The Wedding Series – The Rehearsal

(Arthur) Penn’s preference for preproduction rehearsal,
as well as certain other structural aspects of the work,
helped people get to know each other quickly.
~ A Film Director’s Approach to Managing Creativity,
by Eileen Morley and Andrew Silver,
Harvard Business Review, March 1977

The wedding rehearsal provides both an opportunity for the entire wedding party to become better acquainted and structure to the wedding ceremony, and prepares all to perform their roles and understand how they fit into the overall picture. This is an exciting gathering because like a dress rehearsal before opening night there is a sense that this is really happening and there is an exhilarating spirit of anticipation of what will be for the bride and groom an experience — and performance — of a lifetime.

When Should the Rehearsal Be Scheduled?

The rehearsal is usually held the day before the wedding. If it’s possible to schedule it two days prior to the wedding day that will allow the bride and groom, their attendants and parents the night off before the wedding day to relax, leisurely prepare and get to bed at a decent hour.

Rehearsals may be planned at any time during the day to accommodate participants and comply with the policies of the ceremony venue; houses of worship and clergy often have specific hours that they are available. And depending on how formal or casual your wedding, the rehearsal party could be an informal luncheon or picnic immediately following or a black tie dinner at 8:00 p.m., or anything in between.

Who’s the Director?

The officiant normally is in charge of the wedding rehearsal, but a wedding planner or other professional may assume this role. Alternatively, the couple may appoint a close, take-charge friend or relative who is knowledgeable about wedding ceremonies and is not in the wedding party to direct the proceedings. Whoever is in charge, the couple should consult with him or her beforehand to ensure that everyone is on the same page with protocol, compliance issues and the couple’s wishes.

Who Should Attend?

The entire wedding party should attend, including the bride and groom, all attendants, the parents of any underage attendants, parents of the bride and groom, readers, singers, musicians, the wedding planner/consultant and the officiant. Spouses and significant others of the wedding party members should be included in the affair afterward, but they should not attend the rehearsal.

The Proper Costumes

If the rehearsal is in a house of worship, or the luncheon or dinner following will be in an upscale restaurant, then dressing up appropriately is in order. The attire you wear will depend on the venue, formality of your wedding, timing of the rehearsal party and so on. If your wedding will be in a rustic hall and the rehearsal party will be a clambake on the beach, then casual chic will be fine.

What Will Be Rehearsed? 

The order in which the ceremony will unfold and the logistics involved will be the focus of the wedding rehearsal. The officiant or wedding planner will explain who is responsible for what, who lines up in which order, the timing and pacing of everything and the dispensing of instructions as well as last-minute information. This is the time to make any adjustments to ensure that the procession looks beautiful, the configuration at the dais/alter is both efficient and attractive and everything runs smoothly.

The conventional wedding rehearsal usually proceeds in this order:

  • Places Everyone – Everyone gathers first at the dais/altar to determine the configuration. The bride and groom stands in the center facing the officiant who is looking out at the congregation. To the right of the groom stands the best man and to the left of the bride stands the maid/matron of honor (MOH), – both about an arm’s length away; this will facilitate the best man handing the bride’s ring to the groom and the MOH handing the groom’s ring to the bride. The MOH may also hold the bride’s bouquet, or she may hand it to a bridesmaid. Typically, the brides’ attendants stand on the left and the groom’s attendants stand on the right, all turned toward the couple. Depending on their ages, during the ceremony the ring bearer may stand to the right of the best man and flower girl may stand to the left of the MOH; if very young, however, they are better off sitting with their parents. Optionally, the father of the bride may either stand between his daughter and the MOH or sit next to his spouse.
  • The Ceremony – So that everyone has a grasp of the scope of the ceremony itself, the officiant will walk everyone through the order, including any readings, songs, musical pieces, and any religious or cultural rituals right up to the exchange of vows and rings and the marriage pronouncement. The officiant won’t go through everything in detail; for example, the wedding vows will not be rehearsed; he or she will simply provide an overview so everyone knows what to expect. Singers, musicians, readers and the like may practice their pieces separately; but they should be present at the rehearsal so they can go through the motions of where they should sit or stand and so they know the timing of when they will present. The overall timing of the ceremony should also be gauged.
  • The RecessionalOnce the ceremony concludes, the wedding party will pivot to face the congregation. The MOH or other attendant will check the bride’s dress, train and veil and return her bouquet to her. Then the bride will link her left arm through her groom’s bent right arm and the newlyweds will lead the way up the aisle, followed by the flower child and ring bearer, the bridesmaids and ushers (walking in pairs or threes for efficiency), followed by the officiant (unless there is another protocol to be followed), the bride’s parents, the groom’s parents, the couple’s grandparents, families and finally row by row the rest of the guests. Regardless of how the guests may exit, especially in the case of outdoor weddings, it should be orderly.
  • Positions Please! – Once everyone has practiced the Recessional they will assume the positions they will be taking just prior to the Processional and be told what kind of signal will alert them to take their places, usually the start of the music. At the same signal the officiant, groom and best man all will take their places at the dais/altar. The officiant stands in the center, the groom to his left, slightly in front of the officiant, and the best man is now on the groom’s left side, as all are facing the congregation and aisle in anticipation of the appearance of the bride.
  • Groomsmen and Ushers – They will be briefed on their duties regarding seating, especially the important timing of escorting the mother-of-the-bride down the aisle and seating her in the first row, left, second seat from the aisle seat, which is reserved for the father-of-the-bride. Note: Depending on the venue and formality of the wedding, typically no one may be seated after the mother-of-the-bride; late arrivals may be directed to seats or standing room in the back. Nothing but a life and death emergency should disrupt the proceedings from this moment on! Additional duties may include assisting the best man and groom, rolling out the aisle runner, etc.
  • Timing, Pacing, Posture & Bouquets – The overall timing of the Processional will be assessed and the pacing of the wedding marchers will be practiced. The old-fashioned hesitation step has been replaced with a natural slow walk. It’s important that the marchers be evenly paced, approximately six paces between each attendant or pair. All attendants should start off and end on the same foot for a smooth and elegant look. Everyone should stand up straight, heads held high, body language consistent, bridesmaids holding their bouquets in the same positions and everyone smiling — this is a joyous occasion!.
  • Processional – The groomsmen/ushers generally walk first, junior groomsmen next, either single file or in pairs. Sometimes the groomsmen escort the bridesmaids, men on the left and women on the right, the women linking their left arms through their escorts’ right arms, holding their bouquets in their right hands; but whatever method is determined everyone must do it the same way for consistency and appearance. After the groomsmen, if they are alone, come the junior bridesmaids, the bridesmaids, the MOH, the ring bearer and the flower child. When the last person in the Processional reaches the dais/altar, the music might change to indicate that the big moment that everyone has been awaiting has arrived, prompting the congregation to stand and face the aisle. The bride and her father (or other honored escort) then begin their walk down the aisle, with the bride on the right of her father and her left arm linked through his raised and curved right arm. When they arrive at the dais, he will lift her veil (if necessary), kiss her and place her right hand in the groom’s left hand. He may shake the groom’s right hand; if the escort is a woman she may give both the bride and the groom a kiss or hug. (It’s okay at this point to forego the old-fashioned custom in which the officiant asks, “Who gives this woman’s hand in marriage?”) The bride then hands her bouquet to the MOH who is standing on the bride’s left, and the groom — who is holding his bride’s hand or has offered her his left arm through which she links her right arm — turns with his bride to face the officiant. The best man pivots to do the same, and now he is standing on the groom’s right. If the bride has chosen to continue to hold her bouquet, she can hand it to the MOH when it’s time to receive the groom’s ring.
  • Seating – Those responsible for greeting guests, handing out programs and showing family members and guests to their seats will be briefed on the seating plan and their particular duties. In some cases there is a seating chart to which ushers will refer and sometimes special guests have been sent “pew cards” in their wedding invitations that they will hand to the usher. As much as possible adhering to protocol, the bride and groom should determine the seating because they know their relatives and friends best. Ushers should offer their arms to female guests (and might want to practice this), and provide special attention to immediate family members as well as honored, elderly and disabled guests regardless of gender, all of whom should have reserved seating. How to indicate the reserved seating should be decided at the rehearsal and implemented by those responsible for the seating.
  • The Agenda – The wedding party should be provided with or reminded of the agenda for the entire day, beginning with the Prelude/Arrival Period and on through the Ceremony and Reception, and told exactly what is expected of each member of the wedding party throughout the event. Also helpful will be reminders regarding parking and transportation, directing guests to restrooms, assisting under-aged or disabled guests, the system for accepting gifts on behalf of the couple, the timing and protocol for being seated at the reception, any dancing or rituals that will occur, how to handle emergencies (small and large), interacting with the wedding planner and caterer, when the wedding cake will be presented and so on. Agendas, guest lists, seating charts and other materials should be provided.
  • The Signing of the Papers – This ritual varies from state to state and sometimes even by county or city. This should already have been researched, but in general immediately following the wedding ceremony the bride and groom sign their wedding license in the presence of their officiant and it is witnessed by the MOH and best man. The officiant should then notarize and file the license and the marriage certificate should be received in due course by mail. Some couples have a little signing ceremony as part of the festivities. However it is handled, it should be taken care of promptly with the officiant.

Variations on a Theme

There are many religious and cultural variations on the proceedings of a wedding ceremony. For example, the bride and groom may wish to walk down the aisle together, or the bride might wish to be escorted by both her parents or simply walk alone, or the groom may wish to walk down the aisle to the dais with his best man or alone. Many non-religious couples appreciate the charm and spirituality of some religious or ethnic customs and may wish to adopt them. As well, two brides or two grooms might have some different ideas that can be tested during the rehearsal.


Separate written invitations should be sent to those invited to the rehearsal party or dinner following. Everyone invited to the rehearsal, the details of which may be relayed to them via email, should also be invited to the rehearsal party as well as additional guests. Invitations to the rehearsal party should be sent shortly after the wedding invitations go out to alert the wedding party.

Photos & Music 

If it’s possible for the photographer to be at the rehearsal that is helpful in case there are some last-minute logistics to work out with lighting or other technical issues. And if there will be recorded rather than live music it would be smart to have the DJ or other technician in charge of that music could do a dry run at the rehearsal.

Keep a list of items to address leading up to the rehearsal and discuss them with the appropriate people beforehand. Get the most mileage you can out of the rehearsal. Doing so will reduce stress, help to avoid emergencies and make the big day more enjoyable!

Until next time,


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