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DESPITE its circus credentials, the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art was not the most accommodating location for a high-end wedding's cirque performance. And staging challenges were merely a sideshow to the utility and time limitations posed by the historic venue in Sarasota, Fla., built by Ringling Bros. Circus founder John Ringling. Despite all the difficulties, however, Atlanta's Distinctive Design Events managed to pull off a “million-dollar experience for less than a million dollars,” says designer Tim Lundy, CSEP. Members of Special Events Magazine's Advisory Board just gave the event a Gala Award nomination.


Finding an ideal venue to satisfy both the bride and her mother proved challenging. “There was not a church — the bride's mom's vision for an intimate ceremony — nearby that matched my client's vision of grandeur and drama,” Lundy explains. “There seemed to be no viable solution.”

Until, that is, an 11th hour tour of the Ringling Museum turned up a space showcasing a 17th century Venetian fountain. With its Italian elegance and location beneath an arched Venetian loggia, the fountain satisfied all involved as a perfect ceremony focal point while the museum's bayside Ca d'Zan mansion provided a stunning setting for a sumptuous multi-course dinner.

But now that he had bypassed the impasse between bride and mother, Lundy found himself facing a host of new obstacles. Among these was the lack of modern production amenities at the venue. To contend with insufficient power, Atlanta-based lighting provider Infinite Designs had to hide a generator behind a wall supporting a reproduction of Michelangelo's “David” sculpture and run cables through the museum commons. A single 4-foot-wide door in that wall provided the event-production crew's only load-in point, Lundy notes.

That made things particularly difficult for the catering team from Sarasota-based Michael's on East, which had to set up its commissary tent in the same hidden delivery area to serve the 135 wedding guests. Not only was space tight for the caterers but they had to bring in every ounce of water they required for preparing the à la minute meal of pan-seared diver scallops over Israeli couscous and garlic- and thyme-crusted chateau of beef. Lundy describes the menu as the wedding's “crowning achievement.”


If lighting and catering didn't promise drama enough, the risk-management issues posed by the wedding's cirque-performance staging offered added excitement.

The permanent stage on the museum commons consisted of slatted metal strips set 9 inches off a 30-inch-high rise above a semicircular moat. “We were not sure of the {stage's} weight capacity, and nobody from the Ringling seemed to know the answer to the question,” Lundy recounts. Because of the uncertainty, building a custom stage seemed a better option. But, he adds, “The Ringling would not allow us to create a stage as wide as we really wanted.” Still, with the cirque performers' safety at issue, not to mention that of the guests seated close by, being able to test a custom-built stage — no matter how narrow — for weight limit, height clearance and construction integrity was preferable to a cross-your-fingers approach.

The result, Lundy says, was a safe and spectacular dinnertime display of cirque-style showmanship courtesy of Orlando, Fla.-based T. Skorman Productions. Kicking things off was a muscle-men “strength duo” followed by a contortionist, a juggler, gymnast and aerialist. Guests watched the performers from a mere few feet away, all the while enjoying their meal at tables laid with seven layers of linen and set with etched crystal chargers, cut-crystal water glasses and silver flatware. Floral centerpieces — all of which had been arranged on site to ensure freshness — added to the spectacle with their “ice”-beaded branches, mirrored balls and Venetian glass boxes accompanying towering spikes of Phaleonopsis orchids.


For Lundy, successfully executing this $257,000 over-the-top extravaganza, with the help of Marietta, Ga.-based coordinator Karen Casey, was akin to putting on the greatest show on earth. But that doesn't mean the designer wouldn't make a few changes if he had the wedding to do over again.

A major alteration he might have made would be producing the ceremony and dinner in the same location, gaining more time for guest enjoyment (the museum would not let guests arrive until 5:10 p.m. for the 5:30 p.m. ceremony, and insisted that all guests be gone by midnight, he notes).

“The band, Sound Connection, was amazing at getting guests up and dancing, and it would have been better to have them perform longer,” Lundy says. “We presented so many activities to these guests, we could have used a longer timeline for them to enjoy everything.”

Distinctive Design Events P.O. Box 13489, Atlanta, GA 30324; 404/395-0999; Turn to page 65 for a list of resources for this event.


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