Sarah Comerford says there can be no more perfect venue for a wedding than one of England’s most beautiful and historic theatres
Everyone knows that this is a challenging phase for the arts: budgets are being cut, purse strings are getting tighter and disposable income is evaporating, yet there is a silver lining. Fiscal challenges can be a catalyst for creativity – we need new ways to fund our organisations and what better time than now?
At the Georgian Theatre Royal in Richmond, North Yorkshire, one of the ways we try to source alternative income is by holding wedding ceremonies on our unique and historic stage. We have been a licensed venue for on-stage civil marriages and civil partnership services since August 2003.
A quick internet search of wedding venues really shows how competitive the wedding industry is, so how do you stand out from the crowd? To excel you need something special and we believe that our unique selling point is our exceptional theatre building. The Georgian Theatre Royal is the oldest working theatre in the UK in its original form; built in 1788, it is the only theatre of its time to have survived with most of its original features intact. We are very privileged to house Britain’s oldest painted scenery known to be in existence – ‘The Woodland Scene’. We have a replica of this beautiful nineteenth century pastoral scenery and it is the perfect backdrop for a couple to tie the knot.
But the Theatre is a great place to get married for many more reasons. As a venue we offer a personalised sound and lighting plan including dramatic effects to enhance the ceremony. We have a Steinway concert-grand piano and elegant on-site bars where we can hold the perfect champagne reception after those all-important vows. Guests can witness the ceremony by Georgian-style candlelight and they can be invited by personalised theatre tickets. We can even serve ice creams as part of the celebrations!
Since we gained our licence we have hosted an eclectic mix of weddings, ranging from small and beautifully intimate ceremonies to extravaganzas and themed weddings (like the milliner who wed here and created hats for all her guests to wear!) We are still waiting to host our first Georgian themed wedding, but if you want to enter to exploding glitter cannons and The Phantom of the Opera theme playing as background music, we can do that – in fact we already have! Since 2003 we have had volunteers, trustees and even one of the theatre technicians get married on our stage, as well as members of the local Operatic Society and the Dramatics Society.
The benefits of hosting weddings at the Theatre are many. At a personal level, there is nothing more rewarding than playing a significant part in the happiest day of a couple’s life. The atmosphere at a wedding is completely different from that at a performance, and it is great to see such a historically important building being used to its full potential. Weddings also bring a new audience into the Theatre who might not have visited before. One slightly unusual feature of weddings at the Georgian Theatre Royal is that most of the ceremonies here are performed by our very own Finance Officer, who also works as a registrar. As we often build very close links with couples on the run up to their special day this adds a very personal touch.
We publicise our venue at local and national wedding fairs. Our first large wedding show was at the Harrogate International Centre and it was definitely an eye-opening experience. In the UK alone there are around 250,000 weddings a year with an average spend of £16,000. Consequently this £4bn industry really puts on a show at these events, which are competitive and exhausting but the contacts made are invaluable and we learned a lot!
Financially, holding a wedding at our venue does generate an alternative source of income, we charge £600 for a basic wedding package and, in a competitive market, this helps to set us apart from the crowd. It does have some drawbacks though: fitting a wedding into a varied programme, ranging from Shakespeare to rock music, can be a logistical challenge. We often have to do a very quick scenery shuffle and we once nearly had a wedding on the set of The Crucible! But we are determined to be here for another 223 years at the least and if that means mixing pantomime with the romance of a Romeo and Juliet wedding, then that is what we will do!