On my Shotgun Wedding

by Jane


“I hope you don’t think I’m going to stop reviewing your work”, I said in my speech at our reception in East Melbourne’s St Peter’s Church. “Harshness is a cornerstone of marriage.”

To my left sat my new husband, playwright Anthony. In front of us in the church hall was everyone who had come out on that blustery Melbourne autumn day to see us married. I was probably half a bottle of champagne in, buoyed by nerves, and impressed with my ability to make a joke. Still, given the chance I scurried back to my seat to again giggle with my maid-of-honour Naomi and have another glass of champagne.

I was giddy. It’s the only word for it. I held a manic grin on my face all afternoon. All of these people had come out to celebrate us! There was so much joy in the air, I was wearing a beautiful dress, my nails were freshly painted navy blue to match Naomi’s dress, my make-up was done. I was married! This was my wedding day!

And yet, it wasn’t. Not really. Oh, I began to panic part way through the ceremony that perhaps it was my wedding. Perhaps I was actually going to marry Anthony. Were they going to ask us to sign a piece of paper? Could they arrange something like this for real? Could I refuse? Would that ruin the show? Or would I keep on saying yes just to play along with the rules of the game?

I certainly hadn’t intended to get married that day – or any day in any foreseeable future. It was the final day of Melbourne’s Next Wave Festival, and I had been eagerly awaiting No Show’s Shotgun Wedding. I’d met one of the directors, Bridget Balodis, the day before at Breakfast Club, and I’d thought of course it would have come up that I was a critic. Apparently not.

As we waited in the courtyard before the ceremony, Bridget asked if I would be interested in playing a role in today’s wedding. Sure, I said, thinking they’d pull me up to be a bridesmaid, perhaps. Mother-of-the-bride, maybe. But bride? It wasn’t until Anthony was pulled up to be the groom that I realised it would just be the two of us.

I was getting married.

It’s taken me a year to get this to you. I’ve tried many times to put that day to words; failed many times. Eventually, I realised my anniversary was coming up: perhaps that was the occasion to speak about it finally. How strange, to even consider the anniversary of a made-up event. But the remarkable thing about the work was how significant it felt, and how significant it still feels.

Even now, a year to the day, many parts of the day feel more than a performance. Anthony and I kissed – more than once. The ring on my finger sat with a certain heavy significance. I was overwhelmed by his ‘aunt’ speaking about the expectation on us to have children – could I possibly handle that as well?

I refer to that day, still, as “my wedding”, or “the day I got married.” I go back to Melbourne and am introduced to people who look vaguely familiar: “I was at your wedding!” they tell me. In actual fact, we should probably call it No Show’s wedding. But the ownership was passed over to Anthony and me. Our wedding.

Most of the significance of the event seems caught up in the giddiness that I experienced. I’ve never been one to fantasise about weddings or getting married. It’s yet to crop up on my radar. And, of course, I’d never met Anthony – he was a perfect stranger. Only a handful of people in the audience knew either of us. And still the air was thick with celebration. I was overjoyed. Radiating. I could look out into the crowd, catch someone’s eye and we would smile together – maybe a little over the ridiculousness of the event, but mainly with the jubilation that had taken over us all.

How can you convince a crowd of eighty to celebrate two people they’ve never met? You tell them it’s a wedding, and with this comes so much cultural baggage it’s easy to create the atmosphere where the celebration becomes real.

As a society we have so many pre-conceived ideas about marriage, love and relationships that even when everyone knew that the event was fake, the emotions that are culturally tied into the wedding were easy to tap into. For the story of our meeting, we told everyone I’d given Anthony a negative review and he traced me down. The rest, as they say, was history.  Even this story had enough elements of truth about the two of us in it that friends during the wedding asked if it was true.

The actions that are tied up in a wedding are, at their core, simple. Anthony and I were able to run through them with little instruction. And yet, these simple actions hold an almost incomprehensible scale of meaning. “I do” are two simple words that society had embedded with so much power: you can’t participate in the ritual, even as performance, without feeling the weight of the actions.

I knew it was fake – of course I knew it was fake! – and yet there were very real emotions tied up in the idea of creating this bond. Even though I thought it wasn’t something I had considered much, I still had very real opinions on the events of the day: the dress I choose to wear was pale pink, not white; I wouldn’t take on his name. I felt guilt that my mother wasn’t there to witness the day, but then wasn’t sure if I could handle the extra step away from fiction if she had been. How was I going to even tell her I got married?

From directors Balodis and Mark Pritchard, Shotgun Wedding highlights the binding of people into a shared identity and the benefits our society conveys into that relationship: benefits of taxation, of migration, of legitimising a couple. Even when so many marriages end in divorce, the ceremony still makes call for the pairing to be forever, and the contract that it demands is not one that is easily broken.

Shotgun Wedding, too, underlines staleness in the event. Our marriage celebrant Dan gave a traditional church reading of the vows and its conservatism was highly uncomfortable. When he stated marriage is “a union between one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others” – as is required by Australian law – nervous laughter rose from the crowd. Is this an institution any of us are comfortable being a part of?

Balodis and Pritchard placed no excess level of theatrics over the event, no lens of irony, no specific highlighting of methods or philosophies tied up in a wedding: other than placing it in a performance context, the ceremony was done with genuine heart and spirit. Viewing the wedding through a lens of performance allows us to be critical within the event in a way we’re not usually given permission to. That criticism combined with celebration creates an interesting paradox: how do we balance a view on an event that is on the one hand so festive, and on the other hand bound up in realities of a world we perhaps don’t live in anymore?

More than anyone on that day, more than Anthony even, I connected with Naomi. She was the person there who was the most on my team and by my side. She was the one who would watch out for me and let me know everything would be okay. After Anthony pulled off my garter, it was Naomi whose hand I ran to hold after I jumped off the chair. I’d never met her before, and yet I felt a connection. In a strange and glorious way, the work about traditional marriage managed to also speak volumes about the relationships formed between women.

At the end of the night, Anthony and I were packed away into a car, Just Married written on the back in shaving cream. We drove around the corner, and then stopped for a gypsy divorce. We closed our eyes, twisted the rings on our fingers around three times and then slipped them off: done.

When I tell this story, many times people seem dismayed at the fact we got divorced that night. I needed it, though. Even though the wedding, the marriage, the relationship were all fake, I needed to know we had cycled through to its end. Still, the whole thing carries weight. With the ceremony being outside, tourists took photos of the event: despite everything, despite the divorce, there are photos of me, somewhere, where people think I’m actually married.

Back home, thanks to a photo on facebook, I started to receive actual wedding congratulations. My best friend was getting messages – ‘who did Jane marry?’. People weren’t sure how to tell my mother that her daughter had eloped. Through this, the performance and analysis of marriage extended far beyond the bounds of the show. People wanted to congratulate me because that is the way society responds to events like this, but felt awkward because they saw it so far removed from the Jane they knew.

That day, May 27 2012, I was married. No paper was signed, and it only lasted a few hours. But for those few hours the line between reality and performance blurred. It’s partly a lie, but it’s mostly the truth: Anthony and I were married. And, bizarrely, I think it might be something I carry with me for the rest of my life.