Neverland celebrates 1 year of high-concept theme parties with Purity Ball White Party

Thu. December 19, 2013 1:34 PM by Anthony Morgano

art as circuit party: neverland

photo credit // fierce finder studio and mauricio zapata

Art as Circuit Party: Neverland Purity Ball White Party December 29

Chicago, IL - Neverland, a new themed costume party series that hit Chicago in 2012 and saw major growth in the last year, is saying goodbye to a wild ride in 2013 with their second annual Purity Ball on December 29 at Hydrate. The event is paired with Hydrate's monthly Drag Carnage show, another project of Anthony DiFiore and his boyfriend Damian Martin, who are the Co-Founders and Creative Director and Producer, respectively, for all the Neverland parties.

This year's Purity Ball not only commemorates the New Year, but also a turning point for DiFiore and Martin, when last year's Purity Ball helped change the concept for Neverland from a simple club-kid's revival to an artistic, high-concept costume theme party.

"When we first started Neverland, we just wanted to create a fun costume party where people can dress up... our thought was that when people dress up they have more fun, they're more laid back," DiFiore told ChicagoPride.com. "After our first Purity Ball, we realized that we were doing something unique in the gay dance party industry and we wanted to explore it further."

DiFiore, a Philadelphia native, moved to Chicago three years ago with a soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend. He later he met and fell for Martin, originally from Mexico, a veteran of the industry in Boystown who held jobs at various times for Minibar, DS Tequila and Hydrate while moonlighting first as a drag queen and later as a gogo dancer. The couple enjoyed throwing elaborate costumed house parties for their friends, but it wasn't until after one of the managers from Hydrate was among the guests and suggested that they try planning a party at a club that Neverland was born.

Initially conceptualized as a Club Kids revival taking its cues from Party Monster and the parties thrown by Michael Alig and James St. James at The Limelight in early 90s New York, Neverland began on a Saturday night in July of 2012. After two very successful parties, the team hit a snag with their Halloween Carnage party, which had to be thrown the weekend after the holiday due to overbooked clubs the previous weekend and saw a decrease in turnout from the first two events.

Although DiFiore was initially against the idea of throwing theme parties, this eye-opening learning experience pushed him towards his discovery of the purity ball phenomenon. He now considers that party a pivotal moment in the life of Neverland, when its true raison d'etre was born.

"We needed to change up the party... I'd heard about these crazy events in conservative Christian parts of the US where parents send their kids to a formal dance where they sign a vow of chastity -- they're called purity balls," DiFiore told ChicagoPride.com. "I thought it would be a lot of fun to have a mock purity ball and do it right around New Year's so that people could re-virginize for the new year."

"So we trashed the anti-theme stance and agreed on doing a Purity Ball as our fourth Neverland party... The event was a big hit!" he said. "Lots of people showed up in costumes, the energy in the club was great and we realized that Neverland's niche for the future would be high-concept, unusual themes."

Neverland has thrown seven of these high-concept parties, often advertised as "art as circuit party," between the first Purity Ball in 2012 and this upcoming Purity Ball. After DiFiore and Martin invited friends over to a house party and started randomly taking pictures, creating the first ever Neverland photoshoot, they established the formula of party planning they follow to this day. Each event revolves around a unique theme that is expressed and explored in an initial photo shoot and advertisements as well as in original handmade costumes that Martin and other members of their team create for each party and the unique decor and flavor that permeate throughout the event.

Fake, battery-operated surveillance cameras that moved, appearing to follow the guests, were among the decorations for Big Brother, their military/police-state themed party, the first of 2013. Eyes Wide Shut, a masquerade ball, saw Neverland's move from Hydrate to Sanctuary inside Castle, the old Excalibur, downtown. When Neverland made this move, they left two other events produced under their umbrella at Hydrate: Gay Glo -- a blacklight party held four times a year, and their monthly drag show, Drag Carnage, hosted by Kim Chi, who is also an integral part of the Neverland production team. The team frequently tests out new lighting, effects and talent at these two events before featuring them at their Neverland parties.

Then in April came Walt Disney is Dead.

"Walt Disney is Dead is the party that put us on the map," DiFiore said. "Purity Ball was a big boost, but Disney is Dead... a lot of people who had never heard of us or been to a Neverland party came to that one and then all of a sudden people knew about us."

After their success with Disney is Dead, Neverland threw its last party at Sanctuary: the fun and colorful Japanimation. Thereafter they moved to the EvilOlive in Wicker Park for their Pride and Market Days parties, called Contagion and The Plastics Ball, respectively. Both were huge productions: the team brought in special effects makeup artist Nick Fischer to create zombie inspired make-up for the apocalypse-themed Contagion party, which was hosted by the famous and fabulous Amanda Lepore, and a plastic surgeon was employed to give Botox injections to interested partygoers in a VIP lounge at their plastic surgery themed extravaganza.

DiFiore, Martin and their team were also responsible for organizing a huge Market Days party aboard a luxury yacht as it cruised the shores of Lake Michigan. DiFiore describes the experience as unique, especially after sunset when the middle deck was featured as a thumping party of lasers and LEDs while the top remained a serene escape with skyline and moonlight views. It's a tradition he hopes to continue in future years.

Neverland returned to Hydrate in October for The Rachet Ball, a Halloween party that more than made up for their first the year before. Graffiti art from Sam DeBourbon covered Hydrate and drag queens donned headdresses made from boxes of wine at this wild and well-attended.

"The kind of work we were doing with unusual themes, artistic photoshoots and in-house costuming stood out in the industry," DiFiore said. "Circuit parties are typically synonymous with muscle-y gay guys, but we want Neverland to be so much more. We want club kids, drag queens, transsexuals, hipsters and anyone who likes and appreciates the creativity and oddity of our parties."

The team behind Neverland is a close-knit group of talented photographers, drag queens, costume and graphic designers and other industry and design professionals who refer to themselves as a family. After the initial Neverland parties, some interested partygoers began approaching DiFiore and Martin, expressing desires to collaborate, while other future family members the duo approached themselves. Kim Chi, who they call "their muse," is one such case -- after showing up in fierce looks for the first few parties, DiFiore and Martin made her a host and featured her in the Eyes Wide Shut photoshoot.

The family loves creating these parties, DiFiore says, so it's more like fun and less like work. Martin, who started designing his own outfits as a dancer, hand makes all the costumes along with Eddie Couture and Raul Redaggio. Martin and DiFiore's apartment is currently covered in glitter and feathers courtesy of some Victoria Secret-inspired angel wings he's creating to play off the angel wings common at purity balls.

The Neverland team comes up with the themes together and each person then does their part to expound on the theme through their photoshoots, posters, costumes, decor, music choices, performances, etc. What unites them all is a desire not only to have fun, but to create something artistic.

"We're as dedicated to creating art as we are to throwing parties, because the reality is that we're just a bunch of art lovers who like doing photoshoots and making costumes and creating production!" DiFiore said. "We don't do [the photoshoots] just to create ads, rather we want to create unique art and photography. It's something unique to the circuit party industry."

Their photoshoots, courtesy of Ian Bulla of Fierce Finder Studios as well as Jonathan Mathias and Mauricio Zapata, take inspiration from recent fashion shows and high fashion ad campaigns. The team spent a recent Saturday at a statue warehouse -- filled with giant white angels, horses and Virgin Marys -- on the city's west side to photograph the promo pictures for their upcoming Purity Ball: White Party.

This summer they brought in Maco Ovando, the man behind Cazwell's "Ice Cream Truck" music video, to cover a gallery exhibiting art from Neverland's various photoshoots and parties. The event was held at the Lacuna Artist Loft Studios in Pilsen and featured a Friday night premiere party as well as gallery days on Saturday and Sunday. The weekend, DiFiore says, was slower than they expected, but they did receive a lot of attention at Market Days, where they displayed the art on the walls of their booth.

This prompted the Neverland family to decide that their second annual art exhibit next summer will be done solely at Market Days. They picture possibly renting out a double-wide set of booths and incorporating costumes, gogo boys and more surprises for the passersby. It is just one of many lessons that DiFiore and Martin have learned over the past year and a half of throwing parties.

"Theme is important for our parties, but I've realized that timing is vital -- you have to plan parties on the right weekends," DiFiore said. "We are a little over one year old and still learning by experience."

They learned lessons of timing, location and nightclub politics from their experiences bouncing around to different clubs in the city while trying to find a home. Sanctuary wanted a monthly party, which DiFiore and Martin soon learned was too frequent and demanding for the level of production they wanted to deliver, and often resulted in lower attendance.

Neverland then moved to holiday weekend parties at the EvilOlive in Wicker Park. While they were excited to bring queer clientele to a new venue, they caught staff and management speaking rudely about Neverland's clientele. DiFiore knew they couldn't continue to throw their wild, free-spirited parties in a homophobic environment or under the constraints of clubs like Sanctuary and so Neverland returned to Hydrate Nightclub.

Some of their first-year snafus have been a bit more fun. They scheduled the Japanimation party during the same weekend as the Anime Central Midwest Anime Convention and attended said event dressed to the nines as Dragonball Z and other anime characters to publicize the party. While they were a big hit at the convention and posed for more than a few photographs, they hadn't counted on the fact that many of the attendees were under 21 and of those that were old enough to attend their party, many simply weren't the clubbing type.

The last year has been filled with similar lessons, each one providing its own insight into helping DiFiore and Martin grow the Neverland brand. They've had quite the wild ride and are only looking to improve upon and grow the party series in the coming year. Last month the duo attended LDI (Lighting Design and Innovation), a huge lighting and design convention in Las Vegas, to get ideas to help increase their innovation so they can continue to showcase new concepts and technologies here in Chicago.

"One thing about our team is that we will never settle," DiFiore said. "People can expect new ideas, equipment, concepts and productions at our parties, because we're so invested in doing what nobody else is doing. We want Neverland to look different from everything else that's out there."

Neverland has a cool event planned for Chicago's trans community this February, something the duo says will be unique to Boystown. DiFiore and Martin want to continue working with the staff of Hydrate as well, but are looking into throwing their next Pride and Market Day parties with their collaboration at the nearby Metro, in Wrigleyville. They've also received offers to throw Neverland parties in both Montreal and Ft. Lauderdale next year and are excited to grow awareness of their brand outside of Chicago.

"We hope that as the brand grows and more people around the country hear about us, the size of our parties in Chicago will grow and we can do bigger and cooler things locally," DiFiore said. "And when people come to Chicago for holiday weekends, they'll know there's a Neverland... and make it a destination."

Join Neverland for "The Purity Ball: Second Annual White Party" after Drag Carnage on Sunday, December 29 at Hydrate in Boystown and sign your pledge of chastity to re-virginize for the New Year and wipe your slate clean of all those regrettable Grindr and Scruff hookups of 2013. For details, tickets and more, RSVP to their Facebook event.

More information about Neverland can be found at neverlandchicago.com or on their Facebook page.
 

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