it any less true. For those of you who aren’t in the theatre, a stage manager is the keeper of the cues. They are the person who has lists that tell them where every prop goes, when every actors enters and exits, on which exact line to turn on the lights and turn them off. They post the schedules, sweep the stage, and bandage the actors when they get hurt. They are the wedding planners of the theatre, and planners are the stage managers of weddings. Whether you hire me or work with someone else, you must trust someone to see to the details on your wedding day. Imagine the star of the show also being in charge of shining the spotlight on themselves. Doesn’t sound too easy on the star, does it?