the wedding files

Saying ‘I Do’ in a Torrential Downpour

“By the time we saw one another for the first look, everything was fine.”

10_14_2023 C.A. and Leslie, Space on Ryder Farm

When we ask newlyweds to think back on what they wanted most for their big day — and we’ve interviewed hundreds of them over the years — the most common response is “For it not to feel like a wedding!” Gathering with old friends and eating mini grilled cheeses in formalwear to celebrate love feels more special these days than ever, even downright miraculous. And the betrothed have never been less attached to the old wedding handbook — or the need to please their great-aunt. So in a flurry of pampas grass and perfectly mismatched-to-match bridesmaid dresses, how do you pull off a non-cookie-cutter affair? For the answers, we decided to interrogate the cool couples whose weddings we would actually want to steal, right down to the tiger-shaped cake toppers.

Here, we spoke with C.A. Johnson and Leslie Gauthier, two playwrights who met at a residency held on a 229-year-old homestead and organic farm just north of the city. The Brooklyn-based couple returned to the special place for their wedding last October, when they enlivened the property with 160 friends and family, a brass band, and the words of Mary Oliver and Toni Morrison. There was an uninvited guest, too: the biblical rains, which washed out their hopes for an outdoor ceremony and stranded some guests in the mud.

Leslie: C.A. and I met through an artist-residency program called SPACE on Ryder Farm, in Brewster, New York, in February 2019.

C.A.: It was just us and two other writers. She was very single and I was very not, so it was one of those things where I was like, Do not notice that person. But it was kind of impossible.

Leslie: I went on these sunrise walks to the lake and always invited the other artists to go with me, and no one ever did. One day I woke up and she was ready to go and it was kind of silent and uncomfortable. She was walking a little bit ahead of me, and this thought passed through my mind: You’re going to marry that woman. And I was like, Oh my God, Leslie, that’s crazy. What is wrong with you? Why would you think that? 

C.A.: We didn’t date for many months. Once I was no longer otherwise involved, I took her so seriously; she [couldn’t] be a rebound. I think on some level I knew before we ever dated, but once we were, I was already trying to figure out how we’d be married.

Leslie: The way that C.A. looked at me and listened to me … it was like once I was in her orbit, I was never out of it.

C.A.: It was the ease. I mean, every relationship’s complicated, but this is forever ease. I had a whole proposal planned [for summer 2021]. I was going to take her to dinner at this restaurant where we’d gone on one of our first non-dates, when we were still trying to be friends, and her hair caught on fire. We’ll go back, we’ll have a laugh, I’ll propose. 

Leslie: Then C.A. broke her leg that summer. I came home around our anniversary in September and our dog, Pepper, had a little bow on, with a note to go to the bedroom. There were balloons and flowers, and C.A. on her crutches.

C.A.: I dramatically dropped the ring box at one point and had to ask her to retrieve it. It was all very non-romantic, but she said yes.

Leslie: My biggest issue with weddings is you go to a place and have to be out at a specific time. “Okay, it’s 11 o’clock, everybody go home.” How do we get around that? And I really care about place. I didn’t want to get married in some random hotel.

C.A.: I always thought I’d get married in New Orleans. It’s so key to who I am; I lived there until I was 15, when I was displaced post Katrina. But Leslie’s mom has a walking disability, and her family is older than my family, and it was a lot of work to find accessible places. Then I realized how large my family is. My mom’s one of 12. If I did it at home, I’d have to invite every cousin under the sun.

Leslie: I grew up in West Hartford, Connecticut.

C.A.: I’m not getting married in Connecticut. I’d never live it down. Then we were like, what about SPACE? It’s our home away from home. Doesn’t this just make sense?

Leslie: We knew sometimes they open up for a wedding or film shoot, performances, fundraisers. We asked, and they said yes. It’s one of the oldest organic-produce farms in the Northeast.

C.A.: It has the original family homestead on it, and a second residency hall, then just acres of farm. Since we’re part of the SPACE family, we were able to host our families on the grounds, and we had the venue alone.

Leslie: The trade-off was we had this place that meant a lot to us, and I don’t think we had to pay as much as other people do for their venue, but we had to bring everything in.

C.A.: Generators, portable restrooms, the tent, tables, and chairs. We were able to use their decorations, like mason jars and lighting, and they grow a lot of flowers so we got a bunch from them and another local farm and DIY’d. One of Leslie’s bridal-party members is a wonderfully artistic person, and she spearheaded the beautification.

Leslie: We worked with [the wedding planners] Modern Rebel. Organization and deadlines for decisions are not our strong points, so I certainly appreciated having that structure and framework.

C.A.: We knew there were going to be a lot of gourds. If we’re doing a fall wedding, it should feel like fall. We wanted rich, dark colors as far as the eye could see. I dressed my mom in velvet gold. And we needed colors that looked good on every skin tone. I’m a Black woman, she’s a white woman, our friend’s and family’s colorings are so different. What looks good on everyone?

Leslie: I told my wedding party, “Look, I’m just going to give you a prompt: If it’s the color of a dying leaf, that’s probably it.”

C.A.: I ordered my suit from Bindle and Keep here in Brooklyn. I’ve been to a lot of weddings of other queer women in their [saddle]seat suits, so I earmarked the company. I worked with this wonderful suit designer, Ashley [Merriman]; hilariously, I’d been a fan of her restaurant that closed during the pandemic. Green’s my favorite color, and I knew I wanted something near a forest green. One of my dear friends came to the appointment with me, and we looked at a lot of greens. I loved the gold specks in this. It was just stunning material. It was of the highest-end stuff they had, and two grand more than I said I’d spend, and I didn’t give a fuck.

Leslie: I went to a boutique in Chelsea and tried on a bunch of dresses with my maid of honor, and it was like an embarrassment of riches. I liked all of them. There was one dress by this company Daalarna that I really liked, but it was a bit out of my price range. I did a deep internet dive and found a very similar design at this boutique in Madison, Connecticut, not far from where my parents live. My mom and I made a trip out of it. We found the dress, and it was a little big, but it was workable. Considerably less than the one in Chelsea!

C.A.: Two weeks out, Caitlin, our planner at Modern Rebel, was like, “We should think about rainy-day alternate locations.” I said, “Okay, I will.” Leslie said, “I will not.

Leslie: I was so against it. Caitlin tried very hard at the rehearsal dinner to say, “I think we’re going to need to move the ceremony inside.” We went under the tent and started imagining what it would be like to have the ceremony there, and my face just fell. I couldn’t hide my feelings and disappointment. It was my bridezilla moment.

C.A.: She was like, “It’s not the vibe. It doesn’t feel right.” The executive director of SPACE, Allyson, who’s known us both for so many years, took us to the barn and said, “This is what you’re going to use. You should have the beauty you want.”

Leslie: Then it was all hands on deck. The next morning, people were cleaning the barn, making it presentable, sweeping. That morning was when I realized we had such big bridal parties, because everyone went to the barn and decorated.

C.A.: They’d be getting their hair done, getting their makeup done, and then going to the barn to build a flower trellis. Allyson lived nearby, and she said, “I have this beautiful rug. Let me go get it!” She put that down so that people walked in on the rug. It was a wild thing. Everyone got to know each other extremely well.

Leslie: It was drenching rain. It was really, really bad.

C.A.: Torrentially downpouring.

Leslie: I was so afraid that my dress was going to get muddy before things started. I carried it up around myself as high as I could. And it was actually really cold, too. In the end, you just had to surrender to it.

C.A.: That’s one way planners come in handy, because they keep the vibe high. “It’s all going to be good!” And our [wedding parties] are people who calm us. As all the details came together — the hair, the dress, does it look right? — by the time we saw one another for the first look, everything was fine. I mean, she looked so good.

Leslie: Monet Hurst-Mendoza was our officiant. She’s a playwright and TV writer, and she was there during the two weeks we met at SPACE. And she’s officiated a few weddings, so she was like, “Alright, here’s my outline.”

C.A.: Monet has such a beautiful buoyant energy.

Leslie: My family is very New England, and C.A. is Louisiana and the South. We were like, “Oh my God, how are we going to knit this all together?”

C.A.: We’re both spiritual people, but not necessarily religious. We knew we wanted there to be some tradition to it, and both of our heritages to be reflected. Like, we have to jump the broom — that’s just what I always thought I would do at my wedding, no matter who I was marrying — and Leslie really wanted to stress her Irish roots, so we did an Irish prayer and had an Irish prayer circle around the ceremony: All of our bridal parties brought up their bouquets and arranged them around us in a semicircle, and we had to step into the semicircle.

Leslie: We asked a few friends to choose passages or write something based on a different element — fire, water, air, earth — and put their spin on it, choosing readings they thought related to the element, or what they wanted to say about love. My choir teacher from high school loves Mary Oliver, so she read “When I Am Among the Trees” and that was “earth.”

C.A.: I asked my cousin, who’s like an older sister, and she read this wonderful excerpt from Sula by Toni Morrison, and that was “air.”

Leslie: We wrote our own vows. I was really freaked out about it. But everything sort of settled for me once I was at SPACE, the place where we met, and everything felt a lot more real to me.

C.A.: We both thought about them for months and didn’t really write them until just before.

Leslie: I handwrote my vows there, slept on them, and then made some edits.

C.A.: Between the readings and the vows, it’s such a heightened moment. I remember turning around and whoa, everybody had been crying. Mine were very much about quiet: how I’d been coming off such crazy years of feeling pushed about, and when Leslie came around, things just quieted down. I could make sense of things, how I wanted to live. I thanked her for that.

Leslie: We were supposed to have this brass band take us from the ceremony to the cocktail hour, and we could only have one musician with someone following him with an umbrella to keep him and his instrument dry.

C.A.: Just the band leader, with his clarinet. So it was a bit somber, and then once you were in the tent, the full band was there. The food was handled by Night Kitchen. To this day, everybody’s like, “That’s the best wedding food I’ve ever had.” During cocktail hour it was shrimp and grits bites, a veggie spring roll, little veggie pakoras.

Leslie: Dinner was served family style so everyone had to interact. Our families both love seafood, but I didn’t want an overfished dish; I’d rather a fish that people maybe weren’t as familiar with. So we served tilefish, which was really good.

C.A.: When we first hired them, their chef, Aaron, said “Our hit dish is this amazing vegan eggplant,” and it was the hit of the night. They also have something called hurricane fried chicken, and I was like, I don’t know if I want this white man serving fried chicken to my family and friends. But that chicken was so good.

Leslie: We had a kale salad and skillet cornbread, all of which was so great on a cold night.

C.A.: There were speeches from both of our “best people.” Her parents spoke, and then my older brother with my mom—she spoke one sentence and he handled the rest. My mom does not do speaking to crowds. Our first dance was to “The Wedding Song” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

Leslie: We had a DJ, DJ Zeke. C.A. and I are really into Beyoncé’s Renaissance, so it was probably a little heavy on Beyoncé. We gave him a playlist with things that would be exciting for my family and C.A.’s, and for different generations. It was 50 years of hip hop in our reception. I think Abba played at some point, which was, of course, a huge hit.

C.A.: Once he realized it was a room full of theater people and people from New Orleans, he was like, “Oh, this is my jam.” Heavy on the dance tracks, so the party never stopped.

Leslie: He started playing Rent at one point, and I simultaneously crumbled in embarrassment and leapt with joy.

C.A.: There was no cake-cutting moment.

Leslie: C.A. and I don’t agree on dessert. She doesn’t really care for dessert, I love cake. Our compromise was to get cakes from the bakery where she worked in her early 20s in D.C.

C.A.: It’s called Baked and Wired. The owners there are like my family. They made us three kinds of cupcakes and these great bars, called bee stings, that are almonds and honey and shortbread. We had those driven up by a family member and served them at the end of the night.

Leslie: If it hadn’t been raining so much and hadn’t gotten so muddy, I do think there would’ve been an after-party outside the tent. But the bus came for people who were staying in hotels, and on the second [trip] it got stuck in the mud. They were stuck for a few hours.

C.A.: The first crowd made it out, and the second were stragglers so luckily they were our closest friends and thought it was really funny. The fire and police departments got involved.

Leslie: If you look it up, there are a few articles about it in the local news. We wouldn’t have even known — C.A. and I and a few people from our bridal party staying on the premises were talking and drinking and having a good time — but then C.A.’s brother showed up and was like, “Yeah, I jumped out of the window of this bus.” It was wild.

C.A.: Well, it’s memorable. I can forever say I trapped a Tony nominee on a bus.

C.A. accessorized her Bindle and Keep suit with a floral pocket square from Bloomcourt Farm. Photo: Eileen Meny Photography
Boots under her Daalarna wedding dress helped Leslie handle the mud. Photo: Eileen Meny Photography
The couple found most hair and makeup artists to be “stale and corporate and not us,” so they hired folks they’ve worked with in the theater world, including Cody Ainey, Akiyaa Wilson, Courtney Horry, and Jeanne Torres. Photo: Eileen Meny Photography
Keeping the dress as pristine as possible. Photo: Eileen Meny Photography
The couple’s ring-bearing dog, Pepper, picked up on how emotional her owners were and ultimately “sat at our feet, quaking,” during the ceremony, says C.A. “She’s a very emotionally intelligent dog.” Photo: Eileen Meny Photography
The ceremony was officiated by playwright and TV writer Monet Hurst-Mendoza. Photo: Eileen Meny Photography
Friends were asked to choose readings inspired by the elements. They selected pieces by Toni Morrison, Mary Oliver, Joy Harjo, Mary Ruefle, and more. Photo: Eileen Meny Photography
“I remember turning around and whoa, everybody had been crying,” says C.A. Photo: Eileen Meny Photography
In a nod to Leslie’s heritage, the wedding parties formed an Irish prayer circle from their bouquets. Photo: Eileen Meny Photography
And jumped the broom to close the ceremony. Photo: Eileen Meny Photography
The wedding parties chosetheir own outfits but were encouraged to stick to a color palette of “dying leaves.” Photo: Eileen Meny Photography
A brass band was supposed to lead guests from the ceremony to the tent in a New Orleans–style second line, a plan foiled by the rain. Instead, just the band leader, Marcus G. Miller, led the group. Photo: Eileen Meny Photography
Once they reached the tent, the rest of the band, Imagine With Marcus, was waiting to welcome them. Photo: Eileen Meny Photography
The food was catered by Night Kitchen, who kicked off with cocktail bites like shrimp and grits. Photo: Eileen Meny Photography
“Rich, dark colors as far as the eye could see” was the plan for their moody, autumnal tablescapes. Photo: Eileen Meny Photography
The couple’s first dance was to “The Wedding Song” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Photo: Eileen Meny Photography
DJ Zeke presided over a Beyoncé-heavy set. Photo: Eileen Meny Photography
“He started playing Rent at one point, and I simultaneously crumbled in embarrassment and leapt with joy,” says Leslie. Photo: Eileen Meny Photography
Instead of a cake, they served cupcakes and almond-honey shortbread bars. Photo: Eileen Meny Photography
While the couple hung back with a few loved ones, a bus carrying some of the guests back to their hotel got stuck for hours in the mud. Photo: Eileen Meny Photography

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The Wedding Files: Saying ‘I Do’ in a Torrential Downpour