Do you remember weddings when we were growing up? I remember them as festive, yet simple affairs that celebrated the at-least-momentary joy of a young couple uniting in marriage.
Generally the ceremony itself was conducted in a church, synagogue, or judicial chambers officiated by a member of the clergy or magistrate of the court. Sometimes the couple had just a couple of witnesses to their commitment and perhaps a small group of close family and friends in attendance. At others, they had an entire retinue of tuxedoed or taffetaed attendants as well as a large gathering of extended family, friends, associates, and wedding-crashers.
Determined largely by budget constraints, the reception was either held at someone’s home or garden or in a nearby hall such as the Franco- American Club or a hotel ballroom. The choice of food (if there was a choice) ranged from spaghetti and meatballs or chicken pot pie to prime rib or Lobster Newberg. Often there was music, in the old days by a local band that could play the popular tunes of the day as well as “tribal” favorites or later provided by a deejay who had a stack of “platters” on deck, to respond to guest requests.
And finally, after a day of vowing and crying, dining and dancing, and the requisite cutting of the wedding cake, throwing of the bouquet, and tossing of the garter, the happy couple changed into their travelling clothes and took off in a tin-can-trailing, crepe-paper-festooned car to their blissful honeymoon in Niagara Falls or the Poconos.
How times have changed. Now, there are feature films based on the wedding ritual [Four Weddings and a Funeral, The Wedding Planner, Bridesmaids, etc.] and entire television reality series devoted to the category [Bridezillas, Say Yes to the Dress, and My Fair Wedding among others] that seem to document some of the worst aspects of the tradition. Somehow weddings have gone from family-centered, culturally appropriate, personal celebrations to extravagant affairs that involve a team of experts and legions of devoted family members and friends who either volunteer or are impressed into service to pull off a production to rival Cecil B. DeMille’s epic film, The Ten Commandments – “the theme wedding.”
The theme wedding is apparently today’s answer to creating a dream wedding by staging it yourself (with the help of others) – a sort of DIY wedding. These productions often are centered on a theme chosen by the bride-and-groom-to-be and can be as simply or extravagantly detailed as time, money, and patience will allow. I recently attended just such a themed production in Los Angeles, and here is my review:
I should have foreseen the production-values-to-come when on January 13th I received the “Save the Date” video-short as an e-mail attachment. The signs were all there: 1) the couple had a wedding website – TwueWuv.Us [This immediately boded a sickeningly romantic trend that most of you know runs contrary to my nature] and 2) a black and white silent film which depicted the preordained lovers as two strangers who meet in a vintage railway station and as if by kismet discover that they share a passion for superhero comics [Nerdy enough for ya?] . . . that’s it – love at first sight! At the end of the film, I was reminded to save September 22, 2012 as the date for the wedding.
In the weeks and months that followed, their website provided more detailed updates to the pages listed in the table of contents: Home & Photo Gallery, Wedding Information, The Wedding Party, Our Story, and Our Honeyfund Registry [Don’t you just want to barf?]. To explain each one in any detail would require more space than this blog posting, your interest, or my intestinal fortitude would allow. Suffice it to say, there was lots of information included in each category in addition to photos, maps, and web links.
Wedding Information revealed the location of the wedding ceremony and reception: The Fred Harvey Room at Union Station, a once famous restaurant and bar built in 1939 in the Navajo-influenced southwest art-deco architectural style. It also presented the theme: “The Silver Age of Hollywood” – a fictitious era that would encompass the great Hollywood films most beloved by the couple [Yeah, they also are film buffs].
The Fred Harvey Room, located next door to Los Angeles’ Union Station (where the Save the Date video was filmed) provided a perfect setting for a Hollywood-film themed wedding. There was only one problem: the former Fred Harvey Restaurant closed in 1967 and now the space was just a beautiful shell of its former self – no tables or chairs, no kitchen or bar equipment, not even hot water – everything would have to be provided! No problem – there would be plans, spreadsheets, lists and instructions that would be disseminated to the design team and 2nd unit volunteers (read family and friends) in the weeks and months before the wedding to cover every aspect the production from beginning to end.
Two major interrelated projects that occupied months of time and effort on the part of the couple were the creation of fourteen different dioramas of films that were considered by the couple to belong to the mythical “Silver Age” which were to be used as table centerpieces, as well as “imitation” movie posters of each film designed by the groom’s talented brother to look like the real thing but incorporating “film buff trivia” and the names of the bride and groom and wedding date into each. Each diorama centerpiece (crafted from assorted found objects, action figures, fabric, paper, glue, string, wire, etc.) captured the essence of each film including the black and white classic, Casablanca; song and dance favorite, Singing in the Rain; animated fantasy flick, The Nightmare Before Christmas; and action-adventure blockbuster, Raiders of the Lost Ark. The accompanying 16” x 20” color posters (displayed in the cocktail lounge) were also printed in miniaturized form to serve as a table-assignment cards and mementos of the event – [I’m exhausted just writing this].
Another project, assumed by the mother of the groom, was covering table-top rounds with movie magazine decoupage to create cocktail tables for use in front of each curved banquette in the lounge (remember . . . no furniture). Each table-top was covered with photos collected from the archives of film magazines representing a different genre of film (adventure, comedy, horror, musical, etc.) – [It is difficult to imagine the number of hours spent collecting, cutting, gluing, and sealing that were involved in this project].
However, in addition to these “pet projects” of those most closely related to the intended couple; there were several that required the assistance of others who either volunteered or were impressed into service. For example, one “craft night” task that was related to me by a willing participant was the creation of candle reflectors to be used to highlight the dioramas on each table. The idea was to create small reflectors from aluminum foil-covered cardboard monogrammed on the back with the couple’s initials [simple enough, if you have a steady hand and a talent for crafting]. Apparently, not all volunteers fit the bill, and some of their reflectors were deemed less-than-perfect. They soon realized that perhaps they should think twice before volunteering again for any duty requiring “craft-worthiness.”
On August 25th, nearly a month before the wedding, Rick and I (as well as 12 other “support team” members) received an e-mail from the couple with the subject heading, Wedding Details and Contacts. The e-mail contained two attachments. One attachment provided lists of contact information for a) the members of the wedding party and b) the service providers (caterer, photographer, deejay, etc.). The other attachment was a spreadsheet providing the most up-to-date directives for all close family and friends as to their assigned duties for the week before the wedding on September 22nd [Rick and I flew into L.A. on Sunday the 16th just to be “on hand”].
The duties of the “support team” ranged from driving a U-Haul to pick-up tables, lighting, and other special equipment to stuffing and sealing envelopes. For example, on the Tuesday before the wedding, Rick and I arrived at the couple’s apartment to join other volunteers in a last-minute flurry of activities that included Rick gluing the aforementioned decoupaged tabletops to upside-down metal-mesh wastebaskets to create cocktail tables [Is there no end to DIY ingenuity?]. I opted for the easier task of inserting pictures, signage, and posters into frames. Others stuffed pre-printed envelopes with the table assignment mini-posters or chose the more delicate task of sealing said envelopes using red wax and a monogrammed stamp [I’m not kidding!].
By the end of the week, the deadlines became critical: the liquor, mixers, and garnishes had to be purchased, the tuxes picked up, the rehearsal conducted to eliminate timing and spacing imperfections [marks were actually taped to the floor to insure that wedding attendants “hit their marks”], the delivery trucks unloaded, the lighting, furniture, and flowers arranged . . . . The duties of Friday and Saturday were now organized by hour rather than by day; everybody was impressed into service and given a timeframe in which to accomplish the assigned tasks [We were even given a deadline to return to the hotel to get dressed for the wedding].
When all was said and done, nearly every aspect of the production had been designed to fit the theme, “The Silver Age of Hollywood.” One such aspect was that the wedding should resemble a black and white film. To that end, all the “costumes” of the wedding party were in black, white, or silver; in addition, the “props” (bouquets and boutonnieres) were individually and cleverly handcrafted by the bride-to-be out of ribbon, fabrics, and wire (no real flowers were harmed in their making). In addition, the white tiers of the wedding cake were edged in black and white ribbon that resembled a roll of film, and the cake was topped by action figures of the Princess Bride and Dread Pirate Roberts. Even the “first dance” of the bride and groom had been cleverly choreographed and rehearsed to remind one of a pastiche of dances executed by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in films of the 30’s and 40’s [Obviously, no detail was too small to escape attention].
However, when the day finally (and mercifully) arrived, the resultant “production” was a great success. Nearly every aspect of the weeks and months of planning went off as intended, and the audience appreciated all the work that had gone into it: marveling at each detail, captivated by the intricate twists and turns, and rewarded by the happiness that the ultimate triumph of this insane preparation brought to the deserving couple.
This is not to say that all their engaged friends agreed that this would serve as a model for their own nuptials. In speaking with several of them, they were of different minds: some thought that eloping or getting married in a simple ceremony followed by a barbeque would do; others might opt for a “big” wedding but would prefer to just pay someone else to do all the planning and execute the details. But all agreed that “M + J: The Wedding” was the best production they had seen all year and deserved an Academy Award for Best Theme Wedding.
I have to admit, as a former producer and director of high school and community theater productions that were often characterized as “over-the-top”, I was impressed. A secret part of me envied the couple’s ingenuity and imagination and their doggedness in bringing the most important production of their lives to fruition. And I am convinced that this spirit will serve them well in their future as a happily married couple. Therefore, I loudly applaud these producers, Michele and Jeremy Fried. Congratulations!