As event planners, we must lead our teams and our clients through whatever unforeseen circumstances we may be faced with. We must ensure the team and the client feel secure throughout the planning process. We are there to keep smiles on faces and provide a positive atmosphere through what can sometimes be a stressful experience for the client, given all that is riding on that event. For the first time in my career, this was not something I could provide. There were many days during which I felt overwhelmed and useless for my team and my clients. I didn’t have the answers they needed. A worldwide pandemic was not one of the scenarios I had prepared for and as postponements began to roll in, I remember wanting nothing more than to cocoon myself in blankets and emerge when it was all over.
Looking back at the last year and change, here we are. A stronger team, a stronger leader, and more importantly, a beat up, but certainly resilient industry. To survive the struggles the live events industry had to face, teams had to come together and show love, support, and dedication to each other’s survival. The relationships forged during these turbulent months helped support and raise up fellow colleagues and focused not just on survival, but the future that we knew was on the horizon, even if we could not see it yet.
As mask wearing, perpetual sanitizing, regular COVID testing, and social distancing became the norm, the Jaclyn Watson Events (JWE) team was still lucky enough to host three events in 2020, fully regulation-compliant and COVID-free.
Jeremy & Chloe
For our first event in early September (postponed from June), we tackled three iterations of the wedding day—replanning their event again and again as it became evident that COVID was going nowhere. In the final iteration, the couple cut their guest list to 28. In order to maximize the contracts that the
couple were already committed to, we created a unique three-day experience for the guests attending. All were required to quarantine and provide a negative test result upon arriving and the majority stayed on the family property together.
Stretching out vendors over several days helped the couple capitalize on their investments, and also helped the vendors keep a larger portion of their profits despite the minimized guest count. Here are some examples:
- Late night snacks were moved a day over and reimagined as a farewell dinner
- An opulent dessert buffet was split between the wedding day and the farewell dinner
- Instead of cutting down the bakery’s order, we changed some of the desserts into brunch goodies for the final day
- When the number of dining tables was cut, the budget was migrated to the contracted florist, who dove into creating the true design of the couple’s dreams.
The results of these changes provided the couple with an extended vacation with loved ones as they quarantined, a welcome dinner where instead of 150 guests, they had under three dozen with speeches and performances from nearly every guest in attendance. Instead of the toned down and simplified design they settled for with their larger event, they received the over-the-top eclectic design they had truly hoped for.
The over-the-top pre-planning kept all vendors and the clients at ease going into the events and resulted in a successful COVID-free first wedding, boosting our confidence in the future of the industry as a whole.
Lauren & Christos
Originally envisioned as a large European destination wedding, the couple decided to move their date up by more than a year due to a loved one’s difficult health situation. However, this also placed them in the year of the pandemic and gave us just three months to plan! Due to the delicate nature of their loved one’s health, the entire family had been following strict guidelines to minimize chances of exposure and were regularly testing in order to ensure that they would not pose any risk.
Creating a luxe backyard wedding with this family was a truly lovely experience as they found ways to incorporate special touches throughout. A close-knit family—several of them owned homes in the same cul-de-sac—they hosted the ceremony in the grandmother’s backyard and moved the celebration afterward into one of the aunt’s homes. The family florist was able to share in the special day and provided a beautiful array of colorful florals to brighten the event.
Unfortunately, the beloved family member passed before the wedding. In order to incorporate her memory into the event, one of the bridesmaids carried an extra bouquet in her honor. Dragonflies are a special symbol to the family, so a dragonfly trinket was incorporated into the bridal bouquet, a memory table of all their lost loved ones was included, and countless family photo albums decorated their reception space. Finally, the bridesmaids’ attire was provided by the shop their recently passed cousin owned.
The wedding was intimate, elegant, relaxed but luxe, and full of emotion: Joy in being together to celebrate a marriage, sadness at losing a loved one, stress from the status of the world, and relaxation from a day of peace away from it all. For this family, it was the perfect way to heal with one another, support one another, and bring joy into each other’s lives.
Giuli & Ben
Finally, our most intimidating event to date. Regulations stated that 150 guests could attend an outdoor event in Vermont at the time. No problem… a little over 100 guests were invited, but one was definitely VIP in our books: our client’s aunt is Ms. Meryl Snow!
This was our largest, and therefore riskiest, event of the year. The JWE team, the client, and the venue took every mandate and regulation very seriously. Communication with guests began months in advance in order to ensure guests were aware of and prepared to comply with all regulations.
Again, we created a detailed timeline for vendor arrivals, ensuring that teams were staggered in order to minimize the number of people in the tent at any given time. The bride and groom also assigned their guests into quarantine pods. This in-depth tracking allowed us to create seating pods for all the guests ranging from a twosome to as large as eight. Upon arrival, welcome bags were provided, including hand sanitizer and the weekend itinerary, which also reminded guests of COVID policies.
When guests arrived, they were escorted to their seats by ushers who worked to execute the pod assignments. Each row of seating was separated by at least six feet, spreading out on the lawn at Basin Harbor Club, and also included some stadium seating. This offered proper
social distancing and followed COVID protocols, but also created a unique design where guests could access their seats easily. It also provided those seated at the back with an elevated vantagepoint that ultimately gave them a better view than if they had been at ground level!
After the ceremony—which was also streamed for loved ones who could not attend the wedding—guests made their way to the cocktail hour. Here they were greeted by staff members who assisted them in finding their escort card (a set of heart shaped sunglasses) that had the initials of their cocktail location written upon the back. Due to mandates, guests were required to be seated in order to eat or drink. To accommodate this, cocktail hour was held in two tents and provided assigned seats. Some guests found themselves at dining tables, others on unique lounge furniture, all at least six feet or more away from the other. Hors d’oeuvres were plated and carried out as individual pod platters so that each group could safely enjoy a delicious bite.
As cocktail hour concluded, the same pod traveled together once more into the beautiful reception tent. To accommodate proper spacing between tables, the reception tent was the largest we could fit on the lawn. All tables were six or more feet apart and the tent was required to have 50% or less of its walls up in order to be considered an “outdoor” venue. Various sizes of dining rounds for various pod sizes were spread across the sailcloth tent. Determined to have the wedding of her dreams despite the unusual times, the bride did not hesitate to design draping, chandeliers, pendant lighting, and rentals that matched her vision. The level of detail in the beautiful design and voluminous floral arrangements kept the vastness of the tent and dance floor from appearing overwhelming and created what still felt like an intimately elegant affair.
Thanks to the comprehensive communication between the teams and the couple and their guests, this event was executed beautifully. When evening set in and it was time to dance, no guests needed to be reminded that masks were required upon leaving their seats. It was a terrific experience to witness the adaptability of people when the right effort is put in ahead of time. Ladies had masks that matched their gowns, the bridal party all had matching masks with custom printed fabrics, and in the end, this was such a non-issue as the event was still the beautiful experience the couple hoped it would be.
At its rawest form
Faced with unique challenges, we honed many of our skills as wedding planners and designers. We do not take for granted that 2020 offered a great exercise in thinking outside the box. Never had we planned for an event in which the regulations we had to abide by were changing every two weeks. Never had we planned, and then replanned, and planned again, the same wedding. This was a test—not only of our skills as planners—but also a test in human relations as we maneuvered difficult waters with upset couples and families. Never had we planned around the concept that by not planning carefully enough someone could actually lose their life! These experiences really bring into perspective what “normal” wedding planning experiences are like. It also highlighted the true meaning behind a wedding day: why someone wants to marry, who the important people are that need to witness it, and what the most valuable things are to incorporate into that big day. It really breaks down the wedding day into its rawest form and that is a beautiful thing.