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.

Practice

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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