A question that we often receive is, “How long does a rehearsal take?” The short answer is an hour. An hour is what we schedule for the rehearsal, but in reality, the actual rehearsal takes 20 to 30 minutes from start to finish at the most. Some officiants take longer than others, but to work out the processional, the lineup, where and how to stand, any ceremony details, the recessional, etc. it usually is less than 30 minutes. The rest of the time is usually waiting for members of the bridal party to find the venue, bring in wedding extras, greetings and introductions, etc. It should be fun and light-hearted, with the purpose of everyone getting to know where the venue is located, when they should be there, what their part is, and getting to know others in the wedding party.
Your wedding rehearsal is a pretty big moment. It is likely the first time you’re seeing your wedding party altogether, and excitement is probably running high. Before you rush off to that celebratory dinner, though, you’ll need to ensure your ceremony rehearsal runs smoothly. Below, then, we’ve broken down exactly how to run a wedding ceremony rehearsal. (If you’re not the one running your ceremony rehearsal—perhaps you have a wedding planner who will run it, or an officiant or family member who has offered—be sure to share the below information with the person in charge.)
Before the rehearsal dinner can happen, one very important event must take place – the wedding rehearsal itself. The wedding rehearsal is a walk-through of the wedding ceremony and typically occurs right before the rehearsal dinner. So who should come, what do you need to bring and what do you need to do? Here’s your cheat sheet to the wedding rehearsal and getting it right, so you’re a pro before the ceremony rolls around!
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Who Should Be There?
Your rehearsal should include the officiant (of course!), your parents, readers and the bridal party. This is a chance for all the participants to know their responsibilities, and for you to establish the pace and timing of the ceremony. It will give those around you a chance to practice, so they can relax and enjoy the ceremony at the actual wedding.
What Should We Bring?
Your officiant may be able to guide you on what he or she prefers to have present at your rehearsal. He or she may ask for a unity candle or another significant part of the ceremony. You may also want to have programs on-hand so all participants can follow along and familiarize themselves with your ceremony. Lastly, as a stand-in for your bouquet, bring along that colourful ribbon bouquet your bridesmaids so kindly put together at your bridal shower.
How does Long Will It Take?
The rehearsal should only take about 30 minutes or less – and it should take less time than the ceremony itself. It’s easiest to round up this group right before the rehearsal dinner, but some brides and grooms choose an alternative time for the rehearsal. Just make sure all who need to be there are present!
What Do We Do?
Though it’s called a “rehearsal,” it’s a walk-through. Your officiant will lead the ceremony rehearsal, and all participants will practice walking in, learn where to stand during the ceremony, and will practice walking out. It’s quite simple, as long as your bridal party can buckle down and pay attention.
Running your first few wedding rehearsals can be a daunting task. Many wedding planners have commented that this is their least favourite part of the wedding planning process.
If the officiant or church coordinator will be at the ceremony rehearsal, communicate with him the week prior to determine who will be responsible for directing the rehearsal. Some church coordinators and officiants prefer to take charge, which is helpful to know ahead of time.
You can also inquire with the ceremony musicians to see if they would like to attend the rehearsal.
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Here are steps for directing a successful wedding ceremony rehearsal:
Confirm with the couple that everyone has arrived then start by welcoming the guests to the rehearsal and introduce yourself. Explain your process for the rehearsal by talking briefly about the steps listed below.
Take Their Places
Place the wedding party in their positions on the altar area (or under the chuppah, mandap, or other religious structure), so they know where to stand during the ceremony. These details should be included in your wedding day timelines that you created and finalized with the couple before the wedding.
After everyone knows their places for the ceremony, line up the wedding party, parents, wedding couple, and officiant in the correct order for the processional, then send everyone down the aisle. If the musicians are present, you can cue them at the appropriate times.
As the bride comes down the aisle, she will be on her father’s left arm if he is escorting her. When it’s time for her father to be seated, the bride will typically kiss him goodbye then shake the hand (or hug) the groom. The bride’s father will then walk behind the bride to his seat. At this point, the bride normally gives her bouquet to her maid of honour, and the groom will extend his left hand to the bride.
After the processional is done and everyone is in place, you or the officiant will run through the basic wedding ceremony details. Be sure to determine who will have the rings on the wedding day. Typically the best man will have the rings unless the ring bearer is old enough to be responsible for the real rings.
To get more ideas about wedding, check out our post on How long is a typical wedding reception?
After the kiss, the bride will get her bouquet from the maid of honour. At this time, the officiant will introduce the couple, and the recessional music begins. The best man and maid of honour will wait until the bride and groom are at the back of the room, then the best man will extend his right arm to the maid of honour, and they will walk out together. The rest of the bridal party will follow in the same manner.
It’s helpful to choose an agreed-upon distance where each couple will exit (for example: when the couple in front gets to the fifth row of chairs, then the next couple exits). This allows for a uniform bridal party recessional and gives the photographer and videographer time for photos. After the last wedding party couple recesses down the aisle, the parents and any people sitting in the front row should immediately follow.
Depending on the couple and the complexity of the ceremony, you may need to run through this process one time or up to four times until everyone feels comfortable. For Indian weddings, Jewish weddings, and other religions, the processional and recessional may be very different from the basics we share in this article. Your clients and the officiant can assist you with the actual logistics and details specific for each wedding.
After the rehearsal is finished, confirm that the wedding party knows where to meet on the wedding day and what time they need to arrive. You may also want to make an announcement about the rehearsal dinner if necessary.
So how is it possible to achieve both fun and success in a wedding rehearsal? Here are my ways.
Assess the rehearsal space
There are two parts to this step, and both parts happen before we kick off the rehearsal proper.
First, we need to discuss with our couple where our rehearsal will be held. If the rehearsal will be in the same space as the wedding, then there’s not much else to think about here.
But I’ve been in plenty of situations where the venue is not available for the rehearsal. Do we cancel the rehearsal? Heck, no! It means we do it in the rehearsal dinner restaurant, a courtyard, a public park, a condo party room, or Mom’s living room. Doesn’t matter! We just need a space large enough to walk down the pretend aisle and stand at the pretend front.
Okay, so let’s say we’ve decided on a suitable place with our couple. The “assessment” part ain’t over!
When we arrive at the rehearsal site – whether it’s the actual wedding venue or someone’s back deck – we need to do a little logistical thinking before we call everyone to attention. So let’s assess the rehearsal space we have to work with, whatever it is.
We need to figure out where we can marshal everyone at the back for the processional, where the aisle will be (and throw down a couple of markers if the chairs aren’t in place yet), and make sure the front is wide enough for both wedding parties to fan out as they will on the big day. Standing is one of the most important parts to practice and get right.
Tell everyone how this is going to go
A few years ago, I was a groomsman at a destination wedding. Meaning: the wedding rehearsal happened in the hot sun a few feet from the rolling beach of the Caribbean.
The officiant started the rehearsal without addressing us. He just launched into asking the bride and groom a whole bunch of questions and figuring things out while we backed away, and then eventually got around to us where to go and what to do. We had no idea what his plan was, how long we’d be there, or when it would end! And the most excruciating part was all the people swimming in the surf and sipping margaritas just a shell’ s-throw away. Like… when can we get out of here, please?
There’s nothing worse than being obligated to attend a thing and not have a clue what’s going on or when it’s going to be over. Let’s not put our couple and their friends and family through that!
A great officiant starts the rehearsal with a brief self-introduction and then gives everyone a rundown of what we’re about to do, how we’re going to do it, and exactly how long it will take.
Here’s what I say when I gather everyone and start the rehearsal:
- “There are three parts to this rehearsal. First, we’re going to do a walk-through, where I’m going to give you the big-picture outline of the ceremony, so you know how it’s all going to go down on the big day.”
- “Then we’re going to do a walk-through. We’re going to practice lining up at the back, and then knowing your cue to come in, and walking down the aisle, and then learning where and how to stand when we get here. It’s going to be chaotic and messy on this first go-round. But when you figure out how to walk and stand, you’ll be all set.”
- “Finally, we’re going to do a quick re-run. It’ll take about 4 minutes because you’ll know exactly how to line up, when to come in, how to walk, and where to stand. You’ll be perfect.”
- “This whole rehearsal should take only 40 minutes maximum, 30 if we’re humming along. So please listen well, and let’s have a great time! Ready?”
Okay, you’ve told everyone what’s going to happen, and you’ve made “us” feel like a team who are in this together. Now it’s time for us to cover how we execute the three parts of the rehearsal, and do it well.
Talk through the ceremony
Here’s what an unfun rehearsal looks like: the officiant reads every word of the ceremony while everyone looks on and waits for the part that’s relevant to them. There’s no need for that here! It’s not a rehearsal for the officiant. It’s a rehearsal for everyone else!
The first part of the rehearsal is the talk-through. But it doesn’t mean reading every word! What we’re doing here is familiarizing everyone with what the ceremony is going to look like. It’s the 30,000-foot view of what happens from the moment we line up at the back to the moment we recess down the aisle at the end.
Essentially, we’re briefly talking through the major sections of the ceremony, A to B to C to D. Kinda like explaining the plot of a movie without including the dialogue.
We accomplish this by bringing a full copy of the ceremony in with us and reading through all the stage directions, explaining who lines up behind who, who comes in when, where they go, and how they sit or stand. Look to the couple for constant assent and make sure they know they’re still free to change anything that’s not quite perfect. Ask questions when you’re not sure of something, and invite feedback.
We want to be directive, but not bullies or know-it-alls. And let’s always remember this maxim: it’s not the officiant’s ceremony. It’s the couples.
People will have a ton of questions as we talk it through, but don’t get bogged down. We just remind them: this is only the talk-through. The walk-through is where we’re going to iron out all the minute details and when the muscle memory will kick in.
Walkthrough the ceremony
When the talk-through is done, the first thing we do is line everyone up at the back in the order they’ll be walking in, and we move through the ceremony. Again, we’re not reading any of our speech or the vows.
In the walk-through, we’re signalling people’s cues, checking their walking speed, making sure they’re standing symmetrically, and practising the moving parts.
Here are some of the most important details to watch for and coach everyone through:
- make sure the processional participants aren’t walking too slow or too fast,
- make sure spaces between members of the wedding party are even when they’re walking and standing,
- check that everyone’s shoulders are parallel,
- practice what happens when the person getting married arrives at the front,
- decide how the couple wants to stand during the ceremony (i.e. facing each other, holding hands),
- act out the ring exchange, so the person holding the rings knows when he or she needs to present them, and so the couple knows how to put the rings on each other’s fingers.
To achieve rehearsal success – everyone feeling confident and sure about their part – we practice every occasion in the ceremony where people are moving from one place to another or doing something with their hands (ring exchange, signing, etc.).
Do a quick re-run
At this point in the rehearsal, people are getting pretty done. So here’s where we pep them up good! We tell them the next part – the re-run – will only take about 4 minutes. And we assure them they’re about to blow their minds.
In the re-run, we’re essentially proving to everyone that they know exactly when to come in, how to talk, where to go, and how to stand.
So we do exactly what we did in the walk-through, but we’re not promoting, directing, or adjusting folks unless necessary. Our couple and their parents and the party move through their paces while we say things like, “The music starts,” and “Now I’ll say it’s time for the ring exchange,” and “Then we go sign,” etc. It’ll be a thing of beauty.
Yes, you are getting married to your official wedding ceremony, but your guests are looking at it as the big show. The bride and groom and the wedding party will stand tall, relaxed, confident, and move with grace and ease. All movements throughout the ceremony will be slow, synchronized, and mirror each other’s movements.
Keep in mind your wedding rehearsal is also a joyous social event. It is recommended that you allow up to 45 minutes for the rehearsal to accommodate any bridal party members who may arrive late.