Weddings Behind the Blue Doors

Five years ago, I bought a theater.  Not a house, not a zoo, but a shuttered, neglected building in what was a neglected part of town.  You can read more about the renovations and the theater, but most people in Tampa are familiar with the revival that has occurred in Tampa Heights and Downtown over 5 years.  Water Street, Curtis Hixon and Water Works Parks, a completed Riverwalk, and Armature Works were not yet on the map.  Fast forward through almost 100 weddings, and I have learned a thing or two about weddings, love, couples, family dynamics, and operating a venue.

I coached professional and collegiate dance and cheer teams, so partook in my share of weddings and “coaching” through the process, plus a BA and MA in psychology, and I felt pretty well-versed in stressors and coping.  But there is not much that can prepare you for planning a wedding.  I want to share my experiences planning my own wedding 4 years ago, how weddings work at the Rialto, and my two cents for advice in planning your BIG DAY.

You be you.  Everyone else is already taken.  So is their wedding.

I have the conversation over and over with couples, about how to make their day unique to them and to push aside all the “must dos” that might be imposed by everyone with an opinion during the wedding process.  But guess what?  It isn’t their wedding, no matter how involved they are.  Find the things that are important to you, whether it be coffee, dogs, travel, books, giving back, or breakfast food (okay, maybe that is my list), and incorporate them to make your day personal.  Don’t want a seating chart?  Plan for open seating.  Want an aisle of vintage rugs to walk barefoot down?  Do that.  Want your wedding party to hold adoptable puppies instead of bouquets?  Definitely, do that!  In my case, I had a fiance with a slight Star Wars obsession so I ordered a Darth Vader head replica groom’s cake and a red velvet main cake, and then had breakfast foods delivered at the end of the night.  And, yes, there is a vendor that can help make all of those details possible.

The Rialto didn’t set out to be a wedding venue so I think it operates a little different.  I bought the space to renovate as a mixed-use but, arts-focused space in October of 2013, and got married, mid-renovations, in-the-round on April 12th, 2014.  I still focus my energy in supporting the arts through promotion, connecting, collaborative projects, free gallery exhibits, discounted performance space, and free dance cypher each week.  But after some great blogs and features, other couples wanted to say their “I do’s” behind the blue doors, too!

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Personal from the start.

Sharing the theater with couples is a personal process to me as the owner and the first to be married here.  I designed every space, planned every detail, and know the old gal better than anyone!  I am protective of the space but also of the experience of enjoying your day, your way, however you set the stage.  Just as I was as a teacher, coach, and mentor, I am strict and straightforward with a touch of motherly guidance that is meant to encourage the best outcome.

When you take the first step and contact us, I see and reply to each one and your file has started.  You get a quick intro to the theater and we work through initial questions before coordinating a time to tour.  Your tour will take about 30 minutes, with myself or Kristen, my event assistant, and is straightforward and transparent.  “Here is the space, let me answer your questions and fill in any gaps that you didn’t ask, and then you get back with me if you can see yourself getting married here and we will take next steps.”  I have never been a sales person so there are no “pitches”, but I love seeing your eyes light up when you walk into the main room to see the height of the ceilings and the beautiful proscenium arch, because I had that expression the first time and get to relive it with each new person that the Rialto touches in that way.

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Your vision, your dream team.

There are no packages to book at the Rialto.  You get the blank canvas for the allotted amount of time and build your dream team of vendors to execute your vision.  If your Auntie Jane wants to bake your wedding cake, you can allow her to.  I have my favorites and can offer suggestions based on my experiences, but you do not have to pick from a pre-made package or a list of approved vendors.   That does mean that you are also taking the risk if Auntie’s cake doesn’t turn out how you hoped.  Choose your vendors and your “friend favors” wisely.

This may not be popular but hear me out: I don’t suggest trying to DIY an entire wedding.  If you want to make favors, customize a guest book, and add personal touches to styled tables, go for it!  Make all of these items ahead and pass them along to your planner for execution.  I handmade all of my decor with a lot of man hours of help from aunts, both moms, and friends over the course of a year.  Paper punched cherry blossom bloom balls, four different styled fabric flowers mixed into globes, hand stitched blusher, fabric flower and brooch bouquet, were all stunning!  But the day before the wedding, I handed it all over to my coordinator and her team executed the day of while I sipped champagne and jammed out with my best gals getting ready.  There were some electrical issues the day of the wedding (remember, the building was still under renovation) and an electrician had to be called out, but I never knew.  Until after.


Every team needs a captain!

Vendors are professionals and experts in their category.  They will estimate costs, delivery a product or service, and uphold their required contract.  Now multiply that by 10+ vendors for furniture, decor, food, bar, music, drapery, cake, officiant, hair and makeup, hotel, transportation, and venue.  Someone needs to keep them on the same page! Ten vendors can’t arrive at a venue and set-up at the same time.  Floral can’t be arranged into centerpieces until the tables and linens are in place.  You see where I am going with this?  Some details will be obvious and you could realistically plan.  Some details you won’t even think about.

Add to the list of vendors, a party of your favorite peeps, aka your “I do crew”.  If you have a total of 10 more people, that is 10 more opportunities for not showing up on time, bringing the wrong shoes, forgetting an accessory, having a couple too many libations before the ceremony has even started, or literally going missing.  These things happen and you, hiding away in your wedding attire or taking photos, are not going to be playing locator or fixer.  Your crew also needs to be organized and given cues when to walk where to stand, and generally what to do in order to make the ceremony seamless.  You need a team captain, aka wedding coordinator, to fill that role and to execute your (the coach) playbook.  Even with a coordinator, I have had to jump in to assist with bustling a gown (even stapling a bustle that broke), stitching a strap, getting a stain out, and straightening out chairs (kind of an obsession) to the true center of the room.  It takes a team.

Wedding coordinators are not cheap.  Weddings are not cheap (if you haven’t figured that one out yet, brace yourself).  But they can stay within your budget and still be perfectly you.  A wedding coordinator in Tampa will cost at least $1,000 but probably more in the $2,500 range and up, depending on their time, staff, and services you contract them for.  Worth every penny.  Most often, in my experience, wedding coordinators keep you on budget and are more likely to get your security deposits back.  Those can add up quickly and end up costing thousands of dollars in last second “oops” and lost refunds.  They can trim the fat during the planning process, should you choose to bring them on board sooner, and may get discounts with some vendors so they can help build your dream team with the businesses they trust.

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House Rules.

When you book the Rialto for your wedding, remember, it is a blank canvas.  You get the space for the time allotted, which is about 12 hours, since I only book one event per date.  Myself or an assistant will make sure the space is ready and meet your wedding coordinator, who should be the first of your team to arrive.  Together, we will supervise all the vendors arrivals, set-up, floor plan, and timeline for the day and problem solve any hiccups as they occur.   The wedding coordinator will sign for deliveries, make sure that the centerpieces are correct, layout your favors or other detail tables, and be your point person to check-in with should you have any personal needs or concerns.  The venue coordinator will supervise the uses of the building, set light levels, adjust building fixtures and controls, and help supervise loading in.

Your coordinator will keep everyone on track throughout the evening and be your point person for any needs until the grand exit.  Again, all of the vendors have a scheduled time to come back and breakdown, they can’t do it all at the same time, and your coordinator will do a final walk through with my staff that there are no personal items left on-site, no noticeable damages to take note of, and be the last to leave.  That is a full 12 hours!  One person cannot play both roles, so you need a wedding coordinator and a venue coordinator, even at our mid-sized venue.  If you are working with other venues, be sure to discuss what their event coordinator roles and responsibilities are to make sure their aren’t gaps in executing the day and your plan.


More positive impact, less impact on the planet.

For our wedding, it was important to me to have reusable decor and keepsakes long after the celebration ended so I made fabric and paper flower balls, used china, silverware, and glassware, and borrowed or bought some decor second-hand like vintage silver.  Bridesmaids each selected dresses in our color palette that weren’t from a bridal boutique and the groom and groomsmen bought suits and mix-matched accessories that could actually be reused.  These personal choices have spilled into how we do business day to day and for events, which can be excessively wasteful.

Binder-clutching brides beware!  You will not receive an embossed folder of handouts when you tour, but I will email you an interactive, digital client packet full of blog links, floor plan, preferred vendors (including links directly to their websites), and fun information about the theater.  I won’t print floor plans to sketch out potential layous, but we can use my laminated one with dry erase markers or my reusable Everlast notepad and snap a pic.  Our contracts are an electronic signature, the invoice has a link for electronic check payment, and all of my client files are digital.  As a binder-clutching bride myself, the transition to paperless has been my most challenging, which I am still perfecting, but I know it is a necessary change.

In 2017, I decided to purchase wind credits to offset our electric use, but now we are going solar!  The efficiency and aesthetic of the historic building will not be affected, but we can get our power from the sun (hello Sunshine State) and even sell back what we don’t use each month.  The systems that were put in place during renovations have all been energy saving, high efficiency so our space doesn’t drain the environment or our wallet.

There are a number of other ways to have a conscious wedding including composting, reusing or donating floral and unused food, and creating a giving registry instead of a gift registry.  We provide this information in our client packet but there is also an informative blog by More Than Lovely with more ideas and services.

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Music and entertainment set the tone for your reception and can make or break a guest experience, right up there with food.  I have seen harpists, violinists, or quartets for ceremonies and cocktail hours, DJs and bands, even bride and groom performances as a surprise to their spouse.  There are a ton of options and we welcome them all, just do your research and walk through the details with your coordinator to guide them where needed (typically for introductions, sticking to timelines, and announcing the different activities of the evening).  Everyone has a DJ friend.  One of ours worked our wedding, but we still had agreed upon terms, song suggestions, and a list of do-not-play-or-else-I-will-deduct-your-pay songs.  And somehow I still got tricked into approving the “Selfie Song” (see the pic below).

Weddings last just hours, but the planning can last more than a year.  Enjoy the process as much as you plan to celebrate that day and you will smile more and stress less all the way to your grand exit.  Sip champagne when searching for attire, look for fun wedding events like group tastings and happy hours beyond just the shows, and taste all the deserts!  You can be a Bridezilla/Groomzilla or a Bridechilla/Groomchilla (even check out the Bridechilla blog!) and it is entirely within your control.



Your day, your way, behind the blue doors…. or elsewhere.

Your wedding should make you smile for years to come.  When you look back, you want to remember the joys and not the stressors.  That might be a European elopement, barefoot in the sand, or in a crystal ballroom.  No hard feelings here.  But if a historic theater with exposed brick and industrial touches in Tampa is your thing, get in touch and see how you can join our wedding family.


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