Just about anybody can officiate a wedding these days, but nobody can do it quite as fabulously as Pittsburgh-based performer Shua Potter who officiates weddings — in drag.
Potter recently launched his business Acting Officiant, in which he writes and performs custom wedding ceremonies dressed in a tuxedo, suit, themed costume, drag, or even as Liza Minnelli. He’ll also perform during the reception. Ms. Minnelli, for example, will sing three numbers to a full house tonight at a Grand Concourse wedding.
For Potter, officiating a wedding is a way to combine entertainment with a special moment.
“I realized that as a performer and as a writer that not only am I going to give someone an alternative to using a priest or your standard whoever, that I’m going to help them create a really memorable ceremony that has a theatrical element that will keep their guests engaged and excited and not bored,” he said. “We’re really telling each couple’s love story in a beautiful, simple and unique way, and it just fills my heart with joy every second.”
When Melanie Rutledge began planning her November 2018 wedding in Pittsburgh, she knew nothing traditional would do. She and her fiancee Daniel Palermo are hosting the event at a Strip District club where Cirque du Soleil-style performers will hang from the ceiling, and, most importantly, Potter will officiate in a glittery tuxedo for an androgynous look.
“I didn’t want to do the ritual,” Rutledge said. “I wanted something fresh and new and us.”
Potter’s theatrical background appealed to her because she wanted an officiant who could project his voice and speak with intention. “From speaking with him and listening to his ideas, I really liked the idea of making this sort of a performance,” she said. “I don’t know what he’s got up his sleeves.”
Potter conducted separate interviews with each Rutledge and Palermo, so each could share their vision. “He is so professional, and he’s so creative and he’s very passionate,” she said. “He is genuinely excited about our wedding. I think that’s really sweet and rare.”
For his most recent ceremony on Long Island, Potter dressed in glittery gold with sunflowers tucked into blue hair to match the couple’s yellow-and-blue color scheme.
“We wanted to find a queen to marry us,” Kevin Donohue said about his wedding earlier this month to Marco Ruggiero. “Just because we wanted to be different. We wanted to put on a show.”
Entertainment value was important to Donohue, who works as a Carnival cruise director, and Ruggiero, a dancer for Carnival. Donohue lauded Potter’s dedication to the details. He conducted interviews with the couple to tailor the ceremony to their taste and even mingled with the guests before the ceremony.
When he’s not officiating weddings, Potter performs a monthly “improv comedy cabaret concert” at Arcade Theater as Schwa de Vivre. Potter describes Schwa de Vivre as “sparkly, bubbly, friendly, cheeky, loves love, loves glitter, loves making memories, dancing and singing, making everyone laugh — she goes anywhere from Disney to dirty.”
He cultivated Schwa de Vivre on Fire Island in New York, and he incorporates two looks per show — “the first is always glamour and the second is usually more sex kitten, but always sparkly.”
Potter does all of his own make-up and has amassed a large collection of drag outfits after six years of performances.
Potter, a 36-year-old North Side resident, grew up in cities across America as an “Air Force brat” and found Pittsburgh through his musical theater schooling at Point Park University. He performed on cruise ships, then made his way to Broadway.
In New York, Potter also founded a cleaning service dubbed Broadway Maids, in which all of the employees were actors. Now in Pittsburgh, he runs a similar business called Downtown Domestic, a cleaning service focusing residential and commercial properties mostly on the North Side.
The officiant business got started when a couple who had seen him host an event asked if he’d host their wedding in drag. For a year, he mulled turning that experience into a business idea and eventually the idea clicked. Acting Officiant services range from $650 to $1,000, and he takes clients in Pittsburgh and beyond.
“The one thing I hear from everyone who attends is, ‘I will never forget this wedding,'” Potter said. “For years they will say, ‘Remember the drag wedding we went to?'”