As we wrap up our inaugural season (how did that happen?!), we look back on a year of firsts–from our first public event in this beautiful building to our first performance in the new Street and Davis Performance Hall. One of the most exciting firsts of the season, however, was our first proposal on stage–in front of a crowd!

Ken Knott, a research specialist in the Chemistry Department here at Virginia Tech, made history when he asked his girlfriend, Jen Sharp, a special education science teacher at Floyd County High School, to marry him while on stage in the Anne and Ellen Fife Theatre. Knott’s golden opportunity came when he was selected to assist vaudevillian comedian Tomáš Kubínek during his performance on Friday, April 11, 2014. There were a few empty seats in the front of the full house, and Kubínek invited a group of patrons from the balcony to move forward during the performance. Knott, Sharp, and Sharp’s two children (Ellie and Killian), were among those lucky few, and as the group was getting seated, Kubínek asked Knott to help him out on stage. Little did he know, Knott had a surprise up his sleeve!

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Knott and Sharp sat down with us to tell us a little more about the proposal, what their kids thought, and whether they’ve set a date!

Center for the Arts: I think what everybody wants to know is, was it planned?

Ken Knott & Jen Sharp: No! [laughs]

KK: Well I bought the ring–I had literally gotten it that day–and I had plans to propose. Soon. We are both very big into the outdoors, and she has two kids, so I was thinking of doing maybe a scavenger hunt, treasure hunt, something. I happened to have it [the ring] with me that day. It just happened to be in my pocket; I hadn’t left it in the car. We were up in the balcony and he called us down to fill up the seats, and we were kind of waiting around for hopefully enough seats for all of us to sit together. We happened to be the last people to get seated, and I was the last person [in line]. I think that’s why he grabbed me. And as soon as he did, I was like, “Did someone else plan this?” It had crossed my mind to try to contact him, but I was like, “Oh, it’s too late; I don’t know how to get in touch with him.” So then he grabbed my arm and I was like, [whispering] “someone else is involved….” But I got up there and the whole time I was up there, the idea was running around in my head and I’m just like, “Should I do this? Can I do this?”

CFA: So what you are saying is that your concentration was not entirely with him!

KK: That’s why we were unable to pull off the trick! [Laughs] I could tell he was getting ready to send me back and I was like, “You know…might as well.” How many times do you get pulled up on stage in a building like this with a full house and you happen to have an engagement ring in your pocket? He [Kubínek] was shocked too, because he even made a comment that that was the first time.

JS: Oh yeah! He was like, “That was the first time this has happened…. this week!” [Laughs] But we emailed him afterwards and he emailed us back that he was so glad he followed the instinct and went on and did that.

KK: He was super nice. We’re inviting him to the wedding.

JS: He said he would check his schedule. [Laughs]

CFA: So what about you, Jen? When he went up on stage did you have any idea it might be coming?

JS: I wondered, because I knew he had the ring. He had been teasing the kids, letting them see that he had a box. And the kids are like, “Is that a ring? Are you going to ask Mom to marry you? Is that a ring? That had better be a ring! What’s in the box?” And he was like, “It’s just a box, there’s nothing in it! It’s just a box. Maybe there’s a mouse in it!” So when he went up, I knew he had the ring in his pocket. I was like, “Oh my gosh!” I was excited.

CFA: When he asked you, what was the very first thing that went through your mind?

JS: It was so sweet, just very sweet. I was just very excited. And the kids were very excited too.

KK: I remember when I asked and I looked into the audience, I could see Jen was smiling and Ellie was crying, with her hands over her mouth.

JS: They [Jen’s children Ellie, 8, and Killian, 9 and a half] were very excited. Killian had been the one saying earlier, “Is that a ring in your pocket? That had better be a ring!”

KK: I was surprised how excited he was.

CFA:  So you said you had the ring already, how long had you known before you bought it that you wanted to marry her?

KK: I don’t know, since the moment I met her! [Laughs] Several months, for like three or four months I guess.

CFA: And Jen, did you know anything was coming before he went on stage?

JS: He had asked a few weeks before. He said, “You should tell me what kind of ring you would like.” So I’d given him a few suggestions about what style of ring, because I like vintage jewelry. I have my grandmother’s ring, so I wanted something that matched and…look how perfectly it matches! [Ed. note: Check out that ring in the photo slideshow above–so gorgeous!]

KK: I wasn’t going to try to pick one of my own. There were too many choices. I went into the store, and said “I would like the engagement ring.” [Imitating a sales person, slowly] “There are…more than one, you know…” “Oh.” [Laughs]

CFA: How did you all meet?

JS: We actually met through the Meet Up Appalachian Hiking Group. We started dating in January a year ago.

KK: The first date was at Natasha’s Cafe in Floyd.

JS: And then we went hiking like three days later on Mount Pleasant, and it was 17 degrees.

CFA: So have you started making any plans for the wedding?

JS: Yeah! We are getting married on June 21. We are just going to have a backyard barbeque and invite some friends, just be at home and plant a tree, have a quick ceremony, and then grill burgers.

KK: None of us are interested in a big, giant, extravagant wedding. It’s a lot easier to plan a wedding when its going to be in your backyard and at your house.

CFA: I assume a lot of people heard about it–how many people knew that you got engaged before you even told them?

JS: Oh my gosh, it was all over Facebook!

KK: I knew a few people in the [Chemisty] Department that were in the audience, and she actually had coworkers in the audience. Some of our friends’ children were in the audience without their parents and they came home and their parents asked how the show was. They said, “Really funny, really neat…”

JS: “…and he proposed to Jen on stage!”

KK: And the parents are like, “What?! This is a magician show, what are you talking about?” One of them said, “Ken my kids think you are a superhero now!” [Laughs]

JS: It was definitely very exciting. I called my parents afterwards and my dad was like, “This is the kind of thing you hear about on the news and you read about in the newspaper, but you never know someone that this has actually happened to!”

CFA: Where are your parents living?

JS: They are in Floyd. My mom and my sister both work at Tech, and they both have coworkers who were here [for the performance]. As soon as I got off the stage, I was like, “I had better call my parents now!”

KK: I was still numb. I couldn’t operate a phone for a few days. [Laughs]

JS: We stopped by his brother’s house on the way home to tell him. We had better tell everyone before word spreads and people are mad at us for not telling them in person! (laughs)

CFA: Did you have any moments as she was walking up on stage where you thought, okay I’ve really committed now I have to do it.

KK: It was surreal, I mean I was amazingly calm and it was really just like a decision. I was in the moment and I was choked up a little bit. I was not nervous, I was just caught up in the emotion of it all.

JS: It was interesting leaving. Dozens of people stopped us and were congratulating us.

KK: They were all calling us superheroes.

JS: And everyone was like, “So did you plan that?”

KK: And I was like, “I would have tucked my shirt in!”

CFA: I know he was a little choked up, what about you? (If it had been me, I’d have been weeping…)

JS: I was just excited, I was happy, and it was just perfect because the kids were there and it was very sweet and wonderful. I didn’t cry, I was happy. I think our hands were both a little shaky afterwards for a while.

CFA: Well you got engaged in front of almost 1,000 people, I think that’ll do that to a couple!

Congratulations to Ken and Jen! We’re so thrilled we got to play a role in the story of their engagement (and our fingers are crossed that Kubínek will be able to make it to the wedding!).