Please enjoy this blog post written by one of Brooklyn Winery’s preferred vendors, Chris Shelley! Chris Shelley has created and performed personal, moving and hilarious wedding ceremonies since 2011. He’s a Certified Life-Cycle Celebrant and the author of Best Ceremony Ever (WW Norton).
Wedding ceremonies are like unique bursts of theater. They are a play-within-a larger play that is the entire wedding evening. They have a set, music, dramatic entrances, costumes, props, a cast, a script, a narrator, romantic leads, and engaging dialogue.
During the wedding ceremony, couples enact a series of short scenes that guide them through the rite of passage we call getting married: a vow scene, a ring scene, a kiss scene. But couples often wonder how they can make sure their ceremony is personalized and unique to them.
So why do we have wedding ceremonies? Ceremonies help tell the couples’ story, and it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to share that story in front of friends and family. You might also say that the ceremony is the emotional rocket-launch of the entire evening!
But the most important thing to remember is that a ceremony’s theatrical elements can, and should, be directed and designed to your personal taste:
Every wedding space has grand potential when it comes to decoration, but the true centerpiece should always be you – the couple! Some kind of central arch, doorway or focal point helps draw the eye toward the couple at center stage, and within that, decor can be as ornate or simple as you want – decide what decorative elements will help reflect your personalities, be it ornate florals or photographs of family members!
Music instantly dictates emotion, so choose something that honors your feelings about your special person. Do you have a favorite tune? A song that played when you first kissed? The music that played the night you got engaged? It could have meaningful lyrics, it could be instrumental, just give your wedding the soundscape you prefer!
(Fun fact: You will be legally married even if you don’t choose Pachelbel’s Canon in D. Yes, other pieces of music exist!)
When your cast members enter, would you rather they stroll up the aisle in a bashful hush, or can they MAKE AN ENTRANCE, maybe set to the music? If bridesmaids and groomsmen are partnered up as they enter, have them work out some way to make their entrance unique, from the way they walk or dance up the aisle to a unique, celebratory high-five before they take their place. A fun entrance is a great way to grab your audience’s attention.
The members of your bridal party could just stand up there and look pretty, or they could partake in the ceremony. Have them interact with the officiant (narrator) like a Greek chorus, have them sing a song, lead a cheer, do the wave or otherwise support the telling of your love story. Or, keep things simple and do away with the bridal party altogether! It’s your day after all.
Do you want a backdrop of penguins and prom queens or would you rather dress your bridal party in themed costumes, perhaps a roaring 20’s look, Zombies, a Royal Court or a chorus line of Harry Potter wizards. The visual stretch of bridal party, couple and officiant work together to create a tableau worth directing to your tastes.
When your bridal party enters, are the bridesmaids carrying bouquets? Why not stuffed animals, or bubble-blowers, or Kleenex? When you exchange wedding rings, what do you say as you place the ring on your partner’s finger? Do the rings have their own story? Did you design them yourself, did they belong to your grandmother, are they inscribed with your favorite quote? Let your guests know. It will all help tell your story!
This is you, couple! Other than a different costume than your bridal party, how else will you set yourselves apart? By standing in a ring of roses or on a mini stage? In a spotlight? Held aloft by brawny groomsmen? Would you rather do the entire ceremony in the round? Don’t be afraid to get creative with the set-up and find unique ways for you both to interact with your friends and family.
Your lines are your vows: do you want to repeat famous phrases or create your own? Or why not do both? When couples write personal vows, and say them out loud to each other in the ceremony, it is the most touching, beautiful, personal and inclusive thing they can do; the whole day is about sharing your love for each other, and the vows resonate at its heart. Some couples have always wanted to say famous phrases they’ve heard at other weddings (“Until death do us part”, “to have and to hold”) but they can still personalize them: (“in sickness and in health, I’ll never get sick of you!”).
This is the big one, because the narrator, aka the officiant, sets the mood, energy and pace for the whole ceremony. Choose wisely. Hire a professional, ideally a trained Celebrant. Celebrants know how to write a good love story, command a room, keep things moving, spark joy and laughter, hold delicate moments and at all times make sure that everyone remembers why you’ve all gathered. Celebrants lend a director’s eye to the whole ceremony, harmonizing all of these theatrical elements.
(P.S. I am heavily, personally and passionately biased in favor of using a professional.)
Your wedding is your show, and your time to shine. So step up to the spotlight and show everyone why your love story is so special!