Updated: Mar 4
Located on N. Elizabeth Street, House of Vans is essentially an open-concept creative space. The beauty of it lies in its versatility. Since its opening in 2017, it has operated in a variety of ways including a skatepark, a concert venue, and a film premiere house. Around 4PM on Saturday, January 18th, Drew (co-founder) and I (revered intern) walked into House of Vans to meet up with Noah (other co-founder). The old warehouse-turned-cultural hub was lit up via fluorescent lights. Fog-machine smoke lingered across the high ceilings and industrial skate ramps lined the walls. In two hours, it would become an elaborate stage ballroom. Equipped with disco balls, stage lights, and a ridiculous house sound system, we were determined to transform this space into one that paid proper tribute to the community it recognized.
The Once Upon a Dream Ball was a charity event benefiting Chicago House, an organization that offers services to people affected by HIV/AIDS, along with members of the broader LGBTQ+ community. Since its founding in 1985, Chicago House has worked to empower these otherwise vulnerable communities, offering assistance with housing, health, and employment. Aside from drawing donations towards their cause, the night acted as an homage towards ball culture of the 1980s. At a time when AIDS was devastating the gay community and gender-nonconformists were excluded from society, the balls provided a space where gender and identity could be expressed. To these groups of mainly young, queer African-Americans and Latin-Americans - the ballrooms offered refuge.
Inclusiveness was at the helm of what we created. We wanted a space that ultimately felt safe, where people could unapologetically and fearlessly be themselves. One of the methods we used was a classic: great food and drinks (free of charge). Parker Restaurant Group (The Hampton Social, Bassment) served lobster rolls, avocado toast, and chilled shrimp buffet-style on silver platters. Cocktails such as the Stolen Whiskey Manhattan and Deep Eddy Vodka Southbound Greyhound were served all night.
Welcoming guests at the door, decked out in Chanel, was Ayanna Armstrong. Ayanna holds the position of Director of Events & External Relations at Chicago House. On top of serving her community, she is house mother to the House of Balenciaga, accompanying her family as they compete in ballroom shows across the globe. Each guest that she greeted was spectacularly dressed, each detail of their outfit intentional. Lucy Stoole, our hostess for the evening, arrived in a billowing pink dress erupting with tulle, the locks of her neon pink wig trailing behind her.
When the ball commenced, House of Vans was flooded with blue and purple lights. The disco balls glistened, covering the dancing crowd below them in small pearls of light. From the speakers, Masego echoed across the warehouse. Parked on the side was a ’69 El Camino, wrapped in a Stolen Spirits decal. Rainbow fans, stamped with the Deep Eddy logo, were flicked open and waved throughout the audience. The first performances of the night were by artists Thair (@forboyslikeme), Mother Nature Barz (@mothernaturebarz), and Hamilton performer Amber J (@ambertiara). The RuPaul’s Drag Race Alumni, Monica Beverly Hills (@monicabhillz), and Bambi Banks Couleé (@bambi.banks), also made their presence on stage. The night ended down an imaginary runway.
With eight ball categories including Sex Siren, Face, New Vogue and Vogue Femme, guests were invited to participate. Each competed to best capture whatever category they were presented with. What outshone the fierce sense of competition were the aesthetics. The outfits, the vogue, the death drops. Every movement seemed to be done with precision and purpose. Ballroom culture was on full display. As the night closed, love felt heavy in the air. The energies of everyone had coalesced, animating the room with life.
The feeling of knowing a show went well is a good one. The emotional aftereffects are a mix of euphoria, delight and relief. That night, as we took down our equipment, said our goodbyes, and walked out of House of Vans, we experienced the usual, but they had a companion: fulfillment. The Once Upon a Dream Ball had meaning. There was a tangible purpose behind it. While doing what we loved, we raised money for an upstanding local organization. With support ranging from free healthcare to housing assistance, Chicago House provides individuals with medical access and a roof over their heads. With their amazing staff, they provide love and acceptance to those who have seen too little of it, reminding them that there will always be a place for them in this world. Organizations like Chicago House hold a set of values that us at Fun House as well as everyone else can gain from. We are honored to have gotten the opportunity to partner with them and hope to work with more local organizations in the future.