Marielle Sophia Newman and Jason Leverett had originally planned on having their March 29 wedding and reception at Schubas Tavern in Chicago, a live-music spot in the couple’s Lakeview neighborhood. “We can walk to our wedding,” said Ms. Newman, 37, a manuscript editor at the Journal of the American Medical Association, explaining her choice.
It was going to be a “D.I.Y., homegrown” event. Ms. Newman, who goes by Sophia, would handle the flower arrangements. Mr. Leverett, 35, a lifelong science-fiction aficionado, planned to create the table numbers by framing floral-wreathed illustrations of Godzilla characters like Gigan, Gamera and Jet Jaguar.
The couple also put together an eclectic song list, ranging from Bangladeshi music (a nod to the bride’s time as a Fulbright scholar in South Asia in 2012-13) to the theme song to the 1980s cartoon “DuckTales.”
“I’m not a girl who spent her childhood dreaming of a wedding,” Ms. Newman said in early March. “This is not my fantasy.”
But then, in an attempt to help curb the spread of the coronavirus, the United States began blocking European travelers. Fantasy or not, this meant that Ms. Newman’s matron of honor, Kristin Hestmann Vinjerui, a physician from Levanger, Norway, could no longer fly in for the scheduled wedding weekend. It would have been her first time meeting the groom in person.
The two women met in high school in the late ’90s when Ms. Vinjerui went to Homewood, Ill., Ms. Newman’s hometown, on a student exchange trip. “Back then she was a punk, with a mohawk and everything,” Ms. Vinjerui said of her friend. She said she appreciated the fact that Ms. Newman called her by her first name, unlike some of the other students, who called her “Kris” or “Norway” or “Communist.”
“We would go to the cafe at the Flossmoor train station and eat French fries and chat,” she said.
Ms. Newman’s flavor of “punk,” she said, was less about music or anarchy or even a hair style and more about a state of mind. “Don’t let anyone tell you you’re not able to do something. Stand up for your rights,” she said.
Ms. Newman is the middle child (one of four sisters and a brother) of Robert T. Newman and Margaret L. Newman of Homewood, Ill. She graduated from Tulane with a degree in cell and molecular biology. She received a master’s degree in public health from the University of Illinois and a certificate in global mental health from Harvard. After her time as a Fulbright scholar, she worked as a freelance global health journalist for several years, reporting from Nepal, Ghana, South Africa, Kenya and France.
Eventually her wanderlust began to wane. “There should be a movie about people who are working and traveling abroad called ‘How to be Single,’” she said. “It’s hard to be in South Asia or Iraq or Africa and have a thriving career in the humanitarian sector or as an international researcher or journalist like I was and have a really thriving dating life.”
On her 35th birthday, in 2017, Ms. Newman decided to sign on to a dating app with a self-imposed, one-month deadline, or as she put it, “the maximum length of time I thought I could endure dating-app nonsense.”
She was drawn to the writing and music interests Mr. Leverett listed on his profile. “There was something about his face,” she said. “I just thought, ‘He seems so nice.’ Although he has pointed out that I failed to notice, he has very long, luscious eyelashes.”
Mr. Leverett, originally from Detroit, was intrigued that Ms. Newman listed that she spoke five languages, although he didn’t have high hopes for any relationship. “She sent me an email saying, ‘I hate dating sites,’” said Mr. Leverett, 35, a talent acquisition specialist for the Chicago recruiting firm Chamberlain Advisors. When they agreed to have their first date on Aug. 24 (exactly one month after Ms. Newman’s self-imposed online dating deadline), he recalls her saying, “I’m not really interested in dating right now, but I’m interested in having more friends. Why don’t we go to the Art Institute, one of my favorite places?’”
As she waited for him on the museum steps, Ms. Newman said she realized, “I am really ready for a relationship, whenever this time of being single comes to an end.” After Mr. Leverett arrived, and by the time they had reached the top of the museum’s atrium staircase, she said she “looked at him and thought, ‘Yep, that’s the end of that.’”
Over the next two years, they introduced each other to their passions. Ms. Newman, who has appeared as a supernumerary in professional dance and opera productions, invited Mr. Leverett to accompany her to the Joffrey Ballet. “She was pitching the idea of going to the ballet with me, saying, ‘I know you probably are going to hate this.’”
But Mr. Leverett, the son of Brian S. Leverett, a retired music teacher in Detroit public schools, and Rita M. Leverett, a developer with Haiti Now and World Peace Center, had taken a fine arts curriculum at Cass Technical High School in Michigan before going on to play music professionally. He fronted a “nerdcore punk/anti-zombie rock” band called Zombie Apocalypse Now! He hated ballet as a high schooler, he said, but “since we started dating, we’ve gone to the ballet several times. I’ve started to really enjoy it.”
Mr. Leverett turned Ms. Newman on to his love of movies. “It’s a weird thing to be in your mid-30s and be like, ‘I don’t watch movies,’” Ms. Newman said, but until she met Mr. Leverett, she was too busy.
“Now she’s more interested,” Mr. Leverett said. “She’s proposed things to go do, like, ‘Let’s go see an El Santo marathon at the Music Box,’ which is crazy.”
Mr. Leverett seemed to have inherited his passion for pop culture and science fiction from his parents. “My dad read a lot of the ‘Star Wars’ novels,” said Arielle Leverett, Mr. Leverett’s sister, a professional actress and a Universal Life minister who officiated the couple’s wedding. “I remember at one point apparently the novels killed off Chewbacca.” Her father was so angry, she said. “I’m pretty sure he wrote a letter.”
On their first date, Mr. Leverett, who studied creative writing from Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, had told Ms. Newman about an idea he had for a fictional comedy blaxploitation podcast called Fisticuffs Jones, inspired in part by the old radio shows his parents used to play for him and his sister. By 2019, he had produced a pilot with his sister and some of her acting friends.
Ms. Newman attended show meetings to provide feedback on story ideas and jokes. During one meeting, she recalled how an actor exclaimed in response to one of Mr. Leverett’s ideas, “‘Jason! Why are you so humble about your dopeness?’ Jason was looking at his hands for a minute. He’s not the guy to blow his own horn, but he is amazing.”
Mr. Leverett, in turn, was inspired by Ms. Newman’s drive. “She has this will to succeed in everything she does,” he said. “I wish I had even half of her ambition. She always seems worried about whether or not she’s doing a good job at her place of work and she just kills it. They love her there.”
The pair share a passion for cooking, which Mr. Leverett says also reflects Ms. Newman’s fearlessness. “She’ll be like, ‘I want to cook three new dishes in a row,’ or, ‘I found this recipe; I’m just going to do it right now,’ and she just does it.”
Ms. Leverett, observing her brother’s romantic relationships over the years, said, “I think the biggest thing is finding someone who is not only going to be happy to be with him, but someone who’s happy with themselves and can support him and everything that he is. Because we’re weirdos, you want someone who embraces that, is cool with it. ‘You go to Comic Con? For what?’ You want someone who’s just like, ‘Sure.’”
On July 11, 2019, nearly two years after their first date, Mr. Leverett invited Ms. Newman back to the Art Institute, which was filled with people that day. He took her to the African exhibit, which was crowded like the rest of the museum, but he didn’t want to wait to find a more private area.
He got down on one knee, presenting a simple gold Claddagh ring he had purchased at Chicago’s Jewelers Row. “She was very surprised; she was crying,” Mr. Leverett said. “Some random person comes up to us and says congratulations and I was very upset. I didn’t want a crowd.”
The couple had no such issues with their wedding ceremony on March 29, a chilly, wet, windy day. Schubas, or any sort of gathering, would no longer be possible after Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued a stay-at-home order and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot threatened to cite scofflaws after a warm day drew crowds to the lakefront. The couple needed to wed, however, in order to get Mr. Leverett on Ms. Newman’s health insurance.
About a week before they were scheduled to wed, Ms. Newman noticed lingering symptoms that she suspected might be Covid-19. Then Mr. Leverett began to feel ill. Possibly facing quarantine, they contemplated having Ms. Leverett marry them in their apartment building vestibule after dropping off groceries. “We are grappling with our feelings about this awful situation and how much we don’t want to get married alone, in our building lobby, while sick,” Ms. Newman said in an email six days before the scheduled wedding date.
As it turned out, they still got to walk to their wedding. Ms. Newman’s coronavirus test was negative, and the couple’s health improved. They met Ms. Leverett in front of a nearby mural to sign the license. “Due to social distancing, there were a lot of people walking down the street to avoid us,” Mr. Leverett said.
Ms. Leverett, a Shakespearean actress, recited Sonnet 116 before riding back home on her bicycle. Then it was over. “We went home immediately, changed, hung up our things and washed our hands thoroughly,” Ms. Newman said. They read some congratulatory texts and emails from their parents and Ms. Newman’s siblings. “The rest was an ordinary Sunday.”
The planned wedding and reception with their 59 invited guests was put on hold until late August. “I really would like to see people,” Ms. Newman said.
For now, she said, “Jason is proving to be the guy I’d most like to be stuck in a house with, and my new willingness to watch all the Marvel cinematic universe movies with him turned out to be well timed.”
On This Day
When March 29, 2020
Where 3637 North Southport Avenue, in front of a floral mural by the Chinese-American artist Louise Jones, a.k.a. Ouizi, a chrysanthemum, Chicago’s official flower.
Wedding Attire Under a duffel coat, the bride donned a teal Anthropologie dress she had planned to wear for the rehearsal dinner; the groom wore a suit by Kenneth Cole and a coordinating blue-green shirt. “We didn’t want to go in full wedding regalia,” Ms. Newman said. “We want to save that for the wedding wedding.”
The ‘Reception’ After signing the marriage license and posing for a few photos, the couple returned to their apartment, where they enjoyed cider and homemade chocolate chip cookies before putting on “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” “It was one of the best in the Marvel cinematic universe,” said the bride.