TeslaCon was billed as a full-immersion steampunk salon-type steampunk event/experience, and I admit, I had some reservations. When I hear “full-immersion” in that sort of context, I think of all the LARP games I attended in my younger years, wherein I was afraid that maybe I was surrounded by douchebags who took themselves too seriously. I mean, I didn’t know about those guys, but I was mostly present in order to play dress-up and lounge around playing rock-scissors-paper with my friends.
Anyway. What I’m trying to say is that TeslaCon could’ve been a weird, awkward experience. But in fact, it was a weird, MARVELOUS experience with just the right mix of Serious Immersion and Ooh Shiny Imma Buy That Then Go Drinking with My New Friends. It was a weekend of theme parties and spontaneous shindigs, carefully orchestrated murder mystery theater and random shenanigans, artifice and practicality, and a whole lot of clever details that made the whole thing hang together.
Among my personal favorite details: a concerted campaign to replace all the hotel’s boring signage with signs that were more fun – including a rather epic undertaking by which they relabeled all the hotel rooms with Victorian signage that marked them as berths rather than rooms; uniformed porters who provided assistance, support, and service all weekend (they were student volunteers from the organizer’s classroom); the cheesy first-floor conference rooms which had been transformed into lovely boutique storefronts, open for business; a “duty-free room” (read: dealers’ room) full of stuff for both men and women – as sometimes these things have a lot more stuff for the ladies*; a fully functional and prettily maintained tea room; the sound effects simulating a dirigible’s engine; the opening movie/credits which were exquisitely produced; the 19th century style “ticket booths” (registration booths); a very friendly, helpful, and accommodating independent bookseller; a FABULOUS fashion show featuring wares from three of the coolest freaking women I have ever met; and THESE ARE A FEW OF MY FAVORITE THINGS.
The overwhelming majority of those in attendance were in costume, and I swear to high heaven I spent the whole damn weekend all google-eyed (O_O), pointing randomly and saying/thinking, “I want that … and that … and that … and that … and that … and OMG I AM GOING TO GO BROKE HERE … and that … and that … and …” (ad infinitum)
Perhaps best of all – there was a rather outstanding swath of steampunk interpretation on display. I saw everything from a seriously hot punk fin-de-siecle gangster’s moll to a period-correct 19th century British Red Cross nurse; I saw folks aged from toddler to elder in full regalia, from high tea to utter cheerful silliness; there were western-style rangers and renaissance damsels; I spied gothic lolitas dancing at the ball with clockwork zombies, and dirigible flight attendants hobnobbing with a woman in conquistador-inspired masculine wear.
And everyone was “doing it right.”
Everyone was “steampunk enough.”
Because everyone was having fun with it.
Everyone’s interpretation of the style was accepted, celebrated, and appreciated – whether or not it was 100% historically accurate reenactor-wear, or utterly fanciful mechanical fairy-wear. Everybody got it, and was willing to be friendly and flexible, and welcoming of anyone who wanted to come out and play. It was a wee veritable temporary utopia for fans, lovingly constructed by a gent named Eric Larsen, who served as the host and MC of the festivities.
Reader, particularly given the recent snark upon the genre … you can imagine my slack-jawed astonishment and subsequent delight.
No one picked any fights about what steampunk was or wasn’t, what it should be or should not be; and no one was too cool to get involved and have a good time. No one tried to correct or harass anyone, and no one threw a shit-fit about how everyone else wasn’t taking it seriously enough.
I would’ve been prepared to vow that it couldn’t be done.
So. Yes. Here, let me link you some photo sets:
If anyone else has any pics they want to share, feel free to post them in the comments either here or at my LJ if that’s easier for you. There were more gorgeous clothes and people there than any given event has any right to claim, and there are probably a zillion shots out there I haven’t seen (and sure, I appear in some of them – even in the sets linked above).
By design, TeslaCon is a smaller event – with membership limited to only a few hundred people. I believe the total was somewhere around 400, and next year I think (though I could be mistaken) the goal is no more than 600. The organizers want the event to remain manageable as a cooperative, potentially immersive experience, and they don’t feel that going bigger will mean going better. Therefore, if I were you, I’d keep my eye on this webpage and swipe a pass as soon as they become available. I suspect that once word-of-mouth gets around, those passes will not last long.
Yes. So. Well. There you go – that was the original purpose of my weekend in Madison, and it was absolutely cool – and it set a very high bar for next year’s event, which I fully expect the amicable Mr. Larsen to jack up EVEN MORE (next year you won’t be in a dirigible; you’ll be in a submarine).
My next post will cover some of the extra-conventional details, including the Barnes & Noble, Borders, a hyper-groovy 13-year-old boy with a book report, and supper with Sarah Monette and company (including a super-cool archivist and her family). It will also make mention of mostly naked college-aged rugby players, so, yeah. Stay tuned.
Over and out for now …
* Bonus coolness: the dealers’ room and boutiques were all open to the public, which made for happy vendors and happy spectators – and led to a few extra day-passes being sold.