-- It’s 3 p.m. on a Saturday in Washington, D.C.’s Renwick Gallery and the main exhibit is packed with tourists. Humanist officiant Steven Gaudaen and his wife, photographer Maggie Gaudaen, have ten minutes to stake out a quiet corner before their clients arrive.
“How about here?" Maggie asks Steven. "This area has the most light."
As the clients walk in, adorn in a white dress, flowers and suit, the once-roaring room goes quiet. “Wait, is this real?” one museum-goer asks.
After a brief reading, a quick exchange of vows, some tears and a lot of snapping by Maggie, Steven proudly declares, “I now pronounce you two legally married! You may now kiss.” The crowd erupts in applause and cheers.
In the age of pop-up shops and pop-up restaurants, the couple say they were inspired to start their own specialized pop-up wedding company, Pop! Wed Co., in January 2014 after working separately as big event photographers.
“[Pop-up weddings] are so simple to do,” says Steven, co-owner of Pop! Wed Co. “We talk to the people in the beginning, plan a location, and then they pretty much show up and get married.”
“We just didn’t like the stress that goes along with big weddings,” says Maggie, the other owner of Pop! Wed Co. “Average Washington, D.C. weddings are really expensive, they take a long time to plan, and everything is always booked so far in advance, so you have to book your wedding a year out.” Steven and Maggie had their own pop-up wedding a year after starting the company in January 2015.
The pair charge $2,900 for a weekday ceremony and $3,200 for weekends: a small fraction of the cost for a normal wedding. A survey by The Knot, a wedding inspired website, estimates that the average couple in 2014 spent more than $31,000 on their big day, excluding the honeymoon.
The Renwick Gallery ceremony was one of three pop-up weddings the couple hosted in one day. Just an hour before, they tied the knot for a couple on the Washington, DC Spanish Steps, and earlier that morning, declared two people husband and wife at a disused lighthouse in Alexandria, VA. They average about six weddings a month.
Eileen Ahern laughs when she's asked what she thinks of her daughter foregoing a traditional wedding for a pop-up. "I thought to myself, what exactly is a pop-up wedding?" she jokes. "But I thought, [my daughter] is a pretty smart cookie, and I'm just going to go with her. And she was right on."
After each pop-up ceremony ends, Maggie swoops in and spends around 45 minutes taking photos of the newly married couple around the space they just said ‘I do’. While she does that, Steven runs to his car and grabs the marriage certificates (which had been filed with the court beforehand) and prepares a cake for cutting (also bought the day before).
The couple say pop-up weddings are different from elopements because loved ones are almost always invited and they’re flexible with the venue… even when the venue isn’t as flexible with them.
“When we did [a wedding at] the Natural History [Museum], we told the couple, ‘look, security will either love or hate what we’re doing’,” Maggie says. “And we did get 'epically' kicked out.”
The couple getting married apparently took the blip on their big day in stride, finishing their vows on the sidewalk outside the Smithsonian.
“We generally tend to get people who are really relaxed… adventurous couples looking for adventurous ways to get married,” says Steven.
Renwick Gallery groom, Matthew Haw, says his wedding was the most adventurous thing he's done yet. "This is definitely not like [my bride] Denise or me," he says.
"But I was just so zoned in on the moment and on her, the experience, I didn't even really realize everything going on behind us... It was just really an amazing, beautiful moment."