by Alicia Sowisdral | Photography by Heath Hays
Over a bottle of wine, Kristen Kaza, the brains behind Chicago's No Small Plans Productions, shares her insights on intentional work, positive spaces, and the importance of visibility.

Itís a frigid, February night in Chicago as I head to Logan Squareís The Whistler that, every third Thursday, is home to SloíMo: Slow jams for homos (and their fans). Even the sub-zero temperatures are no match for the warmth that fills the intimate cocktail lounge: steamy jams by DJ Tess Kisner, the heat of bodies brining up the dance floor, and the vibrant energy of host Kristen Kaza.

Later, when Kaza welcomes me into her Andersonville apartment on Saturday afternoon it is with the same warmth and vibrancy that makes SloíMo more than just a dance party. Formerly the Chicago Readerís Director of Marketing, Kaza left her full-time position in 2012 to create No Small Plans Productions, an event and experiential marketing company. Over a bottle of wine, she shares her insights on intentional work, positive spaces, and the importance of visibility.


On the genesis of SloíMo:

It was a warm, sultry summer night in Chicago and I was on my bike listening to Janet Jackson's "That's the Way Love Goes," (now our unofficial Slo 'Mo theme song), thinking about how I wish there was a place I could go to get down to soul and R&B music and hang with some sexy, grown up people. It occurred to me that I didn't know of a party that played slow-mid tempo grooves that was also intentionally welcoming to the queer community. I didn't know Tess at all but it was like DJ love at first sight: She was DJing for my friend, the rapper Rita J. I felt her passion for the musicóI had never seen any DJ put their heart on the line in their set like she did, and I knew right away, she was the DJ for me. I saw her hosting at Big Star one day, walked right up to her and asked if she'd consider DJing a new party I was putting together. It was clear after the first Slo 'Mo that it wasn't just a one time thing. It was always going to be [the two of us], from that party onward.


How can I solve a problem? Throw a party!

I was studying Theater at Columbia College when I decided to switch my major to marketing. My dad was in marketing for 30 years so I knew the industry. I definitely had a
As Iíve gotten older I realize you can be very intentional about what you are promoting, what you want to give your time to and create a platform for.
fear of selling out and promoting things I didn't stand by. As Iíve gotten older I realize you can be very intentional about what you are promoting, what you want to give your time to and create a platform for. With the parties, I see it as a way to solve a problem or fill a need. My goal is to bring in emerging, exciting talent that maybe others havenít heard about. So, whether itís one of my own parties or itís for one of my clients, itís about saying ďYou know what? We have a choice. We can go status quo or we can do something different.Ē Often people think they need to go with the norm to be successful but I actually think solving a problem and going toward a need is more exciting. There are so many more conversations to be had and itís refreshing. I love surprising people with something they didn't know they were going to get.


Whether it's a party or a larger event or fundraiser these are all opportunities to showcase emerging talent and to be able to set an example. Even with really fun, lighthearted parties there is still an opportunity for connection and for me that's the greatest part of my job. Bringing together different artists and business owners, brands--thatís what I bring to the table. I love people. Which is why most of my parties donít have screens. I love the idea of bringing people together in a space and not distracting them with a screen. We are so distracted by todayís media. We are communicating all the time but nothing can replace the power of in person connection. So you talk about throwing a dance party but a dance party that's about celebrating positivity and our differences without the interference of the digital world. Then you are really on to something! You get people to forget about their day put their phones away. And if you give them an indulgent and exciting experience by providing other visual stimulation--a dance performance, or other types of creative work, maybe they wonít want to look at their phone.


On the significance of providing a safe and positive space:

I started SloíMo because I wanted to create and be a part of creating a community and environment that liked a lot of the same things that I like. It is intentional about it being a queer space where all people are welcome if you are respectful and you like music. And what people love most about that party is that itís a positive environment. With the economy and all the negativity we experience on a daily basis, to create space where people can let go, have a good time, let their hair down, connect, DANCE!, and enjoy art and music.
With the economy and all the negativity we experience on a daily basis, to create space where people can let go, have a good time, let their hair down, connect, DANCE!, and enjoy art and music.
I see [every event] as an opportunity to change the narrative. Slo'Mo is a space for the LGBTQAI community. All are welcome but this is our home. You are a welcomed guest. A lot of what I do is about the power of positivity, the element of surprise and spontaneity by tapping into people's sense of curiosity and feeling emboldened and empowered. It sounds like a lot of heavy stuff but you can do that with a bunch of really good jams.

And sometimes itís hard. We choose to bring our events to places that want to work with us and are excited. We talk up front about our expectations--like having gender-neutral bathrooms or our expectation of management. Then they have conversations with their staff. People don't know that when they are coming to the parties but we have to think about taking care of them. As a producer, I feel an intense need to take care of people. I like to use the term ďeveryday activismĒ to refer to the little pieces that contribute to a movement. The simple fact of having a space for people who donít feel safe in all spaces--most people take that for granted.


On starting out, social change, and the pressure we place on women:

When I came into my first management position in my 20ís, I had this trifecta of challenges: I was a woman, openly queer, and very young compared to my peers. I had to learn to not make apologies about any of it and really had to develop that confidence. We have created a culture where we expect women to apologize because we expect them to clean up our messes. We don't encourage them to make bold decisions. And when a [very confident] woman does stand up to her challengers we say she is not familial enough, not gentle. That's unfair because itís not that you canít be gentle and empathic and successful, but not all women are going to be that way.

There is a lot of pressure on women. We hold women to a lot of double standards. You must be caring, compassionate, and flexible. But also we want to see you be bold and successful and sexyóand that's tough. It becomes an issue of visibility. The more we exhibit our confidence and our values and we stick up for ourselves the more empowered other women will feel.

When it comes to social change and movements we need all types of people: Quiet warriors doing the behind the scenes work who often get little credit, super charismatic vocal people who inspire and lead, people who are angry with fists in the air or picket signs. You need all of that to raise visibility and awareness, and push the envelope. And you need people like me who are positive and try to be peacekeepers and bring people together and create safe spaces and empower them.


On the responsibility of being a business owner:

I feel itís my responsibility as a business owner to create a platform for other people. Thatís
The more we exhibit our confidence and our values and we stick up for ourselves the more empowered other women will feel.
what I try to do with No Small Plans is to be very intentional with the people that I work with. We are going out on a limb and supporting their work and providing exposure to it. I consciously hire people with a variety of talents and expressions... I feel that I have an obligation as a business owner to employ and contract out and book people of diverse backgrounds and that could mean a lot of things. They could be a different genre or from a different neighborhood or there is diversity in race and gender. With events, you have an opportunity to showcase that. Then you have everyone together in one space and there is this visibility. Itís important to see women and people of color in upper management and leadership roles so that our culture can eventually shift and start to recognize and validate the variety of people we have in our society. Actions speak louder than words and itís those actions that start to make change. If we hear the same things over and over itís not going to encourage people or challenge them.

On being a part of the bigger community:

One of the most universal truths is that people want to be heard and acknowledged. And that's the problem. Everyone wants their voice out there and they forget that they also need to create a pathway or step aside for others. When we are on this bumpy road of trying to create change and create more opportunities if you feel the pressure of ďI have to do it,Ē remind yourself itís not entirely on your shoulders. Part of that is creating pathways for other people so it isnít just about you or entirely up to you. There is this martyr complex of ďOh, Iím the only woman in this roleĒ or ďIím doing this alone.Ē Remind yourself that you are part of a bigger movement, a bigger community.

I see my role in this as trying to create opportunities for people to spend time together, build community, have a positive experience, and feel good about themselves. As a woman and a queer identified person, I do feel I have an obligation to do that. Visibility. Visibility. Visibility. But not just minorities and women, I think allies need to be able to step up too and say Iím with you. I hear you. I support you. Iím going to sit back and let you do the talking or the performing or the work or the presentation. Pave the way! Help mentor a woman or a person of color in a role. Why make the automatic assumption that they canít do it? Of course they canít if you stop believing in people and giving them opportunities. A lot of it has to do with holding back your bias or stereotypes, which is really hard.

If we are going to see progression it is only by creating opportunity and showcasing it, showcasing it, showcasing it.
Photography by Heath Hays
Photography by Heath Hays
Photography by Heath Hays
Photography by Heath Hays
Photography by Heath Hays
Photography by Heath Hays

2014-02-26