Planning to surprise your Honey with a jaw-dropping proposal? Making plans for your big dream wedding, or ready to shady-dip with your Boo to a remote VA location and make it official? Engagements, elopements and weddings are some of the most important events in our lives. Planning any special event can be a months-long to-do list involving location scouting, mercurial guest lists, seasonal menu and cocktail tastings, flower and personalized decorations and a Herculean budget balancing act. Factor in the element of surprise and you’ve soon got another full-time job with aggressive deadlines.
Enter Casey Dokoupil, co-owner of EQ Events. She knows a thing or two about the topic. Casey, along with co-owner Rachel Leyco and their EQ Event’s team, have helped countless couples and families plan their perfect Virginia event. We asked Casey to share some of her experiences helping people create and experience the milestone events of their lives.
Tell us a little about yourself and EQ Events!
That's a big question! The short answer is that EQ Events exists because Rachel and I shared an odd combination of interests for two random friends – event planning and supporting under-served populations, particularly the LGBTQ+ community. We discussed it for a while before going for it and we quickly found that there's a huge need for it. Queer people, and all minority people, are often really anxious about planning their weddings and events because they don’t know how service providers are going to treat them, or if they will be turned away. That's not okay with us, and one of the most important parts of our work is running interference for our clients. We welcome all people at EQ, and we won't recommend vendors who don't.
Weddings are such an important time for a couple, their family and friends. What do you find is most important to couples planning their big day?
Finding the right match! It's just as true for someone's wedding as it is for their choice of partner. And it's not just about the right kind of flower or color of the linens, it's about finding personalities that make sense for the energy the couple is looking for on their wedding day. Richmond offers an embarrassment of riches when it comes to amazing, local vendors who tend toward the progressive view of what a wedding is for: celebrating a couple's love and the family they are forming in a way that's uniquely authentic to them and the life they actually lead. I remember thinking about this balance quite a lot when we were working on the wedding of Bridget and Mary Frances. They’re both lawyers, whip smart and serious in their careers, but also music lovers with a sarcastic, hilarious way about them. They married on Capitol Square, the centerpiece of the Commonwealth and the heart of Virginia law. But the moment the ceremony ended, a brass band blasted into life, leading the brides and all of their guests through Richmond’s streets to the reception in a grand second line - a shout-out to Mary Frances’s New Orleans origins. Such unique juxtapositions can only be created with the right combination of vendors, and perfectly timed cues.
Helping couples merge their different wedding visions or expectations must be a challenge!
I also officiate, and this comes up constantly. Most couples already know that their expectations are going to be different because that's life, and that's okay. I tend to take a therapeutic approach, guiding the couple through their own discussion and helping them to find the common ground that makes the most sense for them. Of course, I might offer suggestions based on things that have worked for other couples, or that I think may be helpful. Sometimes, it's about asking each partner what's most and least important to them, and allowing each other the space to make decisions based on those things. It's immensely satisfying to watch couples work through joint decisions this way, with the respect and patience their marriage will also require.
There must be so many timelines and detailed arrangements in creating a wedding or event. Have you ever had any last minute changes or surprises you've had to maneuver?
Ummmm yes. That happens all the time, and I actually kind of love it. It's part of our job to answer the hysterical phone call, or find the last-minute solution. Or both. We've had a band just completely fail to show up, needed an emergency tent for a sudden cold front (and of course, accompanying downpour), and once someone's honor attendant showed up very, very intoxicated. We made it through all of those situations without the guests ever knowing a thing, but I don’t want to put our trade secrets in writing! I think the important thing is realizing that those situations are the nature of this business, and that's why people spend their hard-earned money on our services. We take care of everything, whether it's on the planned timeline...or not!
Engagements can be a special time for a couple, too. Do you have any recent secret or surprise proposals you've helped a client with?
Proposals are incredibly fun for us! They're all different, and it’s so exciting when game day comes and we get to help create this perfect, dreamlike moment for people in love. We're also shady enough to love a good secret! We did this beautiful proposal a few months ago for Jaime & Cecily in Cape Charles, Virginia, with a pretty elaborate timeline. We were running all over town making sure every detail was ready, but some things couldn’t be set out until the last moment because the actual question took place in a public space. Anyway, we were just sitting down to eat some lunch and get ready for the big moment when Jaime texted us in a panic to say that Cecily was out of work two hours early! We threw down our lunch and sped across town, setting up the proposal spot at what must be Olympic speed. We had just hidden ourselves when the couple appeared. It went perfectly, and – spoiler alert – she said yes!
What are some of the challenges or benefits of helping couples with surprise or planned elopements?
Elopements are much more popular than many people realize, and for good reason. They offer privacy, and freedom from the expectations of others. Most importantly, they are ridiculously romantic. As long as the idea of an elopement personally appeals to a couple, they usually end up really happy with that decision. There aren’t many challenges, as it’s typically a simplified kind of experience, but some couples do struggle with where to hold their elopement, especially if they plan to have a couple of guests in attendance. We’ve done so many now that we know all the best spots!
Of your most recent work, is there one that made a special impression on you?
Since we’re talking about elopements, that’s what comes to mind! I did a private elopement in January that was so sweet, even I had to hold back tears. It was an absolutely frigid day during that long cold snap, and I was waiting for the couple, Claude and Ann, along with just two other vendors at Wilton House, a historic building here in Richmond. I already felt connected to them and their life because they’re small business owners too, running their estate sales company All Our Yesterdays together as a family. The couple was a little late, so when we saw their car pull up, we were all paying attention. Now, I see gorgeous, happy people all the time in my profession, but these two were practically floating down the brick walkway toward us. They didn’t know we were watching them, and the joy in their expressions as they came toward us, slowly despite the cold and their lack of coats, reminded me why we started this business - to provide access to couples, ALL couples, who are so genuinely in love, and don’t want the sun to set on another day without being married to one another. This couple in particular, laughing and chatting so naturally, had also written their own vows, and their joy became my joy as they read them to one another that day. Beautiful souls, those two.
With marriage equality in the U.S. and Virginia, have you experienced a change in the number and type of events you perform?
We started our business around the time that equality came to Virginia, but since federal equality we have seen an uptick in weddings, specifically formal weddings, for our queer clients. The majority of our clients are queer like us, but not all of them. There does seem to be an equalizing force happening right now, where the rates of each kind of wedding are stabilizing between LGBTQ+ and non-LGBTQ+ people. Where we once saw far more quick elopements among queer people, we’re now seeing folks plan more slowly and deciding what they really want. I think that’s an effect of less fear as we reorient to having these rights we’ve always deserved. Our clients don’t seem so afraid that their marriages will be taken away, so they plan them how they want. For some, that still means quick elopements, and for others it means large, fancy events, or anything in between! It’s really refreshing to see couples marrying however they want, and such a privilege to be a part of it.
Tell us about your new “RVA Microweddings Collective” partnership. We love the concept and it looks like a valuable new resource for couples.
Our collective of wedding specialists hear all the time that weddings are so time consuming, stressful for the couple and hard to budget. Yet, simply running away to get married doesn’t feel like quite enough. We get that. RVA Microweddings Collective is our collective of professionals, each with our specialty, who work together seamlessly to offer easy, affordable, fast and less-stress weddings. We offer officiating, coordination, photography, hair, florals and DJ services in one packaged service. We offer simple, flat rates in an a-la-carte format, plus a small flat service rate. Everything you need, nothing you don’t. We’ve already worked with several couples, and they LOVED it!
When you are not working, where are some of your favorite Virginia places to eat, drink, enjoy and explore?
Well, my wife Beth is the greatest woman on the face of the earth, and she’s a beer connoisseur. So we spend a lot of time exploring Virginia’s incredible craft beer scene, especially our favorites Port City Brewing Company and Ale Werks Brewing Company. If we’re feeling some wine, you’ll usually find us at Keswick Vineyards, where we’ve been members since 2010. Back home in Richmond, we love digging into somehuevos rancheros at Kuba Kuba, savoring the Italian delights at Nota Bene, or sipping coffee at Crossroads. We feel so lucky to live here at a time when Virginia is really blossoming. We’re spoiled for choice with local food, cider, spirits…all of life’s edible joys can be found here in the Commonwealth, and many of those establishments are owned by small business people just like me - and many are also queer, just like me! We love supporting those businesses, and we really love the creative cuisines and tipples they produce for us to show off to visiting family and friends.
What's your best advice for couples planning a wedding, engagement for special occasion in Virginia?
Don’t worry about what’s trendy or popular, unless it genuinely appeals to you as a person. The right approach to your event already exists inside your own heart, and not necessarily on Pinterest. My happiest clients plan their events around the things they mutually and genuinely love. Remember that your event is an extension of the authentic you - and YOU are what your guests love, and come to celebrate! And of course, call us to help you!
Casey Dokoupil lives in Richmond, VA. She is a registered wedding officiant in Virginia and Washington, DC. Casey is an animal lover and is active in the local community. Travel is one of her biggest passions, but at home she enjoys a hot cup of tea and spending time with her wife Beth and their four-legged family of fur faces.