The heavy red curtains were drawn to reveal decorated stone columns and walls. Cast members entered from stage left and stage right, men in sharp suits and women in flowing blue dresses bowing and curtsying to the audience before taking their places. A delighted crowd cheered them on.
Then came the moment they all had been waiting for — the bride’s grand entrance to Wagner’s “Treulich geführt,” also known as the “Bridal Chorus.”
Amber Lynn Bishop, the 26-year-old daughter of Paul Bishop and Joyce Bishop, and 30-year-old William Shawn Heyward, son of Doug and Tina Ayers, were married at 2 p.m. Saturday, June 8, on the stage of Stevenson Auditorium in downtown Orangeburg.
The once-in-a-lifetime production, titled “Wedding Bells Ring,” was directed and produced by Paul Bishop, father of the bride.
“Seeing as how my wife and I went to the courthouse to get married, whatever I did would be our wedding, in retrospect,” he said of planning his daughter’s ceremony. “This was something I couldn’t give my wife back then.”
The contractor dreamed up the entire wedding, said Heyward, the now-wed bride. Originally, Bishop explored the idea of having his daughter and son-in-law exchange vows at Edisto Memorial Gardens, but decided against that for obvious reasons: An outdoor wedding in South Carolina in June would likely be unbearable, he said.
“What’s a wedding?” Bishop said he mused. “Anybody can get married, but a wedding is a performance for friends and family to witness the occasion.”
And then it dawned on him: He could stage a wedding on an actual stage at Stevenson Auditorium. The ceremony was touted as the first such event at the downtown venue built in the 1920s (a city hall employee confirmed that last week).
Also a plus was the auditorium’s proximity to Thee Matriarch Bed and Breakfast on Fischer Street, which Bishop said went “above and beyond” in making the bridal party feel welcome during their stay the night before the wedding and while preparing for the ceremony.
Bishop designed and built the set for the wedding himself. It featured a ramp leading to a raised platform, green turf, an archway with the couple’s first names, electric lanterns standing in for unity candles and more.
Guests received a souvenir ticket and detailed program, both also designed by the bride’s father, prior to entering the auditorium. Officiating the ceremony was the Rev. John Hucks.
“All in all, it went pretty good,” Bishop said of the ceremony. “No, it went excellent.”
Heyward, the bride, said she had no idea what her wedding was going to look like until she showed up for the rehearsal.
“I loved it,” she said of her father’s creation. “It all came together really well.”
“People say I have control issues,” Bishop said, smiling. “I had my vision, and I wanted to make sure my vision came out.”
In his work, Bishop also incorporated such meaningful touches as red and yellow roses in honor of the bride and groom’s deceased grandmothers, the couple’s favorite colors (blue for her and orange for him), pineapples to represent hospitality, bubbles to express the joy of the occasion and Big Band-era music to honor the “Greatest Generation” and the bride’s late grandfathers — one a World War II veteran and the other a Korean War veteran — into the ceremony.
There was even a little extra-special object on display for the bride — a stuffed Scooby Doo for one of the animated pup’s biggest fans.
“Everybody loved it,” Heyward said of her wedding. “We had people who said that they normally don’t like weddings who loved this one. Everybody was involved in it. It just kind of brought the audience in, like an actual play.”
Bishop’s work extended to the reception, where guests enjoyed a “family reunion” atmosphere — and visually stunning cake chosen by the bride — at the Rowesville Community Center. Wedding favors were handed out to remind guests of the nuptials — and the joining together of Amber, Shawn and Shawn’s son, 5-year-old Jackson.
“It was definitely something to remember, and everyone’s still talking about it,” Heyward said of her big day. “I would do it again, in a heartbeat.”
After a honeymoon cruise to Key West, the Cayman Islands and Jamaica, the couple settled in Rowesville. Bishop said the wedding set was donated to Branchville High School’s drama department.
Thee Matriarch Bed and Breakfast: theematriarch.com
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