Thursday, May 27, 2010

Venue Drama, Explained

It finally happened. I woke up at 6:00 am, still in mid-dream panic about my first wedding nightmare. It didn't even fully hit me until I looked over and saw Jason, and finally crumpled with relief upon realizing that it had only been a dream and I wasn't trapped in a vaguely and ominously wrong nightmare wedding scenario. It wasn't the kind of dream where something terrible happened, but it was a dream in which everything was just slightly wrong, I couldn't fix it, and everything just got worse and worse. I ended up at the altar crying that something wasn't right but everyone just dismissed my tears. It wasn't until I woke up and saw Jason that I realized just how wrong the dream-situation had been: the man at the altar wasn't Jason.

Usually, I don't remember my dreams. And usually, I don't put much stock in them even when I can recall them. But last night's panic stuck with me today, and not because I'm worried I'm with the wrong partner (my relief upon waking up and seeing Jason was like the heavens opening.) Instead, it was the feeling of that increasing panic and lack of control that continued to haunt my daylight hours. And I think it's that feeling of panic that inspired the nightmare in the first place. Because right now, I'm behaving as if we've got this wedding thing all under control, but the truth is I'm starting to panic. Everything is riding on our venue contract, and the venue contract is the one thing I've been unable to secure. We've interviewed a ton of other vendors and even started to price out options, but we don't know our actual date or budget to actually lock anything down unless we have a venue.

I've been planning a wedding for nine months now, and we're still at square one. I've done everything in my power to move the contract process forward and research every possible contingency, but we're currently stuck.  I have 94 wedding scenarios and contingencies and what-ifs and vendor alternatives bouncing around in my headspace and I can't make a decision on any of them, because I don't have a clear yes or no on our first-choice venue. And, despite the months of insanity and inability to get an answer, this is still our number one venue option for a multitude of reasons, and so I'm not entirely ready to give up on it. Not to mention, I'm frankly terrified of jumping back into the Los Angeles venue hunt all over again in the vain hope of finding something attractive and affordable that meets our handicapped accessible, indoor-outdoor, BYOB, 150 people guest list criteria. Ha.

A bit of background on the venue.  It's owned by a lovely but incredibly unorganized non-profit. It's really a community group more than a full-time non-profit, and their limited office hours (Mon - Th from 3:00pm - 7:00pm) reflect that. Their inability to reply to emails or phone calls in under two weeks reflects that. And their inability to book our event in April 2011 when we did a site visit in October of 2009 also reflects that (literally, they didn't have a calendar yet for 2011, so they told us to come back in six months). So we came back in six months, willing to overlook the organization's quirkiness in pursuit of the amazing inexpensiveness ($1000 for the entire day!), the beauty (nestled in the canyons of the Santa Monica Mountains, about a mile from the beach with rolling hilltop views), the brick reception hall/community house with gorgeous high-beamed ceilings and a fireplace, a full kitchen, and handicapped accessibility, and the complete freedom to do whatever we wanted (BOYB! BYO Catering! Play lawn games with friends on the grounds!)

It was nearly perfect, and more than perfect for our budget and guest list, especially in a town where we've seen venues that cost over $8000 for an empty room and a restricted catering list (read: expensive.) It isn't perfect: we'll need to be creative with handicapped access for the ceremony site, we'll need to rent everything except tables, we'd feel more comfortable renting shuttles than letting our boozy guests loose on the windy canyon roads and there are no nearby hotels, we need to be in and out in a single day, and the staff is less than unresponsive. However, it's affordable, beautiful, and the limitations are manageable, particularly when we estimate that any other similar Los Angeles option would cost us $5,000 - $10,000 more. And particularly when we spoke with another couple who got married there and went through similar frustrations getting booked and organizing walk-throughs (though nothing as drawn-out as our process) and had a perfect-for-them wedding in the end. So we know this can work, but it just takes a lot of patience.

But, as the months tick by without a contract, I'm getting increasingly panicked and less patient. We contacted them in March to confirm our date and get a contract, but they've been distracted by two big fundraisers (one in April and one this upcoming weekend) so somehow our wedding never made it onto the Board agenda. We're penciled into the calendar, at least, but we still need Board approval to actually get a contract and finalize pricing. (Although we were initially quoted $1000, it turns out that it's more like $1000-ish to $1500-ish, since the Board has to make the final decision. $1500 is still a steal, and we'd take it in a heartbeat, but it would be nice to know.)  I know that they are distracted in general and in particular with this week's fundraiser, so I'm crossing my fingers for the June Board Meeting. Because, if the June meeting doesn't happen, we finally have to give up and start a frantic nine-months-out hunt for a different site.

I have two decent backup options, but neither of them make my soul sing like this site. Neither of them are perfect either: one is run by artists who are just as non-responsive as the non-profit at "our" site (awesome) and the other is inexpensive(ish) to rent but very expensive to cater.  Both are the best backups we've found, but would entirely change the feel of our carefully envisioned wedding and we'd have to pay a great deal more for the privilege. But we're starting to consider it, because we have to and because Los Angeles doesn't offer much in the way of affordability for 150 people weddings. The maddening part is that we just don't know. We don't know our site, our date, or the associated availability of any vendors we've spoken with. We don't know if we can have a taco truck wedding or we'll have to go with something more formal. We don't know if we're getting married on a rustic hilltop, at the beach, or in a downtown lofty-arts complex. We don't know what our decor or attire or invitations might look like because we don't have a site look-and-feel to frame the event.

Nine months into planning and ten months away from our hopeful date, we have nothing, except a growing panic that makes me vaguely uneasy whenever someone mentions the word "wedding." (which happens quite a lot, seeing as how we're engaged and trying to plan a wedding.) I have 94 options to kick into gear the moment we know, one way or the other, but for the moment juggling those 94 options is just exhausting and nervewracking.


  1. Wow, under the circumstances I think you are handling this with so much patience! I would probably be camping out on their doorstep every night with pen in hand to guilt them into moving faster.

    I'm sending positive wedding thoughts your way!

  2. Woah, kudos for not having a heart attack. That sounds rough and I really hope the June board meeting goes through for you and that those 94 options can kick in.

    I'd love to say, "Try to not think of all the other options! Wait for the venue before letting your brain go to the other topics!" But i was there and that is so hard!

    *sending some sparks to light a fire under those board butts to get you your contract!*

  3. Wow, that... sucks. I mean, the place sounds awesome, but it's frustrating to feel like you can't move forward on anything. And I can't even imagine wedding planning for 9+ months; we'll have been engaged for 7 mos. when the wedding rolls around, and I'm so ready to stop thinking about it! (though I'm sure there are aspects I'll miss).

    I've found this a bit with our venue; I wanted a unique location that provided lots of flexibility, but what I didn't realize went along with that was disorganization. I guess that's the upside of a place that deals with tons of weddings.

    I love our non-profit venue, but I am preparing myself to deal with some crossed wires the day of. It's been really hard to get a concrete answer on anything. I waited months to find out how many chairs they would provide ("oh, there are lots in the shed somewhere!") only to find out that they only had 10 paint-stained folding chairs.

    I guess it's good that you're still 10 months out. I know the waiting is crazy-making, but it should still be plenty of time *after* they get back to you to plan a kick-ass party.

  4. that is shitty, no wonder you're stressed!!

    I have no real advice- seems like you're aware that their quirkyness could really put a damper, but that you're willing to overlook it (although, personally it seems a bit much... how can you depend on them on your wedding day....?)

    you are still 10 months away, so that's good.

    this reminds me- we've heard some rumours that our venue wasn't doing well financially... and i'm a little nervous- they haven't returned my email i sent out a while ago.

    sigh- why can't it just be EASY???

  5. sheesh... normally, when a place is that disorganized, i'd bone out. buuuut since you're in love with the venue, you can't do much about it, can you?
    you're handling the stress like a champ though. when i'm anxious i get insomnia or nightmares too , and at t-10 days from my wedding... i am officially, powered by coffee.

  6. Girl, I don't know how the heck you are doing it. Seriously, I would be a head case whacked out nut job if I was in that situation. I was yelling at Mr Fix It to negotiate the terms of our contract with our dream venue like 16 months before the big day and I felt like he was slacking off and not making it happen fast enough!

    I am praying for you that this place gets it together and confirms all this for you at the June board meeting - UGH, boards! Read: pain in the ass-ulterior motive-control freaks.

    Will look forward to hearing all about your confirmed venue and date soon - I know it will happen. And try not to stress over the wedding nightmares...I had a couple of them and they were so idea what they meant :)

  7. I was about to say. If you don't have a contract after June, time to move on. I'd be.... dubious... about trusting my wedding to disorganised hands like that anyway. In fact, I was dubious. I passed on a similar nonprofit in the city, because a my sanity was worth more than a thousand dollars.

    But. That said. You realize nine months is a LONG TIME, right? I know what you're going to say, "But you don't understand! But, LA! But, but, but ACK!!" And I get that. But seriously - NINE MONTHS IS A LONG TIME. Some of the weddings I love the most were planned in three. In big cities. And you've got a big and well connected virtual community to help you out. You'll find something, I swear. And it will be fine.

    And often, it's when we finally allow ourselves to let go of what's not working, that allows the right thing to emerge.

  8. @Meg - yeah, the June Board meeting is our cutoff. We're only willing to cut them this much slack because their two massive fundraisers are in April and Memorial Day Weekend. If they still have no time for us after this weekend, we need to mourn and move on. But I know most of the inexpensive places in town, and none of them quite work. Hopefully this virtual community has a hidden gem idea and, if not, we'll adapt and make the wedding happen anyhow. But I'll definitely be mourning the loss of this particular site that felt so right aesthetically, budget-wise and personal-significance-wise, even if practicality says to move on.

  9. i know it may not help quell the anxiety, but we didn't find a venue until about 3 months before the wedding. and everything fell into place. hang in there, girl.

    on a slightly different note, we had a non-contract, unprofessional band and i greatly regret not switching when i felt uneasy. so though you needn't stress as much about time constraints, DO give them a timeframe. (eg, if we don't have a contract in two months, buh bye.)

  10. just read your simultaneous comment, and what meg said here: "And often, it's when we finally allow ourselves to let go of what's not working, that allows the right thing to emerge."

    yes yes. you will probably mourn moving on. we gave up a PERFECT location. everything about it was perfect. it tore at my little heart. but something even more perfect came along in the clutch, honest. i don't even know that we knew HOW perfect then, but yes, in retrospect- it was so much better for us.

  11. I know how you feel in some ways. Our wedding plans are very much under revision right now, and I avoidavoidavoid the topic of weddings whenever it comes up in conversation. Who knew it'd come to that.

    "Your" venue sounds lovely, though, I hope it works out! And if it doesn't, you'll still have backups and options, and TIME to work it out. It'll be amazing, once the stress passes.

  12. Oh, I feel you. I am completely nervous about our plans, too. You see, we dream of a City Hall wedding, but we have a fairly large group for this sort of wedding, and while we can reserve a location within City Hall, we can't make the ceremony reservation until 90 days before the ceremony. What happens if we can't get the ceremony reserved on our chosen day?! How am I to get the invitations printed and mailed on time so that people can get time off for the wedding if we won't know the time until less than 3 months' before? Yikes...

    I hope you are able to settle things with your venue, or find a new location soon. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for you.

  13. Well, at this point I kind of wish I could just march down there, storm inside their office, and stand on a desk and shout until they put down the pipe (cough) and make you a contract. But I cannot magically solve all your problems. I also want to echo the "when one door closes, another door opens" sentiment that others have already expressed, but that doesn't stop it from being scary.

    I like that you've spoken with someone who actually did hold a successful wedding there -- that gives me hope. I am crossing my fingers that it all works out for the best, and in the meantime I'll keep my ear to the ground for potential other venues. If this place didn't come through, would you consider traveling slightly outside of LA?

  14. So we got lucky, because we found a place that had JUST opened and JUST started hosting weddings. Are there any new museums that have opened? Check your local city guide and see if there is a new art gallery, etc. etc. that is new.
    The thing we were about ready to sacrifice was having the ceremony and reception at the same place - yeah, it's annoying to have people drive, but it would have opened up more options. Is that an option?

  15. @Liz - thank you. Your second comment is helping immeasurably in calming me the eff down. It's hard though, right?

    @Lyn - We're sticking with Los Angeles. I initially had optional plans for an Ojai or Carpenteria wedding, but it just became too much hassle and expense for our guests - both local and out of town. Even the LA fringe is hard: our welcome bbq is in West LA at my folks house so I don't want people sclepping all over the city for the bbq, hotel, and wedding. I want to make it easier, if possible.

    @Ellie - Jealous. I went that route when I first researched venues, but LA Museums are waaaay too expensive and the ones that are affordable don't fit 150 people. Galleries are an option (though very few fit our size constraint), but I'd need a lot of decor and would need two locations... which we can't do, due to mobility challenges. It would make things really hard on important people.

  16. Oh god. This would kill the type A planner in me.

    And I can kind of get it, from their point of view, because if you aren't planning a wedding then there is no need to book something 9 months in advance. Even a massive birthday party for 150 people would probably require no more than 3 months advance booking. Right? I don't know. I just know that wedding timelines and regular life timelines seem wildly out of synch.

    I think you're handling it beautifully (and calmly). You have your deadline and hopefully they'll be able to step up and you'll all be happy. And if not, let's pool LA venue lists and cry a little.

  17. The venue sounds perfect! Hope they play ball with you soon.

    Our venue was a masonic lodge hall - that they rarely hire out - only $600 for the whole building - we had the ceremony and reception there.

    However they were a complete unorganised mess too. We booked it eight months out, went to check on it two months out and found out they had double booked us - with the legends of Rock & Roll - LOUD concert.

    Luckily it all got worked out - but I nearly had a heart attack.

    BUT in the end it was perfect - just like your venue will be. Hang in there.

  18. I feel your pain. I lost the venue I wanted (I'm still hoping it'll turn up under new ownership, but part of me feels like I need to let it go for sanity's sake). And I HATE this feeling of limbo of not being able to meet with vendors etc. until the venue and date are firmed up. And SO many people ask me how the wedding planning is coming, so I just want to snap "it's at a total standstill, thanks for asking," and my fiance is being so maddeningly patient saying "Let's just take it as it comes" that I'd like to snap "can't you act a little more anxious about starting our marriage?" Haha, I know one day I'll be saying this all went by so fast but it doesn't feel like it now!

  19. There is more than "the one" when it comes to your venue - every place is different and will reflect a different piece of you and what you love, but they're out there. Your June board meeting cutoff is a very smart idea - save up your sanity.

    It WILL happen. We lost our date and venue and I rebooked within NYC, in the summer 4 months before the wedding. I think I found the suggestion through Google and Indiebride. I really recommend restaurants.

    It is sad to mourn the potential loss of a venue due to the not so organized non profit (husband was in non profit for 8 years). But there are places out there and we have faith you'll find a place that will still reflect you (sorry since I'm not in the area I can't suggest more specific sites).


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