Don’t feel bad if you’ve had one (or several) moments during your wedding planning process when you’ve thought (or said), “oh that’s right, the ceremony!” It’s easy to lose track of that, even though without it your wedding is really just a party. No shame. Write those vows, order those unity candles, organize the wedding rehearsal and plan that processional. It may seem like something you want to skip to get to the rehearsal dinner, but don’t underestimate the benefits!
Now, if the ceremony involves just you, your partner, and the officiant; you have a straightforward entrance and aisle; and music that doesn’t need super specific cues, I’ll give you a rehearsal pass. Quaker ceremonies also generally don’t need rehearsals, and my guess is that there are other religious traditions out there with ceremonies simple enough not to need a wedding rehearsal. Sometimes, a good pep talk before you go down the aisle will do the trick.
If your plans are more complex, I’m pro-rehearsal. You’ll want your wedding rehearsal filled with as much of your wedding party as possible if you have people who are:
- Walking or moving down an aisle
- Standing or sitting somewhere specific when they get there
- Possibly moving mid-ceremony
- Other people who may be standing or sitting somewhere specific halfway through
- Walking or moving back down the aisle at the end
I know that you can handle all of the above, and it’s not especially complicated. But, doing a run-through of it before it happens in front of a crowd will make it seem natural, and help avoid some common pitfalls and hints of awkwardness. Meighan McNamee-Mahaffey, wedding planner and owner of Lula Mae Special Events, notes that “It’s also good to have one person in charge; this is not a good time for direction by committee. Even if you don’t have a planner/coordinator, designate one person to run the show and keep everybody on task.” Your officiant—if they are present—is a great option, or anyone else who is good at keeping a group relatively focused.
To be clear: what doesn’t happen at a wedding rehearsal is a full read-through of the entire ceremony. If you want to do this, you certainly should do it with your partner, your officiant, and anyone else who’s speaking (and, regardless, you should all practice your parts out loud individually). But you shouldn’t read through every word of the ceremony at the wedding rehearsal where you have a decent-sized audience of people who are going to hear it all again the next day. Everyone wants to get to the dinner, and should absolutely hear the content for the first time when it’s really happening. So what exactly are rehearsals for? If you’re a theater kid, you know: choreography (how people move) and blocking (where they stand or sit).
Choreography mainly comes into play during the processional (entrance) and recessional (exit). You’ll want to go over how people are getting to and from wherever the ceremony takes place. This part is probably pretty straightforward for most people, but the things you need to cover when rehearsing are:
Order of Procession
Give this some thought in advance! There are several ways to do it, but some questions you’ll want to ask yourselves: do you want both partners to process, or one to start at the front? Should your officiant process? If neither of you is being escorted by your parents, should you process on your own? If you have a wedding party, what order do you want them to go in? There’s no wrong answer to any of these, but you have to make a decision.
Pace of the Walk
You don’t have to do a “left together, right together” walk like you may have seen before. It takes a while if you have a sizable wedding party, and can look awkward. I always tell everyone to move at a natural pace. No rushing! As Sarah Carroll, wedding planner and owner of Small Shindigs, advises, “Walk slower than you think you need to. Similar to public speaking, people always try to rush down the aisle which ruins both photos, and oftentimes, the song chosen.” So just be mindful of not hurrying. If your group has a decent sense of rhythm, you can have people walk to the beat of the music.
Spacing Between People
If you only have four sets of people processing, you may want to space them out so that you can get more of your processional music in there. If you have eighteen people processing, you’re probably going to have to put them fairly close together if you want them all to get to the front before the song ends. Plan accordingly.
Order of Recession
Often this is slightly different. The couple recess together first, followed by the wedding party, often in pairs, and the officiant. Parents, who are generally sitting on the aisle in the front row, often recess next, followed by the rest of the guests.
Now, let’s move on to blocking: where people are positioned (and repositioned) during the ceremony itself. Some things to think about:
Where Parents Sit
I always have parents sit on the first-row aisle, which is standard, but—here’s my non-standard tip—on the opposite side of the aisle from their child. If they’re on the same side, they’re looking at the back of your head the whole time. If they’re on the opposite side, they’ll be able to see your face. I really, really love explaining this reasoning to moms.
You ideally want them to be close to the couple, but not too close, and evenly and symmetrically spaced. Wedding party members on the left should have the same distance between them as those on the right, and be in the same general shape: straight line, diagonal line, curved line, whatever makes sense in your ceremony space. I’m seeing more and more couples have their wedding party seated during the ceremony, which I think is a great option. Especially if there are a lot of people, they’re in uncomfortable shoes, they’re shy…lots of pros here.
Stand close together! You absolutely do not have to frame your officiant(s). Close enough to hold hands is nice, and make sure you’re looking at each other. Another thing that seems obvious, but sometimes you get up there and forget what you’re doing. You’re getting married! Look at each other.
Readers/Readings And Rings
Blocking for these people is going to be dependent on your microphone situation (how many you have, if any). If you have two mics (one for the officiant and one for the readers) then the readers should be in front and to the side of the couple. If there’s only one mic, I usually suggest both members of the couple move to one side (for ease, toward the person who has a dress with a train on it, if applicable) and swivel slightly to face the reader. It is definitely appropriate for the couple to look at the reader while the reading is happening.
Decide beforehand who is responsible for your rings. Meighan McNamee-Mahaffey notes that “even if you don’t have an adorable small child in your wedding, the rings need to get up there somehow; give somebody that job ahead of time.” In fact, it’s an important enough job that even if you do have a child carrying your rings, it’s wise to make sure an adult is ultimately responsible for making sure they get to you at the right time.
Should be standing behind the couple, centered, but should make sure to take a big step to the side for the first kiss, so as to avoid any awkward first-kiss photobombing. Make sure there is space for the officiant(s) to move out of the way!
This all, of course, comes with the caveat that everything should make sense when done at your particular ceremony site. Which brings us to my last important piece: as long as your ceremony site and setup are relatively straightforward, you can definitely rehearse off-site. I’ve done wedding rehearsals in hotel rooms, restaurants, and backyards. Anywhere you have enough space to create a faux-aisle and line up everyone who’s going to be at the front at the same time, you’re good. If you have a particularly unusual ceremony site, aisle arrangement, or entrance, it may make more sense to make the effort to rehearse at the actual site, but even then don’t panic if your venue isn’t available at a time that works for your wedding party. Most adults can figure out how to adjust things to another site, especially if it’s only one day later.
And, a final note: I generally have couples plan on an hour for a wedding rehearsal. 15 minutes for everyone to arrive and chat (especially if it’s a group that hasn’t been in the same place in a while), 30 minutes to guide everyone through it, 10 minutes to run through it without my help, and 5 minutes to answer questions or get an early dismissal. Easy! But important.
This post was originally published in October of 2013.