All posts by Casey Dokoupil

The Friendors: RVA’s Progressive Wedding Professionals

As laughter drifts down a sun-drenched hallway in Richmond’s Church Hill neighborhood, it feels like any late-summer get together between friends. The clink of glass punctuates three or four simultaneous conversations, and nearby, someone has set out a few plates of sushi.
But getting closer, something is different about this afternoon. Those criss-crossing conversations aren’t about other friends, or what’s going on that weekend, but about the camera lenses that provide the most flexibility. The luxury lipstick brand that’s easiest to custom-blend. The best queer-celebrating local venues. Arranging world-class bouquets using only local flowers. Just around the corner, someone is explaining how to get a beautiful sheen on formal hair without the curl falling out, while another pulls some amazing headphones out of his bag like it’s a magic hat.  These people are here for a reason.
This is a snapshot of Richmond’s progressive wedding industry. As our city has moved forward into the 21st century, a new crop of young, independent business owners has sprung up. Frustrated by the old, narrow attitudes toward weddings, these entrepreneurs have found a kinship with one another, and with the clients they serve: that every wedding is as singular as the couple hosting it. Together, they’re working with people in love to transform the entire industry into something that gives clients choices, honors the lives they actually live, and creates authentic celebrations instead of the predictable, stuffy events of the past.


When business owners friend each other IRL, doughnuts happen.

It’s a natural alliance. Most of us are Xennials or Millennials, and we come from the same communities as our clients. We meet casually, at each other’s parties and get-togethers, or at events we’re working on. It’s almost always in innovative spaces, like the one we’ve created on this warm, sunny afternoon.

Signature cocktail designed by EQ Events. Champagne, fresh strawberry puree, and hops-infused simple syrup – all in a diner sugar dispenser topped with rose gold. The Friendor Fizz!

Styled shoots are nothing new. In this industry, fantasy events are created all the time. But just as the new generation of engaged people are looking to create more intimate, authentic weddings, the new generation of vendors are building something better than surface business relationships: actual friendships.

Makeup artist Nicole Laughlin finishes styling Sara Mallory of The Freckled Flower Farm
Custom floral design for a portrait space by The Freckled Flower Farm
Hairstylist Cecily Morgan works with Kelly Waldrop of The Freckled Flower Farm

So when we created our afternoon hangout, it was for a very specific purpose. We wanted to share our talents with each other the way we do with clients. We were looking not just to appreciate the work that happens around us on job sites, but to understand it.

It’s fun for us, but it’s also a way to better respect our clientele. Weddings and events are heading in a new, refreshing direction, and honestly…we’re all pretty happy about that. Part of working in the intimate spaces we develop with clients is having warm relationships ourselves, and understanding the deeper philosophies each of us bring to our businesses and the events we contribute to.

Photographer Shawnee Custalow passes along the camera to let the rest of us take her portrait. Full disclosure: she did the settings.

Walking around Church Hill, we naturally split into pairs and threes, showing off the styling provided back at the shared studio of Nicole Laughlin and Cecily Morgan. For a moment, it seemed that we might look a little odd, wandering around, drinks in hand, with a camera and brightly colored records. But we didn’t. It was a golden afternoon, and we were surrounded by Richmond’s signature diversity, creativity, and vibrancy. We simply looked like what we are: part of the city.

EQ jams with DJ Ant Boogie, also known as our buddy Anthony Bryant.

And isn’t that the beauty of RVA? We enjoy such a wealth of local innovation, so much so that nothing really seems that weird. We have world-class dining, art, and amenities, and the rest of the world is starting to notice. Richmond was even a finalist in the Destination category for a British LGBT Award in 2017, among cities like Barcelona, Stockholm, and Amsterdam. That’s extraordinary, and we’re so proud to be a part of it.

Excuse me, is this the Total Badass section? Professional stylists Cecily Morgan and Nicole Laughlin stand with apprentice Ashley Sanchez in what is obviously going to be the cover of their first album.

Part of the reason we all live and work here, and refer our wonderful clients to one another, is the creative norm. Richmonders are a prolific bunch, unafraid to buck traditional systems and do what’s authentic to their own experience.  It’s our job to help you translate that into your most joyful moments. With each event, we come closer to the Richmond we’re building, together.

EQ Events proudly recommends the vendors featured here

Click on the images to learn more about them!

Anthony Bryant, DJ Ant Boogie
Shawnee Custalow, Photographer
Sara Mallory & Kelly Waldrop, The Freckled Flower Farm
Nicole Laughlin, Makeup Artist
Cecily Morgan. Hairstylist

Real Proposal: James & Richard

The golden tones of the room seemed to evaporate the cold air clinging to the coat of each guest as dozens of them blew in, their cheeks pink with anticipation as much as the chill of winter.  It was just few days before the New Year, a time already filled with a seasonal glow.  Nowhere was that sense warmer than the little paneled room where family and friends gathered, eager to support a man very much in love.  It was a carefully-planned proposal, the scheme for which had begun not just months, but years earlier.

EQ’s custom art decorates the bar
Guests signed a beautiful, framable print for the couple
Guests gathered to record their best wishes

As guests gathered to hug a nervous but overjoyed James, a confused Richard was on a wild journey across Richmond.  Several years before, when they were first dating, James had created a scavenger hunt for Richard’s birthday that sent Richard searching all over town, leading him to a romantic greeting in the Jefferson Hotel.  Cleverly, when James first approached us to plan his proposal, that memory inspired his plan to surprise Richard.  A new birthday scavenger hunt should – and did – keep him from figuring out that James was actually about to propose.  Rhyming clues developed by EQ (when we say we’re full-service, we are not kidding) sent Richard hustling to iconic Richmond locations, from dinner at the VMFA, to surprise cocktails with friends who just happened to be at Quirk, to  a private drag performance at the Broadberry by the inimitable Michelle Devereaux Livigne (a friend of James’s).  Each stop had to be perfectly timed, to ensure that James’s glowing guests would be standing on the grand staircase at the right moment, when Richard walked in.

Meanwhile, family and friends excitedly sipped their cocktails, and we kept a careful eye on Richard’s real-time geolocation, as the candles melted and the moment of arrival came near.  The room took on a brighter quality, punctuated by the thud of emptying glasses and the tittering of people who will shortly be relieved of a secret.  When we could delay no longer, we led the parading crowd through the hall to Richmond’s grandest staircase, where they were easily guided into place. James took his place, and so did we.  Hushed, and curiously watched by a lobby full of people, we waited.

Guests prepare for Richard’s arrival

With guests partly obscured by the still-shimmering Christmas tree, James concealed behind one of the many massive pillars, photographer Shawnee Custalow hidden by an antique screen, and EQ planners crouching by a sofa, it was a mass effort to keep James’s secret until the very last possible moment.  Several hotel guests asked what was happening, and joined in our excitement, even colluding with the plan by looking nonchalant in the extreme.  It was like a scene from a play in which an unsuspecting audience member is pulled onstage to play the title role.

When Richard entered the room, watching the realization wash over him was a delight not meant for words.  As he passed, EQ gave the signal for guests to raise the signs that spelled out the question James wished to ask.  Richard’s eyes slid over the words, over the grinning faces of those he loves most in all this world, and he gripped the arms of his friends, who had escorted him.  Snap, snap! sounded the camera, and Richard struggled not to cry.

Swiftly and gracefully, James appeared.

He said yes

The crowd gasped their delight as the newly-engaged couple embraced, their family and friends cheering with genuine relief and a sense that they had witnessed something transformative – for the couple personally, but also for the Richmond community and society as a whole.  Every proposal is an act of bravery, but there was some special magic in what Richard inspired and James designed that starry evening.

Returning upstairs, the clinking of glasses resumed once more, this time punctuated by enveloping hugs, easy laughter, and Richard’s still-shocked smile melting into a cozy familiarity with his family, friends, and grinning fiancé.  All of the time, creative energy, and careful planning James invested was transformed into a perfect memory – and a very happy groom-to-be.  The majority of work – from James’s concept to the clues to the execution – behind us, even we had a moment to gather and appreciate the elegance of the evening.  Romance has a will and character of its own, that grows differently in each couple.  In the case of James & Richard, it is elaborate, communal, expressive, and stylish.

What is it for you?

To begin planning your perfect proposal, contact us at

For more from this great couple, check out their testimonial here.

Real Proposal: James & Richard

Planning and execution by EQ Events

Photography: Shawnee Custalow

Venue: The Jefferson Hotel

Special thanks to:

Amuse Restaurant at the VMFA

The Broadberry

Michelle Devereaux Livigne

Brian Fox

Lindsay Sterling

Talley King

Lori McCurdy

Noli Michelson

Frazier Millner Armstrong

Victor Millner

Perry Payne Millner

Brad Armstrong




Guerrilla Wedfare: 5 Tips for The Surprise Ceremony

Congratulations on your engagement!  Everything now costs three times what it should, and nothing makes sense.  Nothing says LOVE like wedding debt, right?

Aaaaactually, love is love no matter what a wedding might cost.  And at the end of the day, you and your beloved are the ones who get to make decisions about your wedding day.  If a big, traditional, expensive wedding is your dream and within your ability, you should absolutely do it!

But if your dreams lie elsewhere, let us be the first to assure you that you should chase them in your own way.  Tons of couples (almost half of our own clients) are planning their weddings without all the traditional trappings, opting instead for home ceremonies, or the innovative and exciting world of guerrilla weddings!  Shocked by the cost of common event venues, these couples are showing up where and when they choose, with a marriage license and little else in the way of permission, and getting married in a flash!  If this sounds like a dream come true to you, we have some tips from experience that can help you get started.  Obviously, the best bet you can make is to call EQ and let us manage & officiate your affordable guerrilla wedding extravaganza, but here are five more pieces of advice from us to you!

1. Take Wise Risks.

Not to rain on your hopes and dreams, but we highly recommend choosing a spot that’s accessible to the general public. Unpredictability is part of the excitement of a guerrilla-style wedding, but if you and your beloved try to get married unannounced on private or guarded property, you could get hit with a trespassing charge.  A lot of places that typically host weddings are located on private property, and they would be totally within their rights to ask you to leave (even in the middle of your ceremony!).  Also keep in mind that when you choose this kind of wedding, you are asking your officiant to take a professional and personal risk.  Choose carefully  – the goal is to have a happy memory that preferably does not involve the cops.

2. Be Fashion-Conscious.

If you wear traditional wedding regalia and bust up into a location you haven’t formally booked, you may as well be wearing a sign reading PLEASE KICK US OUT.  If you want to wear something besides jeans, that’s completely understandable!  But choose wisely. Nice, causal black or white clothing can make the event feel like a wedding, without putting you on blast.

3. Keep It Short, Keep It Awesome.

Keep in mind how you, and anyone coming along to witness your guerrilla ceremony, will be feeling.  Probably excited, nervous, and a little giddy.  There’s a good reason more and more couples are choosing this kind of wedding (besides that it costs basically nothing): it’s *really* fun.  To feed into that enthusiasm, work with your officiant to create a personalized but short ceremony!   A succinct experience prevents the excitement from draining away as it might during a lengthy, traditional wedding, and it also reduces the chance of any, um, uninvited interruptions.

4. As Always…Get Creative.

This kind of wedding is already pretty far outside the box, but it’s all relative!  While you’re brainstorming possible locations, remember that you don’t *have* to pick a spot that comes with anxiety over getting caught.  Some epic flash weddings have taken place in the middle of the woods, in open fields, and at the top of mountains.  The benefit of choosing a wide-open location is that it usually isn’t monitored by anyone, and you can do what you want.  This approach also allows you to invite more people, and have more flexibility on clothing and other wedding-y stuff.  Just be aware that you may run into stuff you can’t control, like weather issues or dogs out for walkies.  No matter what, your wedding will turn into an awesome story.

5. No, really.  Get creative.

Going this route is incredibly freeing, so take advantage of that.  Where you otherwise might stress about whether the linens should be burgundy or raspberry, a guerrilla wedding lets you ponder infinitely crazier questions.  Should we wear our Gryffindor and Hufflepuff scarves? (Yes).  Are the security guards likely to hear this ukulele? (Sadly, also yes).  Should the ceremony be in front of the White House, or at Edgar Allen Poe’s grave?  (Literally no wrong answer).  So many couples are embracing this because it provides a financial and personal shelter from a wedding industry that, to some couples, can feel caging, overpriced, and old-fashioned.  It’s your wedding.  Do you.


EQ Events provides officiating for all kinds of wedding ceremonies!  email Casey at to get started on your affordable, personal, perfect guerrilla wedding! 

Master of Ceremonies

Planning a wedding is not for the faint of heart.  From the moment an engagement begins, the sheer volume of creative possibilities bubbles and grows in our minds.  Depending on the couple, this can mean anything from choosing a linen color to deciding which drag performers would be most entertaining for the guests.  Most couples excitedly decide what kind of celebration will best suit them, please their people, and give them the best memories.

But the one thing that shuffles into the mental backseat in those giddy early days of planning? The ceremony.  Maybe it’s because the reception tends to last longer, or seems to offer more creative choices.  But for whatever reason, couples often come to us in a mild panic, having just remembered that they should probably plan a ceremony to precede their epic par-tay.

The problem might come from an extra sense of bewilderment around wedding ceremonies.  What if the officiant has tons of rules? What if we can’t figure out how to make the ceremony match the reception?  What about seating?  Should we have flowers?  OMG, vows?!  I cannot even.

BREATHE.  We’re here with some ideas that are super-unique, and some of them simplify your ceremony planning.  You can create a ceremony that leads your guests into the total experience of your wedding – without leading your bank account (or your brain) into a crisis!

Ditch the Flip

If your wedding venue is limited in size, you might envision flipping the space from ceremony rows to reception tables during a cocktail hour.  That can work well, but if it feels overwhelming or you don’t have the budget to pay someone to handle that, there is another option – the cabaret layout!  Instead of moving everything, have guests find their seats at the reception tables right when they arrive, and have your ceremony in the middle of the room!  If your venue has a stage, the cabaret feeling is enhanced even further.

Bonus: Have your caterer serve champagne to your guests moments before the ceremony starts, and ask your officiant to end the ceremony with a toast.  The drama of it all!  *fans self*

Upstage a Traditional Processional

Thinking about doing a slideshow?  Select a venue with a drop-down screen, and have the show running from the time your guests arrive. It will give them something to do while they wait for the ceremony, and guarantees that they will pay attention to all the images of you and your beloved.

But wait, there’s more!  While guests are watching, secretly hide behind the screen with your beloved, officiant, and any bridal party members.  When it’s time for the ceremony to begin, have the screen slowly raised while an epic song plays.  Your guests won’t miss the processional at all, with a surprise entrance for the ages!

Bonus: For Hollywood realness, have your slideshow professionally produced.

Surround Yourselves with Love (Not Chairs)

In some traditions, it’s common practice to arrange guests in a circle instead of the rows that are so familiar to many of us.  For an intimate feel that also removes the need for chairs, place a sign by the entrance asking guests to stand in a circle (perhaps using flower petals or a small chuppah to block off the spot where you will stand) to create a community sanctuary to surround you with love as you marry.

Bonus: Have a basket of something symbolic for guests to take and hold during your ceremony to enhance the community feel.  A single, inexpensive flower works well.

Party Your Way to the Altar

If you like the idea of acoustic music during your ceremony, consider changing up how it is presented.  Instead of having your guitarist sit off to the side, ask him or her to lead you down the aisle, strumming and singing their heart out with your song.  This can be *incredibly* romantic, and is sure to put a smile on your face when the pictures come back a few weeks later.

Bonus: Have the musician play a well-known song, and ask your officiant to encourage guests to stand up and sing along as you walk down the aisle.  Ice: BROKEN.

Use What’s There

Many cities have outdoor amphitheaters in parks, zoos, and other outdoor locations.  If one of those venues will work for the feel you have planned for your big day, go for it!  Not only can those spaces be pretty darn affordable, they also come with enough seating for all your guests and a perfect spot for your ceremony, all wrapped up in a pretty, outdoor package.

Bonus: If your city doesn’t have an amphitheater, you can also use quilts on a natural hill.  It looks beautiful and is totally unique!

Keep It To Yourselves

The idea of standing in front of everyone and saying a bunch of really private stuff freaks some people out.  And understandably so!  If this is you (or your beloved…or both of you), remember that there’s no law requiring you to be married publicly.  In some states, like Virginia, you don’t need any witnesses at all.  Consider having your ceremony privately, either on the same day as your reception, or sometime before it.  Depending on who you are, this can be done just about anywhere!  Perhaps you’re a religious person and want to ask your house of worship to perform a private ceremony, or maybe you’d rather ask an officiant to meet you and your beloved where you had your first date.  The sky is really the limit for a private ceremony, since you have no one to please but yourselves!

Bonus: Leave time right after your private ceremony to celebrate alone with your new spouse.  A romantic meal, bottle of champagne, or weekend in the woods can enhance the sense that the two of you are sharing a magical secret, even though it’s a temporary one.

Pick Something Besides Flowers

Flowers sure are beautiful!  And expensive.  And expected.  If you’re looking for new places to express who you are, replacing flowers with something else is a great option.  Maybe each attendant should carry a book that has shaped your life, or your beloved’s life.  If you’re getting married during the winter or at night, candles would look really amazing and dramatic.  If you’re an arachnophile, perhaps you should carry your sweet pet tarantula (in a secure enclosure, plz thx) instead of roses.

Bonus: Explain why everyone’s carrying what they’re carrying in a program or note to guests.  It adds interest and gives guests something to read and talk about before the ceremony.

Gimme the Good Stuff

Instead of the traditional recessional, head for the wedding cake and slice it right then and there.  You’ll be on cloud nine, so the pictures of that moment will be full of laughter and joy.  Plus, you’ll still look fresh since it’s the beginning of the event.  Have your caterer slice and serve cake and coffee in place of a traditional cocktail hour, and maybe offer another kind of dessert after the meal if you feel like it.

Bonus: Get each layer in a different seasonal flavor to help guests feel that there are choices, even for a cake-and-coffee hour.   Serving it now means you won’t have to figure out how to keep it cool and protected until after the meal.

Share the Love

If figuring out who to ask to join your bridal party sounds like a social nightmare, skip it.  You can simplify your processional (and your life) greatly by keeping it to just the two of you.  This also reduces costs, since you won’t need any extra flowers, attendant gifts, and the like.

Bonus: Tell your guests that they’re all members of your bridal party, because they all have a hand in supporting and loving you as you enter your married life.  Adding this into the a program or on a website is a nice way to make guests feel appreciated, and also adds a positive sense as to why you chose not to have a formal bridal party.

Remember Whose Wedding This Is

Oh yeah, it’s YOURS.  If you and your beloved have a non-traditional idea, go for it!  There are very few legal requirements during wedding ceremonies, and there’s no reason you have to do it by anyone else’s rule book.  If traditional is your thing, that’s a million percent cool.  But if you’re thinking of changing it up, adding in your own ideas, or would like to talk about a variety of creative options, listen to your heart.  This is your wedding and your memories we’re talking about, so it should be what you want as a couple!

Bonus: Find an officiant who is completely flexible and celebrates your creative ideas!  Many officiants have a lot of rules or requirements, but some are totally open and write everything from scratch.  We happen to have a great suggestion right here! 😉