“Back in the Day” Celebrates the Deep Roots of House Music in Chicago
Written by Vocalo Radio on October 1, 2019
UrbanTheater Company presents “Back in the Day,” a House Music dancesical written by artistic director Miranda González and inspired by José “Gringo” Echevarría’s memoir “The Real Dance Fever: Book One.”
This world premiere is presented as part of the third annual Chicago international Latino Theater Festival.
Director Raquel Torre joined Jill Hopkins to talk about the history of house music in Chicago and the magic of reminiscing.
What is it about house music that keeps a special place in your heart?
We’re in Chicago. This is such a part of the fabric of Chicago history and its community, and that grabs my heart. There’s something about house music and the scene that it just feels that it really came from the people from people saying: “okay, let’s just do this. I don’t know if I know how to do this, but I’m just going to become a DJ and I’m just going to start doing this.” It feels very grassroots and it’s distinct to Chicago communities.
We often joke that the house music is the silver lining that came from the disco demolition.
You know, I agree. Especially back in the day, we see how house music was alive in these groups, which were mostly queer, black, and Latinx people. It was young people that went to juice bars or went dancing without dance training or a specific goal in mind. They were just enjoying and living the moment. It belonged to them so much. This was the life they were living.
Those folks who were at the foundation of house music, as you mentioned, are lots of black and brown people, lots of queer people. Why is it important to remember who built this?
Because it’s often not talked about. Even nowadays, you see a lot of the documentation that is happening around house music in the 80’s. There’s a gap in the archives, it is often not talked about. It’s missing. The focus of house music documentation tends to reside in other important parts of that fabric.
I feel as though maybe folks don’t know the context in which we talk about juice bars. We’re not talking about carrots and kale and things like that. Let’s take people on a trip back and describe the scene.
These were establishments that were often marketed for young people and for minors and they were nonalcoholic. They were establishments for young people to dance and have fun.
Let’s get into the play itself. Talk to me about the memoir, “The Real Dance Fever: Book One” and the decision to adapt it for the stage.
One day, Gringo had this epiphany of needing to document this story. He felt like somebody had to write it down. He published it on Amazon Kindle just to put it out there. And then if I’m not mistaken, Gringo caught a show by UrbanTheater, which is a company with deep roots in the Humboldt Park community, and I think Gringo saw that. He approached us and shared his work and how he hoped for it to be adapted to the stage somehow. And then Miranda read it and decided to move forward with it.
Talk to me about that conscious decision to make sure that it took place in a neighborhood like Humboldt Park.
Most of the people who lived in that era are still alive and are still active in the community. They keep in contact, have reunions, they’re still throwing parties, the community is still active. I like to say that these memories are still very present in that collective memory. It just makes sense to center it there in Humboldt. As a director, I saw through research that these juice bars were often in re-purposed spaces. It wasn’t like they were able to build a whole club from the ground up, but instead they focused on making existing spaces work. We are aiming for that kind of immersive experience. People are going to come and say, yeah, this is it right in this space.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. What are some of the themes that Gringo wrote about that are still applicable today?
Youth and how we remember golden times. A lot of what I wanted to do as the director is talk about the magic of memory and how we romanticize the past. The memory of youth is so magical. And I know like we’re talking about what is still present but it always happens that we remember with magic. No matter what generation, we can all relate to the energy of young people going out and finding their spaces. A lot of what is being talked about nowadays in conversations about queer people and queer people of color is having spaces where we can live out our queerness. What we realized when developing this show is that the idea of safe spaces has existed before and and these spaces have been there for queer people of color. So for example, our cast of young people of color might resonate with a person who is currently looking for those types of spaces today.
What do you hope that people leave the theater with after seeing “Back in the Day?”
An energy high! I want the audience to leave saying, “I just lived through this.” This play is an immersive piece where they’re there in the club. They’re standing there dancing with us. So I want them to leave the theater feeling like they had such an amazing and fun night out. It’s the perfect marriage combo between going out to a fun night of clubbing and going out to see a play.
The show runs Oct. 8th-Nov 2nd, 2019 at UrbanTheater Company
For more information visit their website.
Interview edited for length and clarity by Olivia Cerza
Listen to the full interview here: