It is time once again for our monthly series, Styled Spotlight, where we are asking one creative wedding professional a series of questions so you can learn how they got started, why they love what they do, and more. Today we talk with Alisa Tongg, Celebrant & Storyteller, about wedding ceremonies and celebrations.
Let’s get to know you! Tell us a little bit about your background.
I was born and raised in Hawaii and come from a big family–we’re a mix of everything. Growing up in an environment like that, where the dominant culture is a celebration of diverse foods, languages and faiths, laid a solid foundation for me to be open and curious in life. As an adult, I’ve lived in Washington State, Boston, Taipei and Shanghai before landing where I am now in the Pocono Mountains. A few years ago I became a Life-Cycle Celebrant and started my practice as a wedding celebrant. Now that my official title, Storyteller and Celebrant for Aisle-Bound Couples, has the word ‘storyteller’ in it, I find myself watching more movies and seeking out moving audio books, all with the goal of honing my craft.
How did you know that the wedding industry was the right fit for you?
Back when I did a lot of event producing and charitable fundraising, I was very aware of how important that little extra layer of thoughtfulness and intention in design was to create an experience so that people would feel connected-connected to the hospital, local community college, other donors… What I love about weddings is that everyone is looking to feel something. When it comes to Love people want to be moved, to have an emotional experience. I love creating the language in a wedding ceremony, it sets the tone for the entire celebration.
How would you describe your approach to ceremony planning?
I get to know my couples deeply through interviews and a questionnaire I have created. I use their responses to create a story arc for their ceremony. Their Love Story and hopes for the future inform every word I write and suggestion I make.
What new practices/ traditions are you seeing in ceremonies?
I love the Jewish processional tradition, where both the bride and groom formally process up the aisle with their parents, it’s becoming more popular in non-denominational weddings too. It’s beautiful to witness, and my bias is always toward inclusion.
What is one piece of advice you like to impart on brides and grooms?
This is probably the one time in your life that your unique community of friends and family are all going to be together in one place at the same time, so my advice is to figure out ways to include as many people as possible throughout the wedding. Your guests will want to feel like they are a part it, they don’t want to feel like they are watching a show–so involve them. Invite them to participate
Five Favorites …
1. Element that always catches your eye? I always feel special when I’m in an environment with dramatic and beautifully designed lighting…also I will always be drawn to living walls. Put those two together and that might just be my personal heaven.
2. Favorite part of the ceremony? There’s this one part of the ceremony I like to include, I call it the Declaration of Support–its after the Love Story but before the Pronouncement and the Kiss–where I have the couple turn outward, face their guests with clasped hands, all the friends and family stand up and I ask them if they will pledge their love and support to the couple as they embark on this new path together. When I’m done reading the community vow, everyone says (and it’s often with so much love and enthusiasm, that’s why this is my favorite!) “We will!”
3. Moment at a wedding? For all of my couples, leading up to the “I dos”, I’ve created this part inspired by the “these are the hands” blessing, but I tailor it specifically to the couple. “This is the woman who…, the hands that find yours, the eyes that…” I remind the bride and the groom exactly who it is that they are standing in front of, preparing for a life with, before I ask them if they have come here today to give themselves in marriage to that person. Without a doubt, this is my favorite part of the whole day. It’s real. People cry. I always sneak a look at the parents in the front row as I talk about their son or daughter through the eyes of someone who truly cherishes him or her. When I look at the parents during this part, there’s pride in their entire being–as they realize that someone loves their child, obviously not in the same way, but loves them with everything they have and are.
4. Place to pop the question? Where you had your first kiss, first ‘I Love You’, first make up from a fight. That’s my style though-I like things a little sentimental.
5. Hidden gem in Philadelphia? Maggpie Vintage Rentals Warehouse (talk about hidden). I participated in their BeePie floral crown making workshop last year and there’s something about that wide open space.