How To Stage Manage Your Wedding (In Six Mostly Easy Steps)

Groom getting ready for wedding and bridesmaids in the next room

Hi, My name is Cindy, and I am a Stage Manager. I’m addicted to paperwork, checklists, sharpies, and starting on time (which, I’ve learned, is a near-impossible task), and I’m here to tell you how to stage manage your wedding. If you’re like me, you probably don’t need to read this post. But if you’re currently keeping track of your guest list on the back of a greeting card (I recently met with a client to discuss her upcoming wedding, and she whipped this out of her purse and started counting check marks…), or you’d be hard-pressed to find your photographer’s phone number if she doesn’t show up on time, you may need my help.

Get Organized 

This is the hardest and most important step.

You need to set up a system for yourself to keep track of the big picture and all the little details. Get a big binder and divide it into tabs for each big part of your wedding. Here are some you might want to start with and what’s likely to go in them. You can use this binder from the get-go and include inspirational pictures and ideas as well, if you want.

  • Important Info (for me, this is a couple sheets in page protectors before the other sections; it’s the stuff you’ll reference most often on/right before your wedding day)
    • Contact Sheet – Name, Cell Phone Number, & Email Address of everyone with a role in your wedding (vendors, wedding party, family members, officiant, anyone needed for pictures)
    • Timeline – Detailed breakdown of what happens, when it happens, where it happens, and who needs to be there – for the entire day, including getting ready & getting home or to the hotel after the party is over
    • Checklist – of everything that needs to be brought to the ceremony or reception, and who is responsible for bringing it
    • Shot list for your Photographer
  • Budget
  • Ceremony
    • Copy of your ceremony text
    • List of your processional/recessional order
    • Your marriage license, ready to be signed!
    • Anything else related to your ceremony
  • Reception
    • Venue information, including floor/seating plans, and any needed setup
    • Menu/Beverage List
    • Playlist for the DJ, with special songs (first dance, etc.) noted
    • List of who is giving toasts & list of people you want to remember to thank!
    • Anything else related to your reception
  • Guests
    • In addition to the guest list, you might also keep track of gifts received & thank you notes sent in this section.
  • Attire/Rings
    • Many of you may find this section optional. However, if you are coordinating dresses and/or suits for a large wedding party and/or parents, that could go here.
  • Décor/Floral/Photo/Video/Entertainment
    • Depending on your personal organizational style, you might put any of these in another section.
  • Vendor Contracts
    • All of them. You do have contracts, don’t you?

You probably noticed a bunch of paperwork referenced in that list (Contact Sheet, Guest List, Timeline, Checklists, Playlist, etc.). I recommend you use an online document service (like Google Docs) for these things. That way you can access them quickly from just about anywhere when you think of something that needs to be added or edited, and you and your partner can collaborate easily.

Make Backup Plans

Ok, now that you’ve got everything in one place, there are probably some things for which you should have backup plans. Examples are: outdoor events, which should have an indoor location secured in case of inclement weather; flower girls/ring bearers who may be suddenly shy and unwilling to walk the aisle in front of all those people; your iPod playlist which should be copied onto someone else’s iPod too!

Find the Missing Details

Read APW’s wedding grad posts, consult online checklists or friends who’ve gotten married, ask a planner—whatever. There is probably something you forgot (reserved signs for your family’s seats? someone to press play on the iPod? toasting glasses your grandmother sent you a month ago?), and if you take a little time now to check your list twice, you’ll figure it out before the big day arrives and thus avoid panic.

Hire a Wedding Stage Manager or Sweet Talk a Friend

I think (and Meg is pretty clear on in the book) a wedding stage manager is not optional. Not because you need someone to plan your wedding for you, because, obviously you already did that in step 1. But because on your wedding day, you do not want to be setting up chairs and centerpieces before you run back to the hotel to get ready, wearing a watch to keep things happening on time, or talking to the catering manager every twenty minutes about what food to bring out and which tables go where.

Do you have to pay for this? No, you absolutely do not.
But know that a professional has done weddings and events before yours and will help you with or even do all of the steps above for you. If you go with a friend, choose wisely. This is not a job for the social butterfly who makes everyone feel welcome and gorgeous at the party just as soon as she shows up late and without her potluck dish…again. This is a job for that friend who sends out the evites with driving, parking, and public transit directions from three different starting points and can usually be found apologizing for being ten minutes early with an extra bottle of wine in hand.


I know everyone’s schedules are crazy and it’s hard to get people in the same place at the same time, but even if it’s fifteen minutes the morning of the wedding, try to schedule at least a quick walk through of your ceremony. Practice walking slowly, unless you want to be like me and beat your bride down the aisle.

Relax, Get Married

Hand over your binder, your watch, and your cell phone to that person you designated in Step 4 (preferably the day before) and simply be present. Soak up all the moments in the first day of the rest of your awesome married life.

Random Bits of Advice

  • Ask your baker how to cut that first slice of cake. They often place dowels and plates in and between layers so that it doesn’t slip or fall over; it’s better to cut around those, yes?
  • Make a shot list for your photographer. Even if you aren’t doing formal, posed photos, you know there are people you’d be sad about not getting a picture with. Write it down and check it off.
  • Decide in advance what you’re going to eat on your wedding day (before the reception) and the days before. Put someone else (great job for your best person) in charge of making sure you eat. And choose healthy stuff that you know won’t upset a nervous stomach.
  • If you’re having any kind of welcome party or rehearsal dinner in your home, especially if you live in a condo or apartment building, let your neighbors know ahead of time or be prepared for them to throw big hissy fits about it. (I speak from personal experience.)
  • Write your thank you notes as soon as you get gifts. I cannot stress this enough. (A friend has a rule that she cannot use a gift or deposit a check until the note is written – an excellent rule.)
  • If you’re getting married outside (or spending time outside right before your wedding) and you burn easily, for the love of all that is sacred, please wear sunscreen. Lest you have a big red blotchy area on your chest that is not in the shape of your gown’s neckline. (Yep, that’s me.)

Little Phrases from Theatre that May Help You

Finally, a couple of my favorite phrases from theatre that may help you keep perspective and/or sanity:

  • The 6 Ps: Proper Planning Prevents Piss-Poor Productions. Or weddings in this case.
  • There is a very fine line between “The show must go on!” and “This is stupid, I’m going home.” If something about your wedding seems like way more trouble than it’s worth… it probably is. Cut it without guilt, and move on.
  • “It’s just a show, it’s just a show, it’s just a show…” This is my mantra when people are being pains in my butt or I’ve just messed up a cue and I’m beating myself up about it. It happens. Point being, it’s not life or death (unless it is, in which case your stage manager will be calling 911, administering first aid, and otherwise handling it) so let it go and refocus on what’s ahead.

Got more stage managing questions? Need some spreadsheet templates for your wedding? Please feel free to email me – cindy AT AISLELESSTRAVELED DOT com, or you can find me on our website.

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  • Mmm, the one thing I learned, if it helps anyone, is this: make sure that on the “timeline” of events the time you calculate for activities is realistic. Or whatever time you think X is going to take, add a bit more. Perhaps this is obvious, but it wasn’t for us. We had a million activities planned and the party was over before we did all of them. Take into account that people might give “surprise” speeches (our case, though they were planned, by them of course) or that unplanned logistic things can happen (like a computer that won´t read a DVD with a presentation on it, and there you have all your engineer friends trying to figure out).

    • Indeed. A good way to do this is talk to former brides and current wedding stage managers who can give you an idea if your schedule is crazy. Maybe even build in some extra free time every few hours for when things inevitably run long.

      • Jeannine

        Also photographers who often have a very strong idea of how long different aspects of the wedding are going to take. In my case, she was the only person involved who had wedding experience and her advice was invaluable.

  • Manya

    This is really excellent advice. I too was involved in theatre and event management, and a wedding nothing if not a huge theatrical production. I actually did have a coordinator, whose primary job was to “Stage Manage” the event (which was just a couple of weeks ago on July 16!!!!!!) and that was SO HUGE.

    I had that binder, plus a bunch of labels and envelopes and (of course!) a sharpie! All of the stuff other people saw was managed and coordinated really well, except for a missed music cue that happened because I had given the music-cue guy’s copy of the ceremony to my fiance so that he could practice his vows, and he never gave them back to music cue guy. Oops!

    But my biggest mistake was that I didn’t prepare the dressing room well enough! I didn’t have my dress and undergarments laid out well. I didn’t make sure that the hair stuff would be plug-inable right next to a well-lit mirror. I didn’t lay out all my fancy new makeup and hair-fabulousness. I didn’t even double-check for a full-length mirror! Since all my maids were kids and teenagers (my daughters, adopted sister and niece), they all wanted ME to do THEIR hair and makeup.

    I was imagining a meditative, gauzy, and tearful getting-ready scene. It ended up being Honey Badger level CRAZY (minus the badass) and it is the ONLY THING (within my control) I would have changed about the day. It all got done (it always does come together in the theatre… how? It’s a mystery!) but it would have been way less stressful had I remembered to take care of myself a little instead of worrying about everybody else.

    So that’s my advice… don’t forget to pimp out your dressing room the day before!

  • This is all such great advice. I was too afraid to carry my marriage license around with me, but I did have a pink binder with all the lists! We didn’t have one person managing on that day (leading up to the day, it was mostly my sister and I managing everything, with the now husband doing a lot, too), but we did end up with a network of amazing friends and family doing random little tasks when they needed to be done. It does help to have a bunch of steady people around you during the wedding/pre-wedding–even my hair dresser was a calm and steady person for me on that day.

    Organized lists are a MUST! It also helps to have people who you love and trust to bounce ideas off of, so you know, when you say, “what about personalized door handle signs for every hotel room?” your person can give you that look.

  • Caroline

    This is all GREAT advice. I thought having a venue coordinator would take away the need for this, and I was completely wrong. She was great, but there were still lots of loose bits that we were responsible for. Luckily my amazing planner pants friend, who is described perfectly by Cindy’s description, swooped in and ran around making sure the odds and ends were done, from hitting play on the iPod to ringing the church bell. I repaid her in a gallon of ice cream, and she still loves me, but I should have thought of most of these things ahead of time!

    • “I thought having a venue coordinator would take away the need for this, and I was completely wrong.”

      YES. Our venue coordinator was HORRIBLE (not nice, rude, late, disorganized, didn’t listen to us, was judgmental). Upon realizing this, we set a plan into action which included my sister’s amazing boyfriend helping Eric out with setting up the music and electronics, and my sister being my second set of eyes, as well as making it aware to our vendors (Hi Mads!) to listen to US and not HER. Do not rely on wedding venue coordinators (and we had two!), my own gripe about the wedding was that Eric and I had to do more than I thought we would have had to (aka, cleaning up the bridal suite in my dress, organizing the bouquet toss and garter throw, etc)…okay, I’m done ranting. :)

      • Venue coordinators can be great – I have worked with some who are on top of their game and have the meal planned out with me down to the minute and are willing to pitch in if you need to change something (I had to make the call to serve cake early because guests were leaving, etc) but they are responsible for things at the venue ONLY.

        If you have one, please use them – they know the space better than almost anyone (friend, relative, or planner like me) but they don’t remind you to bring the escort cards you will be using at the venue, or fix the bustle you snapped doing the electric slide at the venue. They just want to make sure that they take care of the venue – and that you get out of it on time, maybe not whether or not you remembered to take your Grandmother’s cake topper. That’s why you need a stage manager(family/friend/for hire)

        • This is all very true…and why mine wasn’t great. We expected her to be in charge of the venue items ONLY and handle that–well, she couldn’t even do that (ie, she didn’t know where to plug things in, or where things were at her own venue)–and she tried to handle the things which were really not her business (ie, asking me a million times why my mother wasn’t walking me down the aisle). On the contrary, the other Venue Coordinator was a doll and got things done and knew what had to be done at the venue. It’s hit or miss, I guess! We had been working with great people from the venue, but they didn’t show up on that day for the wedding.

  • Marley

    This is fabulous! As a stage manager preparing to marry her wardrobe supervisor fiance I love and appreciate everything said here! “It’s just a show, it’s just a show, it’s just a show…”

  • Cass

    If you have a DJ/iPod bodyguard, stage manager is an excellent job for them during the reception. They will likely have a microphone and won’t be afraid to use it! “Can I have the bride and groom up here to cut the cake?” “We’ll be dismissing to the buffet /this/ way.” etc.
    And for the ceremony, the officiant can also function as the stage manager, getting people to and from A to B, and keeping track of time.

    As for the “stuff” in a wedding, I’m not sure how mine all got there, except I made sure to bring it to the site the day before (glad to have that luxury!) I also had some great sisters/bridesmaids/friends who helped make sure I drink water and take time to have fun.

  • I agree that having a wedding stage manager is an absolute must. You can probably find one that fits any budget, even if you ask your most organized and bossy friend to do it in lieu of a wedding gift. We paid a professional coordinator $500 to manage our day, and it was the best money we spent.

    Find someone whose personality you can both handle and trust to take care of the details/potential problems.

  • Great post!

    I would add to the ceremony section of the binder that you have copies of your readings (if you have any). I know that your readers should have them, but you never know who might lose the piece of paper. I had a wedding where the brother of the bride came up to me frantically “What am I supposed to say again?” and I pulled out a copy of the reading (and kept my spare copy in the full ceremony text). Never hurts.

    And YES to the contracts. Your stage manager can’t argue with the limo company that they needed to send two shuttles instead of one if they don’t have your contract in front of them.

  • carolineemb

    YES to all. And make sure somebody (it doesn’t have to be you…) gives the marriage license to your officiant. That didn’t make our timeline, nor did it even cross anyone’s minds. We had it on site, we just completely forgot. Fortunately, we were told that it was more important that we *were* actually licensed to get married in that place on that day than that the officiant receive the document that day. We handed it to him a couple days later. No sweat. We’re legal.

  • Yes yes yes a million times yes to Google Docs!!!

    • Hypothetical Sarah

      And yes a million times more! Google Docs is the major thing that keeps my wedding planning sane across three continents (at least organizationally…)

    • Em

      Caveat on google docs (that you’re going to think is obvious, but I keep forgetting): not everywhere has wifi. Attempting to access your guest list from your venue or your flower list or budget from your florist’s shop may not work unless you also have the blasted thing saved on your hard drive.

      And for a totally unrelated comment: I love my binder. It has a charging knight in full armour on it.

  • Kayakgirl73

    As for the shot list for the photographer, make sure the photog actually has it. I think mine forgot it as there were forgotten shots and nobody saw her with a copy of the list. I also didn’t bring extras or have my Aunt was supposed to be helping coordinate had a copy. Aunt also was a bit disorganized, which was odd because she’s a major entertainer, plans hospital auxiliary and adult sorority events and did a fab job for my sister three years earlier. Ah well, the reception pretty much worked out great. Awesome DJ/ master of ceremonies really helped.

  • Kristin in OR

    Awesome post!

    Be aware of your weaknesses going into your wedding day and if planning/organizing is one of them, I would say a coordinator/stage manager is a must. And please, don’t rely on your bridal party to do this (yes, this has happened to me… unfortunately). Many guests can tell when a wedding is unorganized and this can make them feel uncomfortable or in some cases they will even leave.

    Definitely do a walk through of your reception site/plan as well, in addition to the ceremony walk through and/or rehearsal. Walk through it as if you are your wedding guest; from the moment they park to finding the bathrooms, to where tables are set up, to finding their way back to the car (especially if it’ll be dark), etc..

    • meg

      I think you need a stage manager even (especially) if you are super organized. I could have run my wedding, hands tied behind my back. But if I’d done that, I would have given up being a bride to be a stage manager. And I’ve never seen that happen without it ending in tears, or with the bride screaming at people who are refusing to listen to her, because, “she’s just the bride.”

      So even if you organize right up to the night before, have someone to hand it off to 24 hours before the vows.

      • I could not agree with you more. As two stage managers marrying each other, we were insanely organized. But on your wedding day, you are the lead actors in the play; you have no business trying to do anything else. (I mean, could you imagine a theatrical production in which the people on stage were also shifting scenery and calling cues to the light board op? DISASTER.)

      • Suzanna

        Yes, yes, yes. I do event planning, and that experience has given me enough knowledge to know that I do NOT want to run my own wedding. I was actually giving a caterer direction at an event the other day, and thanking her for her thoughtfulness (when her boss had been flaky), and she said, “At least you’re not a bride!” (meaning, at least I was calm and reasonable to work with). It really drove home the point for me–I can organize out the wazoo, but come the day-of? I will hand it over. Too many other, more important things, happening.

      • Kristin in OR

        Yes a stage manager is a must regardless and especially important if you are unorganized. I think that is what I meant to say the first time around and it didn’t quite come out that way.

  • another (former) stage manager says “yes, yes, yes!” thank you for this—there’s a reason i quit (stage managing, i mean), and i know i’ll appreciate these hints as i’m organizing my own wedding stage management.

  • Jackson Riley

    Anyone have advice on splitting up stage manager duties? We aren’t hiring someone, but have had several friends offer to help out. I was thinking of asking the most responsible/on-top-of-it-all be our vendor contact person and have the contact list. Another two friends bring the desert and do a final check to make sure everything is in place after the caterer sets up. Another to bring the flowers to the venue and pick up my pops. Our officiant would have the extra readings and marriage license. We would have requests and tasks clearly outlined and (hopefully) short, so everyone pitches in less than 45 min.

    Any red flags on this idea?

    • meg

      I think (personal opinion biased on years of events here) that you need one person who’s in charge of EVERYTHING. Then you can farm out additional tasks to other people, who are all working under person A. But if a problem comes up, you can’t be the point person in your wedding dress… and you will be if there are a bunch of people helping, but no one person in charge. So pick the stage manager, and then further delegate from there.

      • YES YES YES. What Meg said.
        One friend is the stage manger. Everybody else is the stage crew. They can all have their own tasks, but it becomes a ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’ scenario if there isn’t a sole person in charge of saying “Ok, now!”

        • Stephasaurus

          Oh wise Cindy: How does one get past the “I’d really like this person to be my wedding stage manager but if they’re special enough to be a stage manager then shouldn’t I also have asked them to be a bridesmaid and what if they’re offended?” issue? If, hypothetically, one were to have silly thoughts like that. :)

          • “This is the most important position we need filled at our wedding, and we think you are the absolute best person to do it. Would you?”

    • As a fellow Stage Manager (and the other half of Crafty Broads), I agree that you should have one stage manager, and delegate duties to friends beyond that.

      To me, the stage manager for a wedding is no different than for a play, at least in regard to their most important function. It’s so hard to describe what we do to non-theatre people, because to the audience, all they see is what they’re supposed to see – the pretty costumes, the talented actors, and the striking lights and set elements. The audience can’t see that in addition to the actors, there were people running around backstage putting things in the right place, making cues go at the right time, and, to make sure that all of that was being done correctly, there was a stage manager at the helm. We’re the invisible force that can stand back and see the big picture.

      Stage managing a wedding is no different. You’re the star of that day, and your guests are the audience. Having someone there who can see the big picture will make everything easier for you. That’s the person who would notice and be able to take care of the little things you hadn’t thought of, or could check in with those several friends with tasks and make sure that not only did they get done, but no one had to worry you with them. Your friends who want to help out will, and divvying up those tasks sounds great, but make sure one of those several friends is the stage manager – the one with the “big picture” skills – and that he or she is the go-to person the day of.

      That way you can be the star of the show, know that all the behind-the-scenes action is running smoothly, and allow your audience to only see the things that they’re supposed to see – you and your partner sharing this incredible day.

  • MamaMelli

    Oh! Adding to “sweet-talk a friend,” I asked a college-aged friend of my brother’s to help the wedding day go smoothly. She followed me around with a clipboard making sure things were in place and fixing my hair for $100, free dinner, and a sweet party. It’s amazing what college students will do for money!

    • FawMo

      For my parents’ 25th wedding anniversary (a muuuuch smaller scale event) they hired their barista!

      He came over beforehand and prepped the buffet while everyone was at church for the vow renewal. He helped the DJ set up, made sure the buffet platters were replenished, poured the champagne for the toast, loaded the dishwasher and generally was an extra set of hands. Best $150 of the day!

  • Dori

    Another great resource (similar to googledocs) is DropBox, a folder in the “cloud” that you can access from anywhere and share with your future spouse. When one of us received any kind of email attachment, we stored it there so both of us could access it. It helped a LOT.

    • Stephasaurus

      I’ll second this! I use Dropbox for work, and it is AWESOME. Such a great idea.

      • Emily

        I will third this! I was introduced to Dropbox at work but have also been using it to plan my wedding- with a Mom in another city, it has been a GEM to use. You can share folders and documents with anyone, and when any updates or changes are made to a document, the document is updated on all devices and in all folders connected to the document. My mom can add RSVPs to the guest list as she receives them, and if I receive a gift from someone, I can update it- and everyone’s in the know about everything. (Super helpful when Mom runs into our neighbor at the grocery store: “Emily LOVED that silver platter you gave her!” when in reality we haven’t even talked about it.) There’s even an app for iPhone that I’ve used when going to meetings with vendors. You can’t quite make updates on your iPhone, but you can access information easily! It’s also been very helpful when writing thank-you notes. Finding time to write those has been difficult, so I’ve just made it a habit to always carry a few blank stationery cards and envelopes around with me, and even if I’m not near a computer, I can pull up my guest list to see what gift was received and where the gift-er lives.

        • dawn

          A Wikispace is another way to do this. I’m using it instead of Dropbox (which I use a lot) because there is never any potential that someone will make a change thinking it is in the shared document only to find that it is on a hard drive document instead. The problem is that it isn’t as convenient for non-wi-fi connected use.

  • RachelC

    This post is SO GREAT!! I am bookmarking it and will send it to all my friends who get engaged because it is a clear, succinct description of how to make shit run smoothly. I like to call myself a Type-AA person, as in SUPER Type-A. Organizing, coordinating, planning and running our wedding was a MAJOR highlight of my life but I bet if someone asked me how to do it I would end up giving them a 3-hour master class. Sending them this post would be much easier for them and they would hate me less. Oh and even though I am Type-AA, I still hired a DOC so I could put everything down that day and soak it all in. <3 THANK YOU!!

  • Any tips for successfully downloading all the details to a day-of friend stage manager? Beyond, “Here, take this masterpiece of a binder, thanks a bunch!”

    • Good question, I want to know too!

    • This is where Google Docs ROCKS. I recently stage managed a dear friend’s wedding and had them put nearly all the information that Cindy mentioned above (great list!) on Google Docs. That way they could keep making needed changes during the week-of and I could just print out everything the morning of the wedding. (And everything was accessible via smartphone when someone knocked a glass of water all over my papers [true story].)

      Most vendors will be happy to give you an electronic copy of the contract, so ask for those and put them on a cloud server (like Dropbox, as mentioned above) for your stage manager. You can also use Dropbox to upload songs for them to back up on a separate iPod, etc. Behold the powers of the internet!

      You should meet at your venue(s) if at all possible. Introduce them to the venue point person and let the venue know that any problems on the day of should go to your stage manager, NOT you. Walk through your entire wedding timeline with your stage manager, step by step, and talk about exactly where everything is happening and how it should look, and who is available to help.

      Google docs is great for your own planning; I’d suggest that all of those things be physically printed out and put in your binder for your friend or coordinator.

      I should have mentioned this in the post, but I recommend that you create a ground plan for your venues showing how tables should be setup (additional plans if they need to be moved for ceremony and/or dancing!); designating gift & guest book tables; DJ location; dance area; bar; wedding party table; etc. It helps immensely to have a visual guide to where things are going. You can give a copy of this to your venue(s) too.

      • I think ideally you have your stage manager run your rehearsal (at the venue) in addition to the wedding day itself, because trying to run your own rehearsal is usually the path to madness…

        But yeah, definitely, definitely have a meeting or two prior to the rehearsal/wedding. And be prepared to answer a lot of questions at those meetings, since stage managers are managers and not mind readers. You don’t have to have a “vision,” but you do (often) need to have an opinion about things so that, if nothing else, when all of your relatives are clamoring at your stage manager about wanting to change, say, the order of your processional, he or she can nip things in the bud by pulling the “oh, but the couple has decided this” card. (I love that card. :))

      • meg

        Indeed. We had a final production meeting with our stage manager a week out from the wedding. Literally, a production meeting. I’ve been to a lot of them, and it was indistinguishable from the rest. Final discussions included: staff, sets, timeline…

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  • Thank you for this, I love it. One of my favorite posts on this blog so far, and I’m a huge APW fan. I’m going to start my Wedding Binder of Glory this week with your suggestions.

  • ellobie

    CINDY! Awesome post & love the website. I SO WISH I’d known you a year ago. We paid a friend/former coworker (who’d recently been laid off) almost the same amount as you charge for day-of coordination. I made her a binder with alllll the details/instructions/reasonable timeline. We hired her brother & his buddies for part of the catering and to do bussing, refilling our buffet.

    As our office admin, she was a great planner and pulled together some awesome work parties. What I realized after the fact is that planner does not equal stage manager. At all those awesome work parties, it was the venue workers who actually made the party WORK. At the rehearsal, she was off in a corner working on her resume. And at our wedding, girl was having herself a blast with the other guests, just like she did at our office parties, while my guests (and I) were wandering around with no forks for our food. Lesson learned: even if someone is a great planner, it doesn’t mean they’re a great stage manager!

    And HELL YEAH to the Google Docs!

  • I LOVE Google docs. I created docs so I can compare everything side-by-side. I compiled a list of wineries in Napa/Sonoma that allows weddings and put all the charges and list of demands on it. Turns out, there are well over 50 wineries that will accommodate weddings so it was an exhausting project. Same thing for caterers. I also had a master spreadsheet that tracked every single penny spent and budgeted. Using different colors – red (over budget), black (on budget), and green (under budget) helped to easily see how I was doing.

    One tip for the wedding – have a bag with “I MUST NOT FORGET” stuff in it. (I had a bag and a clipboard). As you are getting closer to the wedding date, put everything that you absolutely cannot forget in the bag. (e.g., marriage certificate, rings, packs of tissue, important contact information, payments for vendors, etc.) Then put at least one person in charge of having the bag with them at all times. Whenever the question of “where is x, y, or z” comes up, go to the bag.

  • ka

    Eerie APW timing strikes again. Just asked a friend this weekend to be our wedding stage manager. Sending her this. Hi Cali! *waves*

  • Jess

    Really excellent post. Thank you so much. This came at just the right time. Particularly the clarity and brevity…
    Well organized advice.
    Weirdly, I was having breakfast with an old friend this week.. we’d just reconnected because of the wedding, and I’m so glad we did. She is a theatre person too, and she said that hiring a wedding stage-manager (her friend) was the most important thing she did to prepare for the day. Great advice.

    I just emailed this stage-manager friend of mine…
    Thanks APW. Boo-yah Lazy-girl’s DIY!!

  • Lane Ellen

    I cannot express enough just how much we could have used a stage manager at our very DIY wedding. We ended up with a ton of friends pitching in at the last moment, which made it all happen. But not without quite a number of things going slightly awry, and not without a bunch of issues coming up that we had not considered. I spent a lot less time on my wedding day being a bride than I wanted.

    Really, it was not the brightest idea for my partner and I to be the only ones with the Big Vision Plan in our heads. Even with a paper agenda – which we attempted to put together – it was not clear enough for anyone to just help out without asking our needs/opinion (not that we remembered to actually give it to anyone!)

    DIY does not have to be DIE. Empower someone to let you have a great day.

    (This is not to say that my wedding was not amazing. It is to say that I would have rather had more time to enjoy the amazing.)

  • Ellen

    Thanks for reminding me that, as a stage manager, I DO know how to plan these things. It hadn’t occurred to me to make a wedding binder, even though that’s plan 1 for all of my shows. Great tips and I will for sure be delegating like crazy. Let’s see if I can wrangle this massive event into shape…

    • I called my binder my “wedding prompt book” and referred to the wedding as my BFS (Big Effing Show). It felt MUCH more managable once I thought it like a production. A wedding made me go, OMG!! A show? Eh, I got this….

      • Exactly. We called ours “The Party” for the same reason (and, because, y’know, it was one…)

  • This post makes me want to weep tears of joy and gratitude. I NEED THIS. Thank you for saving my live, my wedding day and the first day of my marriage. Sadly, my best friend would make a horrible Stage Manager, and, being new in town, I have to recruit from my stock of newbies. The show must go on! (and, if we’re married in the end, who give a shi**, right? ;)

  • Zoe

    Great post ladies! I think the only thing I have to add, (having been WSM/ Event Coordinator for about 4 weddings now) is to be careful of having your WSM be someone in your wedding party. While they can easily help do setup and coordination for any other aspect and time, that point where the family and attendants disappear to do pictures while the rest of the guests move into cocktails (hors d’ouevers, etc) has bitten me twice now. The most important one was that despite the instructions and the confirmation of the caterer to have cocktails in a garden area and NOT in the tent while chairs were being moved, I was not around to make sure this happened. The fault was TOTALLY MINE. I 1) didn’t confirm that the catering rep that I had been speaking to was going to be the one on site (SUPER SUPER IMPORTANT!) and 2) didn’t make sure I found the replacement person to confirm that all was good in a Particular timeline-y way. Because of this, no one ever saw the pinwheels that my father and uncle spent so much time assembling (and damnit, they worked too!) or got to leave the couple a message on a cute ticket to love thing. I mean, since no one was over there, even the bride and groom never knew that any of that existed! :( Most disappointing part of my planning day.

  • April

    AMEN to Random Bit: “Prepare shot list ~ give to photographer”.

    I know in a perfect world, we’d give full creative license and cast off the reins to allow the magic wedding elves tasked with documenting our day liberty to shoot randomly and at will. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, except you might not get pictures of the stuff you didn’t think about… stuff that would suddenly become a huge deal once you realized you didn’t have a picture of it two months later.

    Like your wedding rings. Or a formal, nice, frameable pic of you in your finery alongside your best friend and Best Lady of twelve years.

    I’m just sayin’…. I *LOVE* my photographers to the ends of the planet and will praise them from every rooftop I’ve got access to. But I should’ve made that damn picture list!

    • April, that advice is in there precisely because we didn’t want those posed family shots and we didn’t decide in advance who we needed to make sure to get a photo with. As a result, there are ZERO pictures of my wife and her three brothers who were in the same room together for the first time in 20 years at our wedding. Major bummer.

      • april

        :-( Yep, I feel ya’. Big hug to you both. Hoping all of you have a chance to gather again soon for a family reunion to snap some pics with her bros!

  • L

    Holy cow, BOOKMARKED. Thanks for this amazingly detailed advice!

  • Beth

    This is very helpful, but it doesn’t say how to ask your friends or family to be your stage manager. I am convinced I need one, but not sure that anyone would be willing to say yes. Does anyone have suggestions on how to ask?

    • Just be honest with whoever you’re choosing (and pick a backup or two in case they decline.) And remember that most people will be flattered and honored that you’ve asked them to play a special role in such an important event. Especially if they have ever been an actual stage manager or they often like to plan parties, they may be thrilled and jump at the opportunity.

      As for the actual conversation, I’d suggest something along the lines of… “Hi, friend/family member. Remember three months ago when you asked if there was anything you could do to help with our wedding? If you’re serious, we think you’d be the perfect person to be our wedding stage manager. What? You never heard of that? Well, we have everything planned down to the last detail, but we need someone to make sure that all those things are happening while we are focused on the business of getting married. So, essentially, you’d be the [go-to person / coach / cruise director / captain of the wedding boat / pick your favorite metaphor for “the person in charge of all the stuff”] Of course, other friends/family will be available to help; we wouldn’t expect you to do it alone – we just need a boss! … Is that a task you’d be willing to take on?”

  • Seraph

    I haven’t read the comments yet…but every wedding I’ve been involved in, in any way, had a wedding director. Most of them didn’t have planners, being very traditional church weddings following a definite script–my parent’s pastor uses the same EXACT service for every wedding–but every one had a director who ran around behind the scenes making sure everything got done. Usually this person was my mom, actually.

    So, I’m a bit bewildered that this is not something that’s done everywhere…is this a specific regional thing that I was assuming was universal?

  • Hm. I wish I had read this before my wedding and then maybe we would have remembered things like “toss the bouquet” or “have a first dance before it gets too dark out for your photographer” or even “bring more lights so that you can see outside”.

  • Sarah L

    I didn’t have a wedding coordinator or anything – I did everything myself. But my wedding was small (36 ppl, including us) and my “theme” was: if it’s too difficult/complicated/whatever, then don’t do it. It took me about 30 minutes to get ready (own makeup, own hair) so the rest of the time I was working with my caterers, setting up placecards, etc doing it all myself. I loved that, and wouldn’t have changed it for the world.

    The one thing that jumped out at me from this post was the advice to “make a photography shot checklist.” We did not because we hate posed pictures (but wanted a few just of family) and wanted most to be candid. BUT we missed some critical combinations of people….like a shot of just us two….and regret that. Seriously…there’s not a single picture of just us two. But as my SIL points out, that’s what cropping is for!

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  • Victoria

    Everybody talks about wedding binders and planning to the last minute. Has anybody just gone with the flow and had it work? I am of the opinion that all of that is too complicated and I’ve never needed it before – why should I need it now? As long as all of the important things happen. Do I need to decide ahead of time in which order people go to the buffet when we have 50 people? Can I just write out a day-of schedule and checklist and keep all the papers in one place and leave it at that? All of this just seems like so much work for what is ultimately just a party (the important part will happen even if California becomes an island that day, which is to say, no matter what). As for the stage manager, I was thinking of asking my mom to do it, because she’s the best person I know for that, and there’s no possible people outside of the wedding party in any case.

  • Kari

    Wow this makes so much sense to me. I have been a stage manager for many shows and now that I am recently engaged I’m having trouble giving people tasks or even wanting someone, besides myself, to make my decorations or cake. It is a power that you have to let go of and give to someone you trust because on that day I’m not going to be able to be the star and the stage manager at the same time.

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  • Thanks so much for this information – an awesome resource. I only wish I had it when I was planning my daughter’s wedding. Would you mind if I had a link from my website to this post?

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  • This post is full of excellent advice. I am an amateur Scenic Designer and Stage Manager so when it came time for my best friends wedding (she is an actress) my role as Maid of Honor seconded as the wedding Stage Manager. It worked out very well, so many skills cross over between putting on a show and a wedding. It was so funny when all the Bridesmaids were getting ready and I called “5 minutes” till photos and all of them responded “thank you 5”, so well trained. In the end, as a Stage Manager you are herding people around, making sure everything happens on time, and masking any mistakes; which is the exact same thing you need someone to do at your wedding. Thank you for sharing this!

  • Rebecca Pfiffner

    As the former venue manager for one of the most popular wedding venues in the Bay Area, I couldn’t disagree more with the statement that you “absolutely do not have to pay” for a stage manager, AKA “Day of Coordinator”. I can’t tell you how many weddings I’ve witnessed where the “friend” who is managing the wedding doesn’t know what she’s doing, gets overwhelmed, has an anxiety attack, breaks down in tears, isn’t organized, drinks too much, and/or doesn’t have a clean up plan for the end of the night. My advice to ALL brides is to hire a planner, at least a Day of Coordinator, and think of this as something as essential as your wedding dress. Having a “friend” help run logistics and event flow the day of your wedding is a recipe for disaster — this is the reason why more and more venues are requiring couples to work with a coordinator. Leaving all of the day-of responsibilities to a friend who is not being paid creates more work and stress for everyone, including the couple!

  • Lana Lang

    Good advice, but I have a friend who got married in 2003 and had a “wedding stage manager” (again, a girl who was an actual stage manager who they hired to help with day-of things), so the term was being used well before you “coined” it.

  • Stephanie Shackelford

    I was in the TV production field. And not only a stage manager but hire a production assistant hired the day of the wedding. I hired mine for my daughter’s wedding, paid for his tux and he stayed glued to my side. Anything we forgot, left at home he was the go to guy. We even had him run her bouquet immediately after all the required pictures to the person doing her “magic” with the real flowers in a shadow box. He also was responsible the next day for getting the groom and fathers tuxes returned. It made it so totally relaxing for all. I paid him his usual day rate and my daughter was so happy with all he did he made it in the wedding party pic.

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  • Kristian

    This is just from personal experience in film/theater: K.I.S.S. – Keep It Simple, Stupid!

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  • Ashley

    This is a fantastic bundle of information for someone planning a wedding, like myself. Thank you for the amazing tips!!

  • Adrienne

    I think this is a great list. However, you forgot about music within the ceremony. Wedding singers and musicians are a great way to have a very special celebration and some people forget about them until the very last minute. I guess it could be considered under “anything else” but seems more important than that.

  • With the thank you notes, DON’T do what I did and make them by hand. Buy the flippin suckers already made. Divvy the writing up between you and your newly wed other half! No need for you to be the only one with writer’s cramp. And no, just having your new other half sign their name on the bottom doesn’t count. Make them write out their sentiments of thanks. (While you go make yourself another latte on that FABULOUS espresso machine your boss and coworkers chipped in to get you.) Save your hands and print address labels for your envelopes. After the 25th thank you note signed “Mrs. Jackie Samuelson”, your hands will definitely thank you. Yes handwritten addresses look nice but you don’t have to do it yourself or hire a calligrapher to do it. Just do the address labels in a nice scripty font.

    One of the best pieces of advice I heard and repeatedly tell other engaged couples is “As long as your vows have been said, the rings exchanged, a good long kiss and the paperwork is signed, anything and everything else can go wrong. The important bits have happened and you’ll be married.”

  • Pen

    This is really great advice!

    For the photo list… I asked someone to take the microphone and call everyone one by one OTD thoug I gave the list to the photographer a week before but I knew, he could miss out on someone/something.

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  • AnnieSD

    Great advice! I was a college theatre major and spent 3 years in event planning, including weddings. Hooray for theatre training!
    I’d love to add that on your guest list, in addition to tracking thank you notes sent, track special meal requests as well (vegetarians, allergies, etc). Then make sure you give a list to your catering manager and wedding coordinator along with their table number. You’ll usually have a few special meals to order, and when the catering staff is trying to figure out who gets the special meal and the coordinator doesn’t know who the person is or have the table number, it can cause issues. A catering manager will usually tell you to put some kind of indicator on their place card or will give you a little slip of paper for the guest to hand to a waiter, but those papers get lost and place cards are hard to see in a candlelit room. Obviously this goes out the window if you’re doing a buffet, but I can tell you from experience that this is a lifesaver for plated dinners!
    Happy Planning!

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  • Thank you for these tips. I want to get married next year and your tips give me lot of useful information.

  • Katie

    This is so helpful and exactly what I needed! I think I just exploded with wedding efficiency planning! (Although my fiance may die when he sees that I just created and shared 7 new google docs with him)

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  • Jasmyne

    This is great advice! Just remember that not everything is going to go exactly how you planned and that the most important thing (and reason of the wedding in the first place) is that at the end of the day you’re married to your best friend, your soulmate, your true love. What’s better than looking forward to having a sleepover with your best friend every night for the rest of your life!? Just remember why you wanted to get married in the first place :) if your cake doesn’t get delivered, oh well. I hear Walmart has some superb cakes lol. Just keep your head up and your eyes dry and look forward to a lifetime with the love of your life!

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  • Jessi

    Hi Cindy-

    I just graduated with a degree in theatrical stage management, and have been interested for some time in trying to get into the wedding/event planning industry. I am wondering if you can tell me how you started out, and maybe give me some tips for someone who is early on in her career!

    Thank you so much!

    Besst Wishes,
    Jessi K

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  • Hannah

    Wow, I have been a stage manager on and off for years. I never thought about running my wedding the same way but it sounds like a great plan. I will definitely be using this method. Thank you!!

  • Albert einstien

    dudes! Amazing stuff continues the good work.

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