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‘Just say yes’: When wedding proposals go public

If his recent actions are any gauge, Marcial Alzugaray is fearless in the ways of love. Some might even call him intrepid. So is it really that surprising that Alzugaray staged an elaborate wedding proposal, complete with a 75-member marching band, on the flight deck of the USS Intrepid?

His fiancée would say yes. Brynn Joyce happily accepted Alzugaray’s shocker proposal before hundreds of onlookers aboard the aircraft carrier — and she also confessed to being stunned by her boyfriend’s approach.

“If anything I thought we would be out together, the two of us, at dinner,” Joyce said afterward.

During that highly choreographed proposal in September, Joyce found herself in the same position as a growing number of women across the land. In flash mobs in public parks and on stages at huge public gatherings, amid comedic antics at football games and musical antics on teeming aircraft carriers, more and more ladies are finding themselves making the decision of a lifetime with hundreds of eyes locked on them.

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“There is no script for this,” said Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist and scientific adviser to the dating websites Match.com and Chemistry.com. “On one level, you’d probably feel extremely impressed by a proposal like this and would never forget it. On another level, if it were me, I’d really be embarrassed. How do you manage?”

The answer for most women, said One Degree Events founder Egan Orion, is to react with graciousness and joy. Orion, 41, is a producer and creative director who has helped orchestrate flash-mob wedding proposals in New York and Seattle. (Yes, there are people who do that.) While acknowledging that flash-mob proposals aren’t for everybody, he said they’re more natural than proposals that happen during private strolls along beaches or romantic dinners for two.

“Sure, you can have an intimate proposal between two people — but that’s not the way a couple or a family live their lives together,” Orion said. “They live their lives connected to hundreds of other people. This kind of a proposal takes it to a more natural place where you get to share this moment with people who care about you and hundreds of other people as well.”

Sobs of joy
In Alzugaray’s case, he knew he wanted his big moment with Joyce to be unforgettable. The Queens, N.Y., resident was so determined for the proposal to be special that he hired event planner Sarah Pease and professional photographer James Ambler, the owner of Paparazzi Proposals, to help him orchestrate the aircraft-carrier extravaganza. It cost big bucks — the price starts at about $2,000 just to hire Pease and her team of planners — but Alzugaray said it was worth it.

“She’s just a great person,” he said of his fiancée. “She’s got a great heart. She’s my best friend.”

It turns out there are plenty of mushy guys out there who are so smitten with their girlfriends that they want the whole world to know how they feel far in advance of the wedding day. Earlier this year, Seattle-area resident Tim Hannifin, 27, masterminded a mind-blowing flash-mob proposal earlier this year with the help of Orion of One Degree Events. Hannifin’s fiancée, 27-year-old Emily Ogura, said the wildly public surprise proposal was just perfect for her — but even so, she was so overcome by emotion and shock that she almost collapsed.

Tim Hannifin and Emily Ogura have been friends since middle school, as evidenced by this eighth-grade dance photo. Hannifin is in the back row on the far left, and Ogura is the girl in the back row. The couple are still close with friends pictured here; several likely will be in their wedding party.

“My advice to anyone who has this happen is to try not to cry so hard that you can’t see anything!” Ogura said. “Just try to remember as much of it as you can because it happens so quickly. Fortunately we have video documentation of it, right? I’ve watched it hundreds of times!”

The funny thing about Ogura and Hannifin is that they’re both flash mobbers themselves. They’ve had a blast helping Orion pull off a dance tribute to Michael Jackson and other massive public events. Ogura was caught off guard on the day of her proposal because she thought she and Hannifin were simply participants in a grand, “Glee”-themed flash-mob extravaganza in downtown Seattle. Rumors had spread that a “special guest star” would make an appearance in the middle of the flash mob; Ogura speculated that the guest must be tied to the cast of the hit television show “Glee.”

When the moment arrived for the big reveal, the surprise guest was none other than Hannifin, wielding a microphone in front of more than 1,000 flash mobbers and onlookers. He began his heartfelt proposal with the words, “Buongiorno, principessa” (“Good morning, princess” in Italian). Within seconds, Ogura was racked with uncontrollable sobs.

“The original plan was for the proposal to happen and then we’d go off to the side, but Emily was in no mood to move, so we wound up hugging and kissing in the middle with everybody dancing around us,” Hannifin recalled. “It worked out even better than planned.”

Tailgating for loveWhile some public proposals — like Alzugaray’s and Hannifin’s — resemble Hollywood blockbusters with high-dollar production value, others are more like low-budget indie films that still merit rave reviews. Tom Brown, 38, of Renton, Wash., has dabbled in stand-up comedy, and he has no problem being a bit theatrical in front of people to get laughs. He also knew how much his girlfriend, Brandy Tierney, 32, would get a kick out of something unexpected and memorable.

So, last fall, he hatched a plan. A friend of Brown’s told him she could line up some teenage flash-mob dancers from the dance school where she works and from a church youth group. Brown readily accepted her offer.

Longtime TODAY fan gets proposal on the plaza

It occurred to Brown that the perfect setting for a surprise proposal would be while tailgating at a Seahawks football game, since he and Tierney are professional tailgaters. (Yes, there are people who do that.)

The big moment arrived last November during a standard Seattle downpour. The teenage girls got supportive cheers from tailgaters when they started dancing to “I’m a Believer” in the rain, and then the guffaws began when Brown jumped into the action. Tierney was visibly shocked to see Brown dancing in formation with the girls — and even more surprised when Brown shimmied up to her and bent down on one knee, right in the middle of a rain puddle.

“I didn’t have a clue what was going on until he got on his knee in front of me,” Tierney said. “Looking back on it, he wouldn’t have done it any other way, and I couldn’t imagine it any other way or in any other place. It really fits with him and it fits with us ... even though I was wearing that hideous green rain poncho.”

‘A shame not to share it’Sometimes a wedding proposal doesn’t start out as a hugely public affair — and then, before long, hundreds of thousands of strangers have witnessed the intimate moment on the Internet. That’s what happened to New York Times technology writer David Pogue and his fiancée, Nicki Dugan, who works in high-tech public relations for The OutCast Agency.

While attending a family reunion in August, Pogue, 49, and Dugan, 44, got engaged in front of their children and all the other people who matter most to them in the world. To pull off the surprise proposal, Pogue directed, edited and produced a seven-minute fake movie trailer complete with Broadway actors portraying a humorous and thinly veiled version of their love story. The trailer culminates in a climactic moment when the real-life Pogue proposes to the real-life Dugan. Pogue hid a video camera in a ficus plant to capture Dugan’s reaction.

“It was never meant to be public,” said Pogue, who also works as the host of “NOVA ScienceNow” and other science shows on PBS. “It was just going to be shown in a small rec room in Vermont. ... Later I thought that maybe I could put it up on a private website where a few people would see it.”

The cleverly crafted movie trailer delighted their close friends so much that Dugan encouraged Pogue to distribute it more widely.

“When I saw the amount of production value that went into this, it seemed like a shame not to share it,” said Dugan, noting that the movie-trailer proposal was perfect for them. “I’m sure there are plenty of marriage proposals where the guy’s not quite sure what she’s going to say ... but David was pretty confident I’d say yes.”

Which brings up a point: What are other women out there to do if they find themselves on the receiving end of highly public proposals and want to say no?

“My feeling about that is: Just say yes!” flash-mob organizer Orion said with a mischievous laugh. “Later you can say, ‘I didn’t mean it! I was on the spot!’”

Need a Coffey break? Friend TODAY.com writer Laura T. Coffey on , follow her on   or read more of her stories at .

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