Hanna & Billy


*Hanna, Theatre Practitioner & Billy, Stage Manager*

Hanna & Billy | A Practical Wedding

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.Hanna & Billy | A Practical Wedding

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.

Hanna & Billy | A Practical Wedding

Hanna & Billy | A Practical Wedding

Hanna & Billy | A Practical Wedding

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.

Hanna & Billy | A Practical Wedding

Hanna & Billy | A Practical Wedding

Hanna & Billy | A Practical Wedding

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.

Hanna & Billy | A Practical Wedding

Hanna & Billy | A Practical Wedding

Hanna & Billy | A Practical Wedding

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.

Hanna & Billy | A Practical Wedding

Hanna & Billy | A Practical Wedding

Hanna & Billy | A Practical Wedding

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.

Hanna & Billy | A Practical Wedding

Hanna & Billy | A Practical Wedding

Hanna & Billy | A Practical Wedding

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.

Hanna & Billy | A Practical Wedding

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.

Hanna & Billy | A Practical Wedding

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.

Hanna & Billy | A Practical Wedding

Hanna & Billy | A Practical Wedding

Hanna & Billy | A Practical Wedding

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.

Hanna & Billy | A Practical Wedding

Hanna & Billy | A Practical Wedding

Hanna & Billy | A Practical Wedding

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.

Hanna & Billy | A Practical Wedding

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 RabbitRice Installation: Of All The People In All The World by Stan’s Cafe / Bride’s DressCaroline Castigliano / Headpiece: Whichgoose / Groom’s Suit: Oliver Spencer & Liberty of London / Groom’s ShoesGrenson / RingsEternal Jewels & Diana Porter / Bar: Built by the groom with vintage lightbulbs sourced from Historical Lighting / Chairs: National Theatre, UKPiper: Father of the Bride / Invitations, Confetti and ProgramsDesigned and Constructed by Hanna

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  • http://poppiesandicecream.blogspot.com Amanda

    Wooow ! What a magic beautiful wedding. You are so right about the force of the community, and about not only two people coming together, but two families creating something a new. And about how powerful, and strong that is, you just feel it.

    Also, all the chaos, the putting everything together to the last minute and realizing that “…whatever was not done would never be noticed….” is exactly it.

    And cows, and fields, and the beach, and the green scenery. I am sitting open mouthed looking at the landscapes.

    Hope you will always be happy.

  • http://smittenimmigrant.wordpress.com pluis

    This is utterly lovely! The energy and love emanating from the pictures.. Wow..

    I hope that you can look back on this (from half way across the world) and feel connected to everyone who may now seem so far away.

  • Ceebee

    Standing beside, behind, around you all the way. The people that keep you accountable and accountable for the union forged and witnessed that day.

  • Jen B

    Gorgeous wedding, and an even more gorgeous post. I especially love this: “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.” What a game-changing way of looking at the ceremony and wedding (and life!) you want to build.

  • http://www.spottytypewriter.com/ Kerry

    Oh my.
    Oh my my my my my my.

    That photograph of your husband as you are walking down the aisle!

    Thank you for proving how many ways there are to be “practical.”

  • http://www.emilinda.blogspot.com Emily

    Wow. I want to go to Scotland now. What a beautiful wedding. And my husband and I sobbed for the entire 1 1/2 hour drive away from our wedding to our honeymoon destination. And then sobbed off and on all night long. You explained that sense of community/family much better than I could, but we were just so overwhelmed by the amazing, outpouring of love from our community that we couldn’t stop crying. It’s not a part of our wedding story that I tell often.

  • Kinzie Kangaroo

    Gorgeous. I love the writing; this is one of my favorite grad posts ever, if only from the beauty and the grittiness of it. Goodbyes are one of the hardest things in the world, but I’m so glad you got to make them as a team.

  • http://www.michellehayesphotos.com Michelle Hayes

    Gorgeous wedding! The landscape is stunning, but I love the pics of the people and the emotions. What amazing pics to remember the day.

  • http://www.rorygordonphoto.com rorygordon

    This is a great post. (And holy smokes beautiful!)

    I am one of those people who has to raise my hand in the air and admit I made my wedding complicated as well, but I love that at the end of it, even if *you* are the one that totally botches the whole thing, you still end up married and it will all be okay.

  • MNEmily

    Outdoor weddings and writing your own vows are illegal in England? Interesting…

    • Sarah

      Yep. I think the rule is that the wedding has to be in a “permanent structure”, so there are a few places with gazebos which can be used for the ceremony, but in my experience of looking for a venue in England they’re very unusual. On the plus side, the weather is so unreliable you might be glad you’ve been forced inside : )

    • http://iputonmywolfsuit.blogspot.com/ Billy

      Yes, and indeed Sarah is correct. Well, kind of.

      It is not illegal to have the ceremony of your dreams (location and vows included) in England and Wales – it just won’t be ‘recognised’ legally. You need to back it up with a legal ceremony before or after, if you want to be considered married/partnered by law. So, two ceremonies – the one that you truly want, and the one official, quick, low-key ceremony held by a civil registrar. One way to do this is to go and have a ceremony in a registry office a few days before or after the main one. This is how a lot of people do it, and we have had friends do it to great effect. It is also entirely possible to hold the two ceremonies within the same venue, in quick succession, so that you can at least do it all within the same half hour.

      We thought about doing it this way and eventually decided that we, personally, wanted to do it once and once only – I in particular wasn’t comfortable getting married knowing that technically I was already or not-yet married. Pedantic, I know, but if something doesn’t feel right… That’s when we started looking into alternative places.

      (I think there are a couple of tiny loopholes that allow for a legal Humanist ceremony in England, but both involve holding the ceremony within a religious building).

      http://www.theanycampaign.co.uk has more info about the current situation in England and Wales.

  • http://bunniesnbeagles.blogspot.com Ms. Bunny

    We probably made things a lot more complicated by getting married in a city we didn’t live in nor our parents (although friends did). And there were a bunch of logistical issues that could have been taken care of quickly if we had booked some all inclusive place. But our wedding was entirely us and I wouldn’t do it differently for the world. Practical impracticality for the win!

    May I ask where you moved to?

  • http://bettencourtchase.blogspot.com Helen

    I love this! I love this so much. Especially this: “marriage is not just about the two people at the end of the aisle but about the people who are standing beside you.”

    Thank you for sharing. :)

  • KC

    What a lovely post. As a theatre person myself I fully understand the idea of working your butt off on creating something from the ground up (and often working into the night and up until the last minute), and a wedding is really no different.

  • Sarah

    “Marriage is not just about the two people at the end of the aisle but about the people who are standing beside you.” So true. And I completely understand how difficult it is to realise this and then say goodbye. 5 weeks after our wedding this September my husband and I moved from the UK to California and it was both wonderful and terrible timing. Great to be starting such a big adventure as newlyweds, but so difficult when we’d just had the biggest reminder of how much we love our families and friends.

  • http://dullmoments.wordpress.com laurabalaurah

    Just gorgeous- post and pictures. I loved the words about the community becoming a part of the marriage. And, as a creative person, how can you not want to channel that into your wedding? Lovely.

  • http://lowehousecreative.com/ Elizabeth @ Lowe House Events

    This. Love. so much.

  • Aiyana

    There is a photo toward the end where a number of men are putting rice or sand or something on papers on a table. What is happening there?

    • http://iputonmywolfsuit.blogspot.com/ Billy

      James, Craig and Graeme are friends and colleagues of mine, from my theatre work in the UK. They work together as the theatre company Stan’s Cafe, based in Birmingham – http://www.stanscafe.co.uk – well, actually Graeme is freelance, but helped to found the company with James back in the early 90s. Anyway, one of their pieces is called ‘Of All The People In All The World’. It’s an installation/performance piece that uses grains of rice to compare otherwise incomprehensible statistics. They have taken it all over the world in different versions and sizes. They very kindly agreed to make a ‘micro’ version of it for Hanna and I, based on the theme of marriage, love and us personally, and curated it during the party. For example, they had the number of people at Kate and Wills’ wedding, versus the number of guests at our wedding.

      It was one of those little, unique touches that made our wedding feel so special and personal. We’re very honoured to have had an art installation created just for us!

      Read all about the piece here: http://www.stanscafe.co.uk/project-of-all-the-people.html

      • http://eclpse.livejournal.com Kimberly

        That’s neat.

  • http://www.fotobellaphoto.com Jessica Norman

    I LOVE LOVE LOVE this! A wedding is about the community of people in your life and you proved just how much you rely upon them!

  • http://Henryreigns.blogspot.com Kiara

    How lovely to see a fellow Crear wedding here, it’s truly a magical place and the way you wrote about your day is just beautiful!

    • meg

      CREAR! It’s maybe my favorite wedding venue these days.

      • http://www.crearweddings.co.uk Crear

        Thank you from all the Crear team – a lovely comment and hope we are still your number 1! xx

  • http://iputonmywolfsuit.blogspot.com/ Hanna

    Thank you for all your lovely comments and kindness. I am really grateful that I was given the chance to share our wedding with a community of people who I knew would truly understand our story and our need to do things our own way.

    In answer to your question, Ms Bunny, we now live in Toronto and are currently bracing ourselves for Winter!

    I am glad Billy explained the rice- it was the one part of the wedding I knew nothing about! It was kept a total surprise from me right up until dinner but along with the story telling was my favorite part of the day. There is something really comforting and timeless about sitting by a fire, in a room full of people you love, listening to stories. I betting it doesn’t happen often in weddings; it was incredibly personal to us and something I will never forget.

  • Rhubarb

    I just stage managed my first event (all-day conference, not a wedding; and not run by professionals, which is why I did a ton of logistics until 4:30 the morning of the conference and then stage managed starting at 7:30) and when I read this I felt like I was back in that building, stapling and printing and trying to somehow get the red spray paint to match the red posters.

    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-fueled work.

    Congratulations. It looks lovely. And story-telling!

  • april

    Oh, this bit truly resonated with me: “But what they don’t tell you about weddings is that there is not one but two unions that happen in that moment…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.”

    YUP. On the day following me and my mister’s wedding – after brunch, good-byes, airport drop-offs and many, many trips back and forth from the car to our apartment with loads of gifts – I broke down and sobbed. Literally, bawled my eyes out the entire afternoon… and the next day, on the airplane as we jetted to our honeymoon. I just wasn’t expecting the emotional grandness of the week-end to hit me like that, but boy did it ever bowl me over.

    Thank you so much for sharing your day. And THE PICTURES!!! They’re lovely as are you and your new husband! Congrats, dearest!

  • Elle T.

    Wow. I did just get engaged this over this thanksgiving weekend. I am already freaking out a bit over things like cost (we live and want to marry in San Francisco) but this post really helped today!! Beautiful. This especially:

    “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.”

    Thank you, Hanna and Billy and Congrats!

    • meg

      You can do it! We did it, and tons of other APW-ers have pulled off weddings of all different sizes and budget constraints in SF. Hurrah!

    • http://iputonmywolfsuit.blogspot.com Hanna

      Congratulations on your engagement! And Meg is absolutely right, you can pull off anything you want with a little creativity and will power. It made me really sad that from the moment we got engaged, everyone wanted to talk about money. We found it really stressful and really unhelpful in dreaming up not only what we wanted but what we needed. In the end, my response to that was to stand back, ignore them, think long and hard about what I really wanted and then worked on achieving it. Everyone will tell you to set a budget first but for me, I didn’t even begin to work out costs until I knew exactly what my priories were. If getting married in San Fran is what you both want (jealous btw!) then you will find a way of making it happen. People will do surprising things for you. My guests braved a field of cows. People are amazing like that.

  • RachelC

    wow wow wow. yup, wow.

  • http://iputonmywolfsuit.blogspot.com/ Billy

    Just a little note of congratulations to our photographer, Julie Kim, for her recent success in the ISPWP contest with two photographs including the one from Hanna and I’s ceremony. Yes, the one with me pretending – *cough* – to cry. It came third in the ‘Emotion’ category, out of lots of other professional entries from all over the world.

    http://www.juliekimphotography.com/latest/awards/ispwp-contest-success.html

  • Jan

    I *love* that you wore a Castigliano dress in such a setting! Your dress is absolutely beautiful and totally suited you! What material was it made from? How was your experience with them? Also your hair, so lucky!!

    Both you and your husband looked so gorgeous and vivacious, and that landscape, oh my.

    • http://iputonmywolfsuit.blogspot.com Hanna

      Thanks Jan! I was definately not their typical customer! You should have seen the reaction when I told them where that dress was going! I still have not broke the news to them that when I got to the end of the isle, there was a significant amount of mud and cow pat on the train! Its funny though because in that moment, I count not have cared less!

      I was really torn between the CC dress and getting a vintage one. In the end though, I figured dramatic landscape = dramatic dress (which was made of silk and organza I think) and it was super fun to wear which is the main thing. On the whole, I found the CC service to be nothing short of brilliant- they really look after you, listen to you and work with you to get what you want. The fit on those dresses is amazing- I somehow managed to wear it without a Bra, which believe me, is nothing short of a miracle!

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  • Cbrown

    Ooh, a Scottish wedding on APW. Always exciting. Crear sounds amazing, definitely on my must visit list.