Planning a sincere-but-theatrical wedding
Photo by Josh Finsel & Amber Breiner Photography

This question actually came in as a comment on the post about Hannibal & Myshell‘s wedding video:

This brings a question that I've been wrestling with as a performer…

If you or your beloved is a performer by trade, how much of the wedding is a “performance”? I feel like my guests are an audience and I worry that I'm not going to give them a good enough “show.” -Leah

This is a great question, and one that I totally relate to. I hope I made it clear in my Authenticity vs. Attention post that this issue is one I wrestle with a lot. Little known Ariel Trivia: I started college as musical theater student on scholarship. I lasted one semester before bailing, but the when you spend your formative years singing and dancing, you can't ever really get rid of the jazz hands.

Since what's the most important to me about weddings is their authenticity to the couple getting married, of course it makes perfect sense that a wedding that includes a performer would have, well, an element of performance to it! All weddings have at least a tiny bit of performance in them — if you're shy, you can minimize your performance by having the officiant do most of the talking, but you're still asking your community to witness your commitment. And when a bunch of people are staring, it's hard to not feel like you're on stage a bit.

If the stage is your home, that can be a comfortable place. I'm reminded here of Claire & Bobby's puppet wedding, where the groom was a puppeteer the male flower girl was a stand-up comedian. Of course there was a sense of performance to the wedding, but as Claire pointed out, “The things that meant the most though, were how seriously we took becoming equal partners.”

Then there's Laura & Dave's karaoke wedding, where the invitations were complimentary VIP tickets to a show entitled “Music, Love, Cupcakes – A Most Unusual Wedding.” Despite all the silliness, Laura pointed out that, “There is a fine line between ‘making fun of' and ‘having fun with' your wedding. We were always careful not to cross that line, and our ceremony was very beautiful.”

Then there's Wedding! The Musical, which I featured in my book. Jen & Scotto's wedding was an hour long musical theater performance that the bride and groom wrote and starred in.

As guests were seated, they introduced the “Very Special Episode”:

They hilariously reenacted their first date:

And the groom serenaded the bride, his voice cracking with tears and emotion:

As you can see, this is a full blown PERFORMANCE!! with the bride being lowered on a trapeze, the groom wearing a sparkly jacket, and lots of dancing.

…And yet, I dare you to watch their vows and not get choked up. (Actually, you owe it to yourself to watch the entire wedding. I laughed! I cried! Seriously.)

It's a delicate dance, balancing your desire to entertain with your desire to convey the sincerity, complexity, and emotions of committing yourself to your partner. I think the key, as with all performances, is quality writing. It becomes crucial not to let the message of your wedding (love, commitment, partnership, challenges, etc) not get lost in the bouquets being shot out of cannons or singing. I think this is a balance that even non-theatrical types can wrestle with … do you get so excited about your menu that you forget to memorize your vows? Did you spend so long on your DIY decor that you forgot about the emotions that are going to come up when you exchange rings? As always, pull back from the details and the jazz hands and remember the sentiment.

I'd love to hear from other offbeat dancers, singers, actors, aerialists, stilt-walkers, and performers of all kinds: how are YOU balancing the sincerity of your wedding with your natural reflex to entertain?

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Comments on Planning a sincere-but-theatrical wedding

  1. How appropriate! I just set my wedding date yesterday for a show of a wedding in a theatre in March. I'm an actor and playwright, and my FH is a writer and theater producer, and we've always known that I would write a wedding play and that would be our ceremony. Now starts the difficult work of actually making this happen, and balancing between show elements (like the full on Bollywood style dance number it will all end with) and sincere emotion and ceremony. We're still sorting out the details, but every time I listen to the song we've chosen for the dance number (Such Great Heights by the Postal Service) and I imagine the dance number my choreographer friend will create and a stage full of our closest friends and theatre denizens and the pure joy and silliness that will abound, I get choked up, so I know it'll be touching and meaningul even through all the ridiculousness on our actual wedding day. We're also tempering ideas like swordfights and a ninja character with a poem that means a lot to us being performed by our incredible friend, and I fully intend and keep saying that there will be "ten minutes toward the end of pure meaninfulness".

  2. As always, Ariel, I love how you deal with all these subjects. The "delicate dance", as you put it, is right on. Mind if I put in my two cents, as someone who is not a performer, but knows a lot of them?

    How do I put this without offending anyone? Um, performers like to be the center of attention. For those of us who love you performers, there is a fine line between "I love you and your talent" and "Jeebus, will you just get off the stage for one second and be yourself?" This, obviously, isn't true for all performers. But it is something to be aware of, if you want your wedding to be about all the people you love coming together, and not just yourself and your partner.

    • Thank you, Suzanna. This is the part I worry about most – that sense that if someone had a huge hook at the end of a pole they would use it on YOU at your wedding…. Perhaps a couple of non-performers in the wedding party would keep the plans balanced?

    • I’m a theater major, and I totally agree that we want to be the center of attention! I have come to terms with the fact that I have Rachel Berry syndrome. My friends all joke that I will be the queen bridezilla because I’m a perfectionist who has planned my wedding since birth. But really I’d like to have a secular tattoo encrusted wedding ceremony that reminds me of old Hollywood… glamorous, classy, and beautiful. I don’t want to perform during the most sincere part of my day. I’d like it to be me at the alter, not a character even if the character is me. That is just my opinion though, I’m sure other couples with performance backgrounds feel they need a show to make their big day perfect, mad props to them! I know how much time and effort goes into planning a show, and planning a show AND a wedding would give me a heart attack. Now, the reception is a completely different story! I want it to be the best PARRRRRTTTAAAYY anyone has ever been to. I want entertainment galore! I just want to host the best day of everyone’s life. That is the time where my performance side will show off. But like every actress feels before a show, I just hope the “audience” enjoys it as much as I do!

  3. My FH and I met doing a community theater show (we now do several together every year), and over half of our guests will be theater friends. We are balancing the theater aspects (having several performer friends sing us down the aisle, and show tunes as most of our music) by having the officiant do most of the talking once the ceremony actually gets underway. We will write our own vows, but other than that, we will let him lead the show.

  4. I'm a performer and dancer but my fiance is not – he's an amazing photographer! We are still in the very early planning stages- I don't think we'd incorporate any kind of performance into the wedding ceremony but we will into the reception for sure! At this point most of our friends and some family are dancers, singers, jugglers, acrobats and aerialists or musicians. So, while I doubt I'll take the stage (too much! I have enough on my plate!) I'm sure my friends would love to each donate a short performance of sort during dinner. Amazing!
    Well I would consider doing a short performance only because I danced my best friend/dance partner's wedding and all her family were disappointed that she declined getting up to dance with me. Many of her family had never seen her dance and was looking forward to a little performance from her.
    I see both sides but like my friend- it seems like there is enough to worry about with out coming up with an act, it's just not a priority for me.

  5. I am a performance poet and included one poem as part of our ceremony, and one as part of my speech. We also had a musician friend sing and play the piano while we did the signing. Then I danced back down the aisle, I was so happy! Definitely know the "can't keep away from a stage" feeling and I really did think of our guests as an audience hehehe. I think whether it's singing, dancing, theatre, improv whatever, if it means something to you both and is connected to the wedding or your relationship in some way, your guests will love it and will enjoy the uniqueness of it! Plus they know and love you so will enjoy seeing "you" as a couple come through in your ceremony. I hope that whatever everyone decides to do, they will have lots of fun with it!

  6. I was a musical theater major too!

    But I didn't make it so far… I never even got accepted to school for it. BUT I do have that love of the meaningful theatrical element. Looking forward to incorporating it into my wedding day 🙂

  7. We're musicians marching band, pit orchestra, woodwind quintet types. Our quintet is playing before the ceremony (to give me something to do so my mind doesn't go "boing") and – after the ceremony and lunch – we are having a do-it-yourself-band concert. We've rented a picnic area and band shell, we're playing music from the various groups we are in, and it should be a lot of fun We have everything from my Dad on triangle to kids just learning trumpet to a bass sax to a banjo to bassoon. about a third of our guests will be playing, which gives us about 100 audience members. (We are also playing a first duet rather than having a first dance – my Sweetie wrote it for Trumpet and bassoon)

  8. My FH and I both have theater degrees and therefore are surrounded almost daily by talented actors, designers and improv comedians. While we'll be doing a little bit of performing ourselves (we're reenacting the ceremony in fast forward for everyone who couldn't come to the private ceremony) we've decided to put our friends to work at the reception when it comes to entertaining. It'll be ten times as special for us and ten times as special to them because they're doing it for us. The people in our lives have come to expect theatrics from us and our friends and would be totally confused if we didn't entertain them in a big way.

  9. I have been involved with theatre literally since i was in the womb (concieved and birthed during 2 different productions), but while my boyfriend is not as much into theatre, he still loves the performance aspect of my life and what he can do (i'm a dance major). however, as much as i would love to make our wedding (if it comes; hey, we've been together 8 years next week, sop i'm not a TOTAL loony) a 'performance', i doubt it would happen that way. For one thing, it is not 100% us; there are other things/thoughts/themes/ideas that scream "brian & jennifer/gabbie" than theatre. however, i am inspired by a few of the weddings that have occured in the last few years between some of our family friends who are theatre-geeks. one had the wedding program read like a performance program with a cast and crew list, act & scene listing (readings), and other fun stuff like that. in another, my sister told me that you could tell that most of the guests at another wedding were theatre people because this backyard wedding had a lightening-fast turn around from ceremony to reception. she said the theatre guests (who were asked to help) had chairs taken down and tables set up in a matter of moments. The wedding clean-up also took no time due to the same wonderful friends and family who are use to doing the same thing……dressed in black with the lights off *wink* I hope to get the same amount of help as my 'nups.

  10. I've always thought it was nice to play homage to theatrical roots in one deliberate moment and then have the little details of the wedding reflect the couples' theatrical interests – as they should for any couple! For example, a dancer might perform a special, choreographed dance with her partner at the reception, a singer might sing a special song for their beloved, a poet might read a special poem. But then the couple can relax and mingle without concern for "the show".

    My own DBF and I between us are: dancer, writer, living statue, circus performer, actor, and musician. But while dancing and singing and juggling are part of what we do, there's more to who we are, and I'd want our wedding to reflect the "at-home snuggling on the couch" part of us as much as the "soaking up the limelight" part of us. What makes guests uncomfortable is when they wonder if the love between the couples is sincere, or if that's part of the performance too. Love is the real theme of the day, and that should come across no matter how shy or theatrical the newlyweds may be.

  11. And I totally have tears in my eyes right now from watching Jen and Scotto's vows and the serenade. Their wedding was over-the-top, but they were both totally committed to it and as was abundantly clear, equally committed to each other.

  12. My fiance and I are both improvisational actors. We met through improvisation and perform/teach/direct/produce improv all the time. He even owns a theater now that I work at. Needless to say we're surrounded by it, engulfed in it. Our performer friends on the guest list overtake family and non-performer friends 2-to-1, I think.
    That being said, we definitely weren't planning on getting married on a stage in a theater (we spend too much time on those anyway) and our engagement was a private two-person thing even though we had friends constantly trying to get us to propose to each other during shows, the goofballs.

    But, we are performers at heart and can't help but throw some theatricality in our wedding. Our ceremony will have symbolic elements unheard of, some completely ridiculous and some sentimental. We're getting married at a fun location (The Cathedral of Junk) in Victorian clothing.
    We definitely want to have the first dance/s and the toasts, which in my mind are more attention-grabbing aspects of a wedding, but also nice and memorable things that don't feel too fabricated.
    We love the spotlight, each other, and our friends and family. The community of performers we surround ourselves with are just as important as our family and we can't wait to include them all on our wedding day. The wedding is an awesome party at it's core.

  13. I was so glad to find this post: this is something that me and my fiance struggle with a lot, and I’m glad to see others have the same problem. We are both improv goofs and are incurably silly, and we want to incorporate that into the wedding. But its hard to figure out how without turning it into a farce. My boy will sometimes suggest things like letting one of his groomsmen wear a kilt to the wedding and I have to axe it because there is a certain point (which varies with each couple, I’m sure) when you know it is just going to make your commitment seem like a joke. Luckily or unluckily, my church is doing the wedding for free, but they are a bit strict about what you can do in the ceremony (only religious readings, etc.) so we can’t customize much there. On the reception though, we are customizing like crazy, with a Mimosa slushie stand, homemade desserts, and a smattering of British-inspired tea stations, among other things. To celebrate our improvity, we are going to have a photobooth set up in front of an enormous chalkboard, where guests can draw situations out of a jar to illustrate in their pictures. That, and the fact that the Best Man is a stand-up comedian and that we are probably going to end up playing at least one spontaneous improv game, pretty much has us covered for silliness I think. Everyone has to find their own balance.

  14. As a musical theatre student planning to marry another theatre student, performing is almost always on our minds. However, having said that, our wedding will reflect our interests more than anything else. We will be singing to each other though, and right now, we’re planning on a flash mob/dance…thing at our reception since most of our friends are performers. We want our wedding to be fun, but not a show.

  15. We’re both professional actors. For me though, we do that for money, it’s our job. The last thing I want to do at our wedding is perform.

    I think we are lucky though because we have free harpists, singer, pianist etc..all friends and family. The perks of being poor performers.

  16. What a great wedding! Thanks for sharing! I have been trying to balance my theatrical side with my fiancee’s interest in planning our nuptials!

  17. Me and my partner are both former drag queens and I was a theatre and voice major at some point in my college days before leaving all that behind for a different path. We are walking down the aisle to a rather different song and our officiant is an actress friend of ours. She will be singing us off the alter and into our new life. I’m torn between two very different songs (Rainbow Connection and This is Me from greatest showman) for the fear of people thinking we are making a joke of marriage. But as Non-binary male bodied gay people I feel like I want to say “This is me” and I finally found someone to live THIS life with. There is so much emotion for me around this. I just don’t really know what to do for this.

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