The Offbeat Bride: Shannon, theater actress/web site manager
My Offbeat Partner: Brandon, improv actor/managing director
Location & date of wedding: Lake Forest Park Civic Club on Lake Washington in Seattle, WA (we're not members, anyone can rent it) — 5/4/2008
What made our wedding offbeat: Our wedding was completely ours. We ran the thing ourselves and enlisted the generous help of talented friends and family to design our invites, print them, set-up, DJ, officiate, work the bar, and make appetizers.
We decided early on to eliminate certain expensive sources of stress to keep the budget and the stress as low as possible. We planned the wedding for about 4-5 months after the engagement to save ourselves a year of stress. Within a few weeks, we'd chosen an inexpensive (under $1K), little-heard-of venue north of Seattle. It's in a lovely spot on the lake but because the building is old 1960's utilitarian, so it's not used often for weddings. We decided the space was too small for a wedding party and we didn't want to deal with choosing dresses and tuxes and favors and coordinating the people (this ended up being our most controversial decision).
I wore a red bridal gown. The perfect dress with no dress fittings! I bought my dress online from the Nordstrom.com Special Occasions section. It's just a lovely scarlet tea-length silk party dress. It fit perfectly, it never needed altering, it didn't cost an arm and a leg, and it was a hit.
We also decided to forgo flowers (it costs too much to get enough to make any impact). Instead, my sister made us a beautiful silk bouquet, boutonniere and corsages (her choice, her gift).
It was important to us to have interactive elements to keep the party fun, so we borrowed ideas from our genius graphic designer friend and made up a few of our own. We bought a button maker and made unique buttons for guests to wear. Family members got a “Mother of the Bride” button, for example. We wore “Bride” and “Groom” buttons and guests could choose phrases that spoke to them: “How YOU doin'? “Bouquet Dodger” “I'm Next” or “I'm A Little Drunk” for example.
We blew our parents' wedding photos up to life size, cut out the faces, and put them on stands like a carnival photo opp. We got a Polaroid camera and asked guests to pose in the cut-outs and write a message to us on the photo (or take their own on their digital photos). We set up a little jar of water and some pennies and called it a “wishing well” for the happy couple. We set up a craft table for the kids. The bride scanned dozens of photos and the groom made a wonderful slideshow with iMovie. Sharing the awkward teen shots is humiliating and priceless and shots of all my many bridesmaids stints, so funny when seen all in a row. We made our own centerpieces. These ultimately didn't work out (the idea was bigger than the time frame) but it didn't matter in the end.
We had our ceremony on Sunday instead of Saturday. This accommodated our theater friends who might perform Saturday nights, and fewer venues are booked on Sundays (p.s. I'm friends with Wedding the Musical's Jen Moon and Scotto Moore, through theater). And for the ceremony, we worked together to create something that reflects our personalities and to eliminate the elements that we both feel make some weddings so boring.
For one thing, there's often a great distance between you and the couple. Sometimes at a friend's wedding I haven't even met his/her bride or groom yet. Your dear friend has been sequestered away in courtship, or lives out of town, and you don't meet the new spouse until the wedding day. You may not learn anything about him/her until the speeches at the reception. And you don't see your friend until he/she is coming down that aisle and then post-ceremony you may not see him/her for quite some time. We decided to reverse the usual order of things and hold part of the reception up front. We had more than an hour of straight-up party before the ceremony. We greeted our guests, hung out, everyone had a drink and some snacks (made by the groom's aunts) and a few friends made speeches about us.
After the bar line went down a bit, we hid in the kitchen, our DJ played a snippet of “The Final Countdown” and our officiant made an announcement and we held hands and walked through the crowded tables to the altar.
Our ordained friend (a talented actor and playwright) performed the service. He made a truly funny and touching speech and two other friends did an abridged reading of “I Like You” by Sandol Stoddard Warburg, which reflects us perfectly. Then we made our promises with vows we had written just that week. We wanted honest and realistic vows that reflected our personalities — some were funny, some were serious, but all were true promises we wanted to make. There were about 20 hairpin shifts between laughter and tears and it was perfect. Being comedians we couldn't help but do bits (downing a glass of champagne for liquid courage when we reached the altar) and little impromptu jokes throughout–it's who we are.
Then the party started, with dancing and laughter and speeches and sunshine and revelry. It was a ton of work. We bought our decor (string lights and paper lanterns etc) through careful online shopping and price-comparisons and trips to Ikea. We had a catered BBQ buffet dinner, but we decided to forgo having a caterer for the rest of the event. That means we bought our own alcohol and bar supplies and beverages and napkins from Cash & Carry and had friends as bartenders. We purchased biodegradable plates and utensils and corn-plastic cups online. We rented all our own linens and glassware and ice tubs etc. and a cargo van to transport it all ourselves (with our family and friends, we filled it to the brim in the a.m., and just threw everything back in it when all the guests were gone–it was genius).
But it was incredibly fun. And when we hear “That was the best wedding I've ever been to” or “I've never been to a wedding like that” or “That was the most I've ever laughed at a wedding” or “That wedding was so YOU guys” it's all worth it.
Our biggest challenge: The food was the biggest challenge. We had to make a choice early on — have fancy food and invite a small number of people or get affordable food and invite more friends.
We went down the catering meeting path, thinking that it might be easier to have a caterer (they set it up, handle the rentals, and take it all away). But after each meeting we found we were stressed and cranky and snappy at each other. Not worth it. The catering menus were complicated, the estimates were unbelievable, and it always sounded like a meal we didn't really want to eat.
The day we met with the BBQ place (Larry's Smokehouse), it was like the skies had opened up. We immediately felt happier and knew it was the choice for us. The food was delicious, a fraction of the cost of the other caterers, and it was a lovely man with a family-run business. They just worked the hour or two of dinner–setting up the smoker and buffet outside– so it meant running our own reception completely. We took on doing our own table linens, and rentals and beverages, and running our own bar and so on but everyone got a lot to eat for dinner and we saved a ton of money. Win-win.
My favorite moment: Oh there were so many. I'll bet everybody answers that! The moment he first saw me in my dress. The raucous laughter during the ceremony and party. Saying “And how” instead of “I do” on the first vow.
But the one that I'll share here, is the moment after I left the dressing room. I came straight from the salon and snuck in the back door to get dressed. Friends and family were busily decorating and I had no idea if the place would look as I had planned and imagined. But I stepped out and, oh. The lights and lanterns over which I'd spent weeks agonizing about the colors were magical. The crisp white linens with red fabric centerpieces (cut so carefully by Mom). The beautiful paper banners designed by my friend making a huge color impact and covering the ugly balcony panels. They turned a sow's ear into a silk purse. Add the sun streaming in the windows when the day before had been pouring rain… and it was a perfect moment.
My advice for other offbeat brides: I have a few!
The one piece of advice I never heard was about timing. No one told me that as soon as dinner is served, guests want cake. And as soon as cake is served, most guests want to leave. We were trying to wait for the sun to go down to show the slide show but as soon as the cake was done a mass exodus began with person after person saying goodbye to us and we're going “no wait, there's a slide show!” If you have speeches or skits or a show — have them during cake or half the guests will miss it.
Make banners! If you have a plain and boring space, or a high ceiling, hang paper or fabric banners. These lower the ceiling and add color. We strung lights and lanterns to cover a high a-frame and taped up paper banners over ugly surfaces (ours were printed on a friends' architecture plotter printer or you can make them from fabric or butcher paper). We bought cheap muslin curtains from Ikea to cover an ugly fireplace.
Enough talk — here's the wedding porn:
Click the photo below to view all the shots: