*Hanna, Theatre Practitioner & Billy, Stage Manager*
Well here we are, back after the long weekend that is American Thanksgiving (hopefully after some naps, eating, and gratitude). Because we knew that a handful of you might be coming back newly engaged (APWers are non-traditional, but lots of you get engaged over the holidays), we thought we would kick off the season with a fabulous, gritty, and deeply emotional wedding. Hanna & Billy’s English-wedding-by-way-of-Scotland was shot by Julie Kim, and it is stunning. But the real reason it’s stunning has nothing to do with money spent or details crafted. With two theatre people at the helm, it’s creative and beautiful and raw. Hanna talks about how their wedding was impractical, but it’s actually deeply practical in the why-I-started-APW sense, because it’s exactly right for the two of them. They didn’t have the wedding they were told they had to have; they dreamed up the wedding they needed. And that’s what APW is all about. For those of you newly engaged (or about to be over the holidays) may this help you dream up what you need, whatever form that takes.
There was nothing remotely practical about our wedding. I freely put up my hands and admit that we made it really difficult for ourselves. We knew that many of our choices were irrational, impetuous and hard for others to understand, but then again, if it is true that weddings should be a reflection of a couple at that given moment in time, then our wedding was certainly true to us and the journey we were on.
In fact, it’s rather fitting that our guests have now nicknamed it ‘The Battle of the Somme’, favoring war-like adjectives to describe it. Epic, intense, poetic and muddy are a few that often pop up. If truth be told, every time I think about it I become impossibly exhausted, like I am running a marathon. Maybe that’s because I am a newlywed who is about as madly in love as is possible. Maybe it’s because getting our wedding on its feet took the superhuman all-night efforts of us and our closest friends. Or maybe it is because I am now writing this a million miles away from those people. The day after our wedding we packed our bags, dumped our suit and dress and moved half way across the world. Romantic yes, but not practical at all.
Billy and I got married on the 3rd of September 2011, on a remote beach, off the western coast of Scotland. For clarity’s sake, neither of us are Scottish; we lived in London, as did virtually every single wedding guest. But for reasons which completely baffled our families, we decided to get married in a place about as remote as they come. For Billy and me, it was never the planning that was tough. Yes we had our fair share of introspection, soul searching and family dramas, but it was always going to be our wedding, done our way. You can neither get married outdoors or write you own vows in England so we upped sticks from London to Scotland where both are legal. We found a humanist celebrant who was happy to let us write the whole ceremony and didn’t blink when her first draft was returned vitally unrecognizable. We persuaded fifty people that our remote converted cowshed was not that far from the city, that this would be the ultimate in leaving parties and that they would love to sleep in caravans for the weekend. Sounds like a bloody good adventure right? Well it was, but by God it was a lot of work, and for us it turned out that the wedding itself that was the most challenging and demanding of the whole experience.
We both work in theatre. We work to create beautiful moments, on a budget, for a living. A wedding is not too dissimilar to a theatre production. We were meticulous with planning our setting, lighting, soundscape and script. We knew our blank canvas of a cowshed was in need of some work but we planned its fit up with the uttermost care. We had our game faces on and were totally 100% in control of the task in hand. Then the inevitable happened. We got there, everyone we love arrived and we forgot about our game plan. We were so caught up in spending every last second with our guests that time ran away with us and before we knew it, we were swamped.
As with any theatre production, at some point you will inevitably work into the night to get the show up on its feet; this is a given. Where weddings and theatre diverge (as we quickly learnt) is when the people responsible for setting the stage are also required to remember their lines the next day. It was manic. It was twenty-four hours of backbreaking, chaotic, coffee-fuelled work. We strung lights in a storm, unloaded chairs, made decorations, set tables and exhaustedly willed our wedding into being.
It took most of the night and the most dedicated group of people we have ever worked with to get it on its feet. The morning of our wedding, on very little sleep, my best friend and I were still making desserts whilst Billy was still writing his vows. It was not your typical wedding morning as we worked right up to the wire. It was as live and as real as it comes. I will always be thankful for the people who rigged lights in the rain, stayed up half the night making playlists and still got up in the morning full of energy and made us both breakfast. I am even more thankful that they forced us to stop, take a breath and remember that whatever was not done would never be noticed. For the record, they were all right.
Despite all the chaos and superhuman effort required, the wedding day itself was hands down everything we had every hoped it to be; a true reflection of ourselves and an overwhelming love. We had thrown away many traditions from the word go. They simply didn’t mean anything to us. They were more like trespassers on our time and contentment. We did not have or cut a cake. Nor did we give out favours. There was a white dress but no hair or makeup artist to conjure the predictable Disney transformation. My mum plaited my hair and I did my own makeup, after doing my sister’s. I was adamant that the face looking back at my husband’s would be my own. We had bridesmaids and groomsmen but in no way ever asked them to wear anything other than what they wanted to. Point blank, we love them for who they are, not what tradition says is aesthetically pleasing.
We married on the beach because of its raw beauty and uninhibited energy and not for it’s practicality; although, nobody seemed to mind the hurdles they had to go through to get there, not the least being the journey through a field of cows. One of our dearest friends rearranged our favorite song and sang me down the makeshift aisle, fulfillment of a promise that had been made long ago. We huddled together and spoke our vows over wind and wave. Everyone held our rings before they made it to our fingers. It was a ceremony which my Dad later described to me as ancient, fervent and as real as it gets. It was the most tangible love I have ever experienced and unsurpassable in its significance in our lives.
But what they don’t tell you about weddings is that there is not one but two unions that happen in that moment. What they don’t tell you is that when you are both beyond exhausted and deliriously happy, how powerful the sense of community and goodwill is. In witnessing something so extraordinarily truthful and profound, somewhere along the line everyone they become a part of that marriage. You start a new family that day with not just one person but a whole team of them. And so saying goodbye? It pretty much broke our hearts. I can’t imagine many couples spending the day after their wedding almost constantly crying. It is the defining story and memory of our wedding and the very hardest to tell.
Our wedding in no way followed a sensible path and many thought we were being foolish in trying to do it all at once. But I look back on all that bedlam and know that it was by far the most sensible choice for us. Whether or not our wedding was a good platform for it, the experience unexpectedly taught us a huge amount about what we are capable of. It was chaos worth creating, a gamble worth taking and a testament to the group of friends who worked their socks off for three days and willed it into being. If ever there were wedding elves, they were on the beach that day. I will always be grateful for their determination to see us married and more than grateful to the man I married who, despite having not slept for two days, drove for another forty-eight hours, got us on that plane and held my hand when we had to say goodbye. Would I change it? Not on your life—because if I learnt one thing from those days in Scotland, it is that marriage is not just about the two people at the end of the aisle but about the people who are standing beside you.
The Info—Photography: Julie Kim /Venue: Crear, Argyll, Scotland, UK / Ceremony: The Humanist Society of Scotland / Ceremony Music: “Eskimo” by Damien Rice and “Sweet Afton” by Nickle Creek, Arranged and Performed by Blair Mowat / Storytelling: Performed at the Wedding by White Rabbit / Rice Installation: Of All The People In All The World by Stan’s Cafe / Bride’s Dress: Caroline Castigliano / Headpiece: Whichgoose / Groom’s Suit: Oliver Spencer & Liberty of London / Groom’s Shoes: Grenson / Rings: Eternal Jewels & Diana Porter / Bar: Built by the groom with vintage lightbulbs sourced from Historical Lighting / Chairs: National Theatre, UK / Piper: Father of the Bride / Invitations, Confetti and Programs: Designed and Constructed by Hanna