Kristen Kaza is a queer event producer extraordinaire, whose "party-with a purpose" productions have been part of the city's entertainment landscape since 2012.
The co-director of Reunion Chicago and co-founder of Slo 'Mo Party, Kaza's latest venture is Queer the Pier, part of Navy Pier's pride programming. At 5-12 p.m. on Saturday, June 23, DJs and music artists like Audio Jack, Adam Ness, MICHA and Cece Peniston will delight the crowd at the Pier's Miller Beer Garden, and a vintage fashion show will highlight queer club looks of bygone decades.
Windy City Times spoke with Kaza over email about what drives her to create such unique space for Chicago's LGBTQ community.
Windy City Times: What was the impetus for Queer the Pier?
Kristen Kaza: As queer people we have very few of our own dedicated spaces, and so it's been common for many years to "take over' and occupy a space and make it ours for the time we have, hence the title, "Queer the Pier."
With Navy Pier being the number-one tourism destination in the Midwest and with [more than] 10,000 people alone attending the fireworks, I wanted to think about how we could claim our culture & stories, while also educating visitors who will be there as well about where cultural movements and trends they are familiar with derive from.
During the fashion show sourced by Kokorokoko Vintage, the amazing Queen Lucy Stoole will be our emcee, reading about what was happening culturally & politically during various eras, such as disco. That research is being done by Miss Meadows, so that we can help those in attendance understand LGBTQ+ people's contributions to the cultures we've come to love. It's also a beautiful showcase of many talented LGBTQ+ artists & allies; with the exception of CeCe Peniston, the entire lineup is Chicago-based!
WCT: What will be special about having an event so tied to queer culture in that space?
KK: This time of year, a lot of brands aim to align themselves with the LGBTQ+ community and it can borderline on "pinkwashing," or exploitation of cultural capital. What is so awesome about Pride at Navy Pier is the whole day features almost entirely Chicago LGBTQ+ artists, small businesses and organizations. It's a beautiful reflection of and investment in the Chicago LGBTQ+ community, and that leadership is important. It gives these artists & organizations a big platform, and that exposure can be so helpful in their growth. It's also a reflection of diversity of experience: Drag Queen Storytime, for example, will be fab for families, and Queer the Pier is a love letter to the LGBTQ+ nightlife communities of the past and present. So I think what's special is that there is truly something for everyone to enjoy.
WCT: Tell us the most exciting parts of brainstorming or putting this event together.
KK: I loved picking the songs with Adam Ness for him and his band to coverthat was so fun because I love music and history! You're going to experience a full band, with a horn section, and multiple notable guests like Ric Wilson, Alexa Grae, Tasha and more ( some surprises we can't reveal too! ) cover songs from the '70s to today, from Diana Ross, Sylvester, Robyn and others. Putting the fashion show together has been wild; at this point, [more than] 30 people are involved between makeup, hair ( by queer-owned salon Logan Parlor! ), music, all the clothes and the models, most of whom are LGBTQ+ nightlife personalities, like the legendary Jojo Baby. It's just exciting to get SO many LGBTQ+ community members involved in one program with such a big audience.
WCT: What attracted to you to the field of party planning in the first place?
KK: I have always loved bringing people together and witnessing them experience joy and connection; it makes it all worth it. I believe so strongly in the power of people coming together; in our digital age and politically rife culture when hostility is so on the rise, the nuance of in person connection is vital. And while it probably seems like a glamorous job but it's incredibly emotionally, mentally and often physically demanding. But I really can't imagine doing anything else; I've triedand I can't. I'll be "partying with a purpose" to my grave!
WCT: You've been doing Slo'Mo, an LGBTQ dance party for a while, and you also did the Dyke Bar exhibit last fall: what have been some of your favorite aspects of designing events like those?
KK: I'm really interested in paying homage to our past, and in particular those people who paved the way for us to enjoy the culture we have today. With Dyke Bar, the MCA's 50th anniversary and now with Queer the Pier weaving history has been a way of not only paying respect, but resisting erasure: Queer & trans people, particularly queer & trans people of color, are often the instigators of many of our greatest cultures & trends; lifting up those people and their storiesis essential so that we don't set ourselves backwards. I also think it's a signal to the audience members that they matter; seeing ourselves reflected is essential to our humanity and sense of self.
WCT: As an LGBTQ person, what can you bring to event creation that others can't?
KK: My focus is on two things, always: equity and experience.
As a white, cisgender lesbian I think it's my responsibility to advocate for LGBTQ+ people and people of color, and I have an opportunity to do that frequently as someone who books bands, DJs, vendors and so on. I try to think about who's getting the platform and frankly also who is getting paid. I also bring try to bring a thoughtfulness about experience, considering how both the artists and audiences members will engage with the environment, the promotions, and so on.
Straight, cis, white folksespecially menare booked time and time again for events, especially when it comes to performance. I will always center women, LGBTQ+ & POC artists and entrepreneurs because this how we grow and get ahead.
For more information about Queer the Pier and Navy Pier's other Pride programming, check out navypier.org/event/pier-pride/ .