Today we are speaking with one of A Central Park Wedding’s preferred wedding professionals, Barbara Ann Michaels, wedding officiant and creative mind behind Jester of the Peace. From Central Park poetry to costume themes to adventure weddings, Barbara personalizes each ceremony to create a warm, fun and memorable experience. Read more about Barbara’s unique take on weddings.
What inspired you to become a wedding officiant?
The love of friends! I was asked in 2005 by two sets of friends on opposite coasts to officiate their weddings. My first reaction was, “Yes, Wow…Really…Yes!” I was touched to be asked, moved to be thought of “in that way.” I set out to hold and honor and celebrate them at this profound moment of pleasure and devotion in their lives. As we created their weddings together, I realized I was drawing on my own artful background as well as my own joy. I am a former journalist, current actor and director, writer, romantic, and lover of special moments. I love to dance with Grandma under most any circumstance. The photographer at my very first wedding said, “If I ever get married, I am calling you.”
Four years later, I moved to New York on Valentine’s Day, and felt immediately called to become a wedding officiant. I now celebrate gay and straight weddings for couples from all over the world. I am delighted by and devoted to Marriage Equality. I have added over the years becoming an Ordained Interfaith Minister through One Spirit Interfaith Seminary here in New York. I bring my sincere art and heart as an actor into costume and adventure wedding ceremonies, too, for couples who need to celebrate their creativity in order to feel real. I also perform improvised street weddings as Jester of the Peace, helping people to spontaneously declare their love for each other, their favorite places and things, and their dreams.
How did you come up with the name ‘Jester of the Peace?’
I am a wedding officiant and a performance artist, actor and clown. I was talking to my ex-boyfriend-now-good-friend on the phone, and he’s always been a punster. As I told him about the mock weddings I’ve been doing in Times Square as a street performance – giving tourists and locals alike a fun way to show their love for anyone or anything – he piped up, “You could call yourself the Jester of the Peace!” And so it is… Thanks, Michael!
This moniker, Jester of the Peace, consistently brings me couples who share my two favorite qualities in tandem: earnestness and playfulness. ‘Jester of the Peace’ acts like a radio signal for creative and devoted lovers to find me!
I have an annual anniversary party each year for everyone who ever gets married with me. A room full of earnest and playful people makes a glorious gathering; everyone makes sure everyone else feels welcomed into a fun time!
Can you describe your approach to working with each wedding couple?
“Have Fun, Be True!”
We collaborate on your ceremony. You have total creative freedom and full guidance with me. We interview you in-person or via happy and loving questionnaires. I write you a first draft from there. Then, we edit together until your wedding feels just like your love. I’m a former journalist, so I adore the details and story of your romance and wedding. We include tradition, culture, invention, and participation as you wish, and to your joy.
The main mode I use to show your spark and sparkle is storytelling. We all remember a good story. When you share anecdotes about yourselves in your wedding, you show your personalities in your unique union. After your ceremony, your guests often will remember to us a story element that moved or amused them from your wedding. They all take home the truth and treasure of your love as a wedding favor.
In our creative and classy modern times, it’s no longer: “We’re getting married. What do we do?” The real question, the one that inspires me so, and that your wedding guests become so glad you asked, is “We’re getting married. Who are we?”
What do you enjoy about officiating weddings in Central Park?
Nature is a wonderful metaphor for love. I also love that people passing by a wedding in Central Park often stop. I tell my couples sincerely, “Smiling strangers will be watching your wedding, taking photos, and even videos of your wedding. And when you kiss, they will clap!” Central Park weddings bring a feeling of shared joie de vivre. And for some gay and lesbian couples who are coming to New York to wed because they can’t yet legally marry in their own state, this generosity of spirit gives them extra support and sunshine.
Tell me about some of your most memorable weddings in Central Park or NYC.
At one wedding Central Park, it was raining so hard that everyone had colorful umbrellas. A guest was holding a white umbrella over me. Big rain dripped and flopped down onto my ceremony book off the spines of that pretty and personal roof. I would whisk away the water and keep loving. The guests adored it. The rain brought adventure to that wedding. We all felt we had witnessed two of nature’s miracles of sustenance at once: rain and love.
I did a 20th vow renewal, not after 20 years, but for the 20th time, for a couple seeking the world record for vow renewals. It was a roller disco wedding in the snow at New Year’s. Imagine against a backdrop of white snow and gray trees, nimble roller disco skaters from the Central Park Roller Disco Association, and a live guitarist with long rocker hair. See the couple in rainbow disco wear atop platform shoes, all gold and silver and sparkly hearted. And me… Elvis. Cross-dressing, skinny, Elvis. I quoted 20 songs from the era around this couple’s strong love story. I got that famous leg gyration down and our spirit up. Their wedding was a joyful spectacle, and deeply sincere to their devotion to sharing new experiences as a couple.
When you ask me for favorites, a fond flurry of faces and kisses pass through my mind and heart. How many couples have I seen, undefended and eager before me, ready to rush or dance or simply breathe together into their future in marriage? Here come some of my gay couples who have been together for decades, too, letting go their relief and rejoicing that they finally can legally wed. Each couple’s wedding can feel unprecedented in our hearts. Time can seem to hold for their emotional moment. Celebrating marriage is a sacred experience of peace and passion. I learn about love from every couple who walks down the aisle to me (even the ones who are modern and eschew aisles!).
What is your favorite Central Park wedding location and what do you love about it?
There are two cherry trees near Bethesda Fountain. Their branches reach towards each other. In Spring, they drip deep with pink blooms, and leave a spray of pink petals all over the ground between them. I officiated a wedding there for a couple from Germany, who had been together for the better part of 14 years. The outrageous beauty of the trees matches the outrageous open heart of a person in true love. I am also a big fan of the Ladies Pavilion for its prettiness, and sweet curlicue roof if it rains. By the way, rain just makes weddings romantic in a different way. Everyone wants to curl up and hear a good story of sweet love.