TORONTO - Not all couples have a courtship worthy of the full Hollywood treatment, but Jen Wilkinson believes true-life twosomes do have love stories that can be translated into romantic comedies — and she's bringing the show to their weddings.
Wilkinson is behind Tell Me a Love Story, which brings together a collective of actors and writers who help to create scripts for sketches and original tunes tailor-made for couples.
The 20-minute performance typically centres around key moments in their relationship, such as how they met, their first date, first kiss or the proposal, with customized songs and lyrics performed by a travelling troupe with piano accompaniment.
Wilkinson recalled a show in Stevensville, Ont., where she went into the bathroom to change and heard one of the guests enter singing the song they had just performed.
"People were instantly engaged," she said in an interview at The Wedding Co. Show recently held in Toronto.
"That round table of 10 where people don't know each other, there's nerves. All of a sudden, they're invited in, and they're experiencing something at the same time — and it's about the couple."
Videos of choreographed numbers featuring couples and wedding parties boogeying down the aisle or rocking the reception have gone viral in recent years. But DJs, live bands and dancing aren't the only ways to get wedding guests into the groove.
A variety of options is available to newlyweds looking for something unconventional to entertain friends and family members as they celebrate.
"A lot of brides right now are looking to spend their money more on a guest experience than on items that the guests are probably not going to notice," said Toronto-based wedding planner Mary Bratko, CEO of Luxe + Co. Event Group ltd.
"Everyone has music, everyone has dinner, everyone has dancing. But if you start to introduce this aspect of entertainment alternatives ... or what I call flair, those are the things that guests get wowed by."
Bratko, founder of WeddingGirl.ca, wrote a post on the site last year with suggestions for couples seeking to add pizzazz to their receptions, including an aerialist manoeuvring with silks and a fire artist who had performed at one of her weddings.
For a wedding she planned in Vancouver, Bratko said the bride wanted an out-of-the-ordinary party favour for the guests. They brought in a silhouette artist who cut out black pieces of paper to match people's profiles.
A few summers ago, another couple had a caricature artist on-site through cocktail hour, over dinner and for a short while afterwards to ensure that all guests could leave with a sketch of themselves, she recalled.
"There is pressure to make your wedding different from everything else guests are seeing. But as far as the entertainment goes, I think brides are just looking for something that no one's ever seen before," Bratko said.
"Just having a string quartet perform at your ceremony, it's a lovely touch — but it's not wow factor. Whereas brides that are looking for these entertainment options — be it samba dancers, be it capoeira dancers, fire artists, aerial performers — they're just looking for something that guests will walk away and remember."
Marissa Latshaw is vice-president of marketing for entertainment booking service GigMasters. The company has around 10,000 members in Canada and the U.S. representing hundreds of entertainment categories.
Latshaw said their statistics show variety entertainment bookings for weddings were up 22 per cent in 2011 compared to 2010.
Bookings for silhouette artists were up 92 per cent in 2011 from 2010, while caricature artists saw a 46 per cent spike in bookings over the same period. And last year alone, GigMasters had nearly 200 weddings that booked an Elvis impersonator.
"Across the board (in the) U.S. and Canada, we are seeing that brides and grooms are increasingly choosing non-traditional forms of entertainment for their weddings, often in addition to the traditional bands and DJs, but sometimes in place of that," Latshaw said from Norwalk, Conn.
While such visual and auditory extras may leave guests buzzing during and following the festivities, they can pack a wallop to the wallet, with costs potentially ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars.
In the case of Tell Me a Love Story, Wilkinson said the rate is from around $2,600 to $3,000, depending on whether the performers have to travel.
Bratko said if she has brides that are on a particularly limited budget, she'll ask them to list their top three wedding priorities. Food and beverage, photography and entertainment are usually high on the list, she noted. For example, if a silks performer is a must-have for a couple, Bratko will determine how much they charge and find a way to work it into the costs.
"There's always an affordable alternative," she said. "There's always someone out there that's looking to get noticed, to get a portfolio built up. There's always options regardless of the budget."
Tell Me a Love Story: www.tellmealovestory.ca
The Wedding Co.: www.theweddingco.com