Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


The mock wedding is a folk drama that flourishes in the small communities of the Great Plains and is as strong a tradition today as it was more than 100 years ago. While the drama may take a number of forms, all mock weddings are theatrical parodies of the marriage ritual, in which members of a community dress as a wedding entourage and stage a mock ceremony. Players have specific roles– such as bride, groom, minister, ring bearer, and bridesmaids–and there is usually a script, either written or oral, in which several of the players have speaking parts.

Especially in earlier times, this drama was performed informally by teenage girls as playful preparation for marriage. Children of both sexes also performed mock weddings–often called Tom Thumb weddings–under adult supervision, either as a school play or as part of a fund-raising benefit. Similarly, all-male groups, such as volunteer fire departments, would stage "womenless weddings" as a way of raising money.

While these forms are popular in various parts of North America, there is one kind of mock wedding tradition that is stronger in the Great Plains than in the rest of the continent. This drama involves both men and women actors who cross-dress, and it is characterized by ad-libbing, bawdy behavior, and general horseplay. Often the bride is a very large man, while the groom is a particularly petite woman. Outrageous costumes, masks, and props usually add to the parodic nature of the performances.

Although this form of mock wedding is sometimes staged as a fund-raiser, it is usually part of a larger community celebration of a marriage or, more likely, a milestone wedding anniversary. As part of a couple's twenty-fifth anniversary, for example, friends, family, and neighbors will hold a celebration. The honored couple may be regaled with speeches (often of a "roast" variety) and locally composed songs or poems. Gifts, food, drink, music, and dancing are all part of this celebration.

Unannounced, a mock wedding procession enters the hall and takes over "center stage." Amid laughter, jeers, and expressions of dismay, the procession arranges itself in a typical wedding tableau. The minister usually begins with a "dearly beloved" speech, a parody of the liturgy. This is followed by the saying of vows, which often reveals embarrassing characteristics or stories about the honored couple, a ring ceremony involving a jar-sealer ring or other sight gag, and the kissing of the bride, which sometimes devolves into a wrestling match. The ceremony might be augmented with other scenes, such as the entrance of a girlfriend with babe in arms.

Obviously, this drama honors the anniversary couple through good-natured mockery. But it is also a form of commentary on rural and agrarian life, especially through some of the vows, which often concern the less savory aspects of farm work ("Do you promise to clean the slaughterhouse mess, and not love and honor your husband any less?"). As women are generally the organizers of mock weddings, these dramas tend to comment on the many roles that women must fulfill on the family-run farm or ranch. The cross-dressing itself emphasizes the blurring of divisions between men's and women's work on the farm. These commentaries are well understood by actors and audience alike.

Michael Taft American Folklife Center Library of Congress

Butala, Sharon. Luna. Saskatoon: Fifth House, 1988.

Taft, Michael. "Folk Drama on the Great Plains: The Mock Wedding in Canada and the United States." North Dakota History 56 (1989): 16–23.

Taft, Michael. "Men in Women's Clothes: Theatrical Transvestites on the Canadian Prairie." In Undisciplined Women: Tradition and Culture in Canada, edited by Pauline Greenhill and Diane Tye. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1997: 131–38.

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