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Meeting with a marriage commissioner

Picking a venue

Here are a few of my ideas for the selection of your wedding venue. In general, it revolves around how
many people, and what your budget it. There are many great free locations in the capital region, but
these tend to be outside.

  • Accessibility: can people with mobility issues get to the location (there are some amazing spots in the river valley, but your grandfather may not want to walk down 60 wooden steps and a half mile of trails to get there).
  • Weather Plans: If the weather is poor, what is the backup plan? “Umbrellas” is not a good answer when there is a severe weather warning from Environment Canada.
  • PA System: Does the venue supply a microphone? Is there someone there at the time of the ceremony to help with problems with the system? Are there spare batteries and backups for wireless microphones? Is the microphone a wired microphone, and there will be a long cord dangling across the front?
  • Power: Is there proper power for the DJ or musicians; is there power for the PA system? Does the location of the power mean that the speakers are at the back of the venue, meaning there is awkward feedback or delay feedback on the microphone for the speakers?
  • Stage/Platform: If it is a bigger guest list, is the front elevated so that the people in the back of the audience can see? If there is a stage or platform, is there a sturdy set of stairs that are wide enough for the couple to walk up and down together? Is the stage big enough for the entire wedding party as well? It is surprising how many venues do not have a good solution for larger wedding parties.
  • Entrance: Is the aisle wide enough the people that are walking in together (factoring in big dresses on some people!) Are people in heels going to be walking on grass, or loose mulch? Have you let the guests know that there is a 400 meter walk to the seating area on wet grass?
  • Room(s): Are there rooms for the couple to hide out in? If they are not seeing one another before the ceremony, will there be a dedicated spot for them to get ready, and be removed from the audience?
  • Bathrooms: I have seen venues that are booked for 200+ people, and there is 1 or 2 port-a-potties. And when you have 200+ boys and girls trying to fix their hair and makeup, or the venue is a 45 minute drive for everyone that had a lot of coffee that Saturday morning, I have seen massive lineups.

Rehearsal Suggestions

So You Think You Want To Have a Rehearsal?

Great! Keep in mind there are no rights or wrongs to this. There are traditions, but since you have decided not to get married in a long church ceremony, you can do whatever you want! So have fun with it, and make your ceremony reflect your personalities.  Make it as long or as short as you would like, and your ceremony can be as informal or as traditional as you want.  The steps below are written for a more traditional bride and groom wedding.  You can substitute any labels for the actual two people getting married.

Step

1
Start out with figuring out where everyone is going to stand (or sit).
  • Leave room for the marriage commissioner!
  • It is only important that the groom is on the RIGHT (and that is right as viewed by the audience) if it is also important for the groom to keep their sword hand free. If the groom is left handed I think this tradition falls apart. It also falls apart if you are not planning any sword fights. So bride on the left and groom on the right if you think it matters, and switch it around if you want to mess with the royalists
    Side note: sometimes I have seen this changed, so the parents, who are sitting on the “traditional” sides, can see their son/daughter directly as they are facing left or right.
  • Try to position the wedding party so that they can be seen by the audience, but so they can still focus on what the bride or groom are up to during the ceremony. So this usually means a diagonal line leading away from the couple. But do what makes sense based on the available room, size of the party, etc.
  • To please the few people in the audience that are super obsessive-compulsive, try to make things symmetrical.
  • Girls holding flowers: belly button level.
  • Guys hands: crossed the same way, avoiding “claw” hands, be relaxed!
  • No gum, chewing tobacco or sunglasses. Unless you like that look.

Step

2
Practice the exit
  • After document signing, it is really nice if the bride retrieves her flowers, and then both of you stand at the front, facing the audience while you are presented (“Ladies and Gentlemen, I am very pleased to introduce to you…”)
  • At the specific part of the ceremony that triggers the recessional (i.e. “ladies and gentlemen, the bar is open!” or “I am now pleased to introduce you to Mr. and Mrs. Smith!”) the bride and groom should head down the aisle or “out”.
  • If the couple stops part way down the aisle (and the photographer knows about this) to do another kiss, it looks super cool. Audience is all around you. It looks nice in the pictures!
  • Give them lots of room before anyone else leaves. Remember, this whole day is about them! I usually say once they hit the end of the seated audience, then the next couple can join up and head out. If the marriage commissioner and next couple that exits stay to the side (out of the background of the picture) the photographer will love this!
  • Continue this way until you hit the end of the wedding party – if there are odd numbers, walk in 3’s!
  • If there are children in the wedding party, have them follow the bride and groom, or go with their parents that might be in the wedding party.
  • If there are plans for a group photo or a receiving line that needs to happen right away, coach the people in the front row to follow the wedding party – whatever the people in the front row do, the rest of the audience will usually do.
  • If you plan a receiving line, try to set it up somewhere off to the side behind the aisle – to avoid a bottleneck of people coming out. I generally suggest that just the couple or the couple and their parents are in the receiving line.  If you separate out the wedding party, it will go faster (and most of that would just be guests asking “who are you?”

Step

3
Practice the Entrance
  • Is the groom seating his Mom or Grandmother before the start of the ceremony? Or does the groom and his gang just walk in through a side door? The key thing is, what triggers the start of the ceremony or lets people know that it is game time?
  • Space people so that the photographer can get a clean shot of just that person coming in. Super nice for pictures if everyone pauses as they enter the room or seating area.
  • Leave a nice break for bride to enter! Maybe the doors to the room close for a bit, there is change of song, etc.
  • If the bride is being walked in, it is traditional for the groom to walk down to somewhere around the front of the seating area and meet that person, shake hands, hug, or exchange Canadian Tire money. Whatever is appropriate.
  • The groom then walks the bride to stand in front of the marriage commissioner; if the bride is carrying flowers, she may want to hand them off to someone else at the front.
  • Nice for you to face one another, and not me. Even when I do the “repeat after me” parts, it seems like you should be facing me because I am speaking to you, but it is much nicer if you say those words to one another.

Step

4
Rings
  • If you are exchanging rings instead of getting tattoos, practice with your imaginary rings.
  • The marriage commissioner will ask for the rings (from the best man, maid of honour, or animal that has them tired to their collar). If it is a human passing them, make sure the rings are loose, and not in a box, bag or tied to a pillow. If a little person or animal has them all tied up, designate someone (best man?) to help the marriage commissioner, who may also be juggling a book and a microphone and doesn’t have extra thumbs to untie ribbons.
  • When prompted the groom will put the ring on the bride’s finger, holding her hand with one hand, while installing the ring with the other. Continue to hold the ring during the spoken parts. There may something for EACH of you to say (“I give you this ring,” and “I accept this ring”) depending on how your ceremony wording is written.
  • Repeat for the bride!
  • Some photographers say can you ask them to tilt there hands towards me in front of them, so I “can get a better picture of the ring?” And I have found that is super hard unless you have double jointed wrists. Stage the picture later on!

Step

5
Musical Chairs
  • If you are doing document signing during the ceremony, or any other ceremony (sand ceremony, candles, chemical reactions, etc), this is actually a good thing to practice during the rehearsal. If you are outside, it is nice to have something to hold the papers on the table, and if you have a super fancy pen you want to use, make sure it has black ink. Otherwise, let the marriage commissioner just bring their super fancy pen for you.
  • Review the part of the ceremony where the document signing occurs. Have the person doing the music be familiar with the statements before this, so they can be ready with any music played during the document signing.
  • Bride and groom approach the table first, followed by the two witnesses, followed by the MC.
  • Bride sits down; groom holds the chair for her while she does. MC points out where she signs. Easiest if the groom leans over her to sign.
  • They both get up, and shuffle to the side, and the witnesses play the same game. Female witness first; chair held for her if she is sitting by witness #2. Witness #2 leans over to sign.
  • They get up, shuffle to the side, and the MC signs. Then everyone shuffles back to the original spots: bride and groom first, followed by the witnesses, followed by the MC.

Music:

If the person that is doing the music is there, they should be familiar with who will give the direction to start the ceremony; whether to let songs play full, or fade them out, and when to play additional songs (document signing, recessional song, etc.)

One of the biggest things between a good wedding and a great wedding is how smooth the music goes. Nothing that makes people cringe more than the person doing the music accidently playing the exit song (by AC/DC) instead of the wonderful Wedding March you had planned for the bride’s entrance. Or the “clunk” of songs that abruptly stop, or the person doing the music being too far away from the Bluetooth receiver and everything just disappears. DJ’s change more to be there for just the ceremony, but they also have practiced a lot. So if a friend is doing this for you, get them to practice a bit with the actual set up. Gradual, super slow fade out of the music makes it wonderful elegant. The subtle touch of timing the music to when everyone is back from the signing and gently fading out the music is amazing.

General notes:

  • If the ceremony is outside, be very aware where people stand: bride and groom should not be staring into the sun! It is okay for the marriage commissioner to face directly into the sun because they are overpaid anyway.
  • Think about  the distances people have to walk in. If you are planning a 300 meter walk in grass, and a lot of people are wearing high heels, the processional is going to be tricky. Similarly, if the “aisle” is only 3 meters long, you may want everyone with a grand entrance to be super slow, so that the photographer and the audience get what they came for.
  • The wedding ceremony is a balance of tradition and misogyny! So a lot of what is in this document follows tradition, and it is very groom-centric. So the groom doesn’t have to be first! The ceremony should happen as you would like. So if that is traditional, that is okay. And if it is not, that is okay too.

The Final Word

If you get through the rehearsal and think of anything else you would like said, let me know! Sometimes it is the evening before that you realize that you need an announcement at the end for people to exit through the North Doors only, etc.

I have been through this hundreds of times, and I am going to gently guide you through the whole process. All of the items in this document I am going to coach you on, very quietly, throughout. “Psssst! Okay! Almost done! Turn and face the audience now!” It will look amazing!

Ceremony suggestions

Here are a few “Best Practices” for a successful wedding ceremony. General ideas that will make your ceremony look amazing. The small details are the difference between a good ceremony, and an incredible ceremony.

  • Announcements: If you can make announcements BEFORE the ceremony starts, it is nice so that people have time to put their phones away, and amateur photographers know what the wishes of the couple are.
  • Photographer/Videographer: Are they aware that the other is going to be there? Or will there be a jousting competition in the middle of the ceremony will they both try to get the best shot down the aisle for entrances?
  • Entrances: Leave good spacing for the people walking in, so that the photographer can get those nice pictures. This may mean a pause before people start walking down the aisle. If one of the couple is standing at front waiting for other, it looks really nice if they are standing at the front center (and the officiant is standing off to the side, out of the picture!)
  • Children: Is there a backup plan if someone is going to have a melt down at the start of the ceremony? Someone to bring them in? Is there someone at the front that will capture them when they overshoot their destination?
  • See the suggestions about music (link) in the rehearsal document. How the music is delivered makes the ceremony polished and refined (if that is what you are looking for).
  • Wedding Party: Did they receive instructions on how to hold their hands or flowers; suggestions about gum, chewing tobacco, and sunglasses? Do they have strange bulges in their pockets from phones or weapons?
  • Microphones: One of the biggest complaints people have about a ceremony is they couldn’t hear the couple and/or the marriage commissioner. If you have a microphone, is there a plan for everyone to be heard by it (i.e. black lapel microphones don’t work if someone is wearing a white dress, unless their partner facing them has one on). If the ceremony is outside, is the wind going to be an issue with the microphone?
  • Signing the Documents: Is there enough space for everyone to be around the table? Will some of the wedding party need to shuffle around so that the audience can see the document signing? Will people sit or stand? If people have low cut dresses, can they sit down so they are not making for awkward pictures? Is there something on the table to hold the documents from flying away? Is the marriage commissioner bringing a black ink pen, or are you?
  • The Big Kiss: Is the officiant (and others!) going to be out of the way, and out of the pictures? Will the couple stop mid-exit for another picture and/or kiss?
  • Exit: Where does the wedding party go after the recessional? If they stick around, the entire audience will want to congratulate them. If there is a tight schedule of pictures, they may not want this to happen.
  • Receiving Line: If you do plan a receiving line, it will go quicker if you don’t have the entire wedding party in the line—as this will a huge number of introductions (“Who are you? Why are you hear, how do you know the couple…”) that will take a lot of time.

Common Issues

I often get asked about “what problems have you seen?” I like to claim that I have never seen any problems at any ceremonies that I have performed. Even the one where the two little boys in the matching suits in the front row were rolling on the floor fighting with one another as the bride walked in with her Dad was awesome. But here are a few things that you might want to avoid:

  • Temperatures: It is rare that the temperature is perfect for everyone. So don’t start your ceremony 45 minutes late while your guests are roasting in the open sun. Keep the location of the sun during the ceremony out of the couples eyes so that they are not squinting!
  • Weather Back Up Plan: If we have a tornado warning, where do people meet? Is there enough time for everyone to get to that alternate venue (including the marriage commissioner)?
  • Music: I have seen a LOT of ceremonies where the person doing the music just turns off the song—and it is a harsh, abrupt stop. Fade out! Other issues: “The songs are on the Bride’s phone, and no one has her password.” “The groom sent me a Spotify Playlist to use, and I don’t have a Spotify account so these commercials keep coming up…”
  • Choreography: If there are high expectations for timing (“I want the groomsman to come in just as the second verse of the processional song starts”) then you really need to have some help with those items (planner, day-of coordinator).
  • Venues: Is the kitchen staff going to start banging dishes around just as the couple is doing their emotional vows? Is the outdoor venue in Leduc right under the flight path of the airport, and it is during the ceremony that you discover why it is so inexpensive? Background noise at a ceremony is a huge distraction for everyone.
  • Wedding Party: Did someone in the wedding party think they would be the cool dude that wore sunglasses, and no one else did?
  • Balance: Is one person going to “surprise” the other person with a very romantic set of vows? And the other person didn’t know they were doing vows, and they are really overwhelmed and feeling terrible that they don’t have a response?

In general, I think that the more planning into the logistics and ceremony script you have, the better the ceremony will progress.