TeslaCon: It Can Be Done

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.

14 thoughts on “TeslaCon: It Can Be Done

  1. Looks like it was a wonderful event. I really wish we had gone, especially with you and The Scarring Party in attendance.

    Unfortunately, the ferries close in late September, making for one very long drive around the lake – one we couldn’t do this time around. We’ll plan for it next year though.

    ‘So glad to know that it all turned out so remarkably well ^_^

  2. Aw, I would’ve loved to see you there! But yes, it went quite well – and I recommend it most heartily :)

  3. Max Bell

    Best taste in clothes of any genre readership, ever. Thanks for that!

  4. You’re more than welcome!
    And I definitely agree :)

  5. Amy

    The convention sounds amazing, and the photos you linked slayed me with awesome. Thank you for posting your thoughts. I believe I will be adding TeslaCon to my 2011 con list. :)

  6. Cal

    Heh. I actually did see one guy yelling at the gentleman who, along with Megan Maude, did a panel on steampunk visual cues. He was slashing his hands through the air and raising his voice about “You’re trying to PIN ME DOWN to YOUR DEFINITION OF STEAMPUNK,” and it was very unpleasant. That wasn’t what the panel had been about at all, but the Duke and Duchess of Buckingham walked out of it in a huff under a similar misapprehension after telling Megan Maude she shouldn’t be talking about what was and wasn’t steampunk. Sometimes you just can’t win.

    But that was the only unpleasant bit of Teslacon for me (okay, apart from some really badly done fake English accents), and I’m going again next year. It was my second con of any kind, ever, and I was expecting it to be a derpfest. Not so!

  7. Aw, Cal. That’s too bad – I didn’t see it or hear about it, until now.

    Of course, merely talking about one’s own interpretation is not the same thing as telling other people how they have to do it. Megan is lovely, and I’m sorry to hear about the unpleasantness

  8. I’m glad you posted a link to my boyfriend’s Flickr (StrangeKnowledge)! He was giddy when I told him you did. It was precious. Those are my pics there too. I didn’t take as many as I normally do, so it was easier to have him upload them together. I’m normally snapping up a storm but I was so overcome with the awesome I could only really live in the moment.

    Hopefully you can attend next year? We should be back next year doing panels again. I don’t know if they are inviting you back or not. I assume it was a paid gig for you. And you might be busy… but it was still cool to see you again! You’ve always been nice lady to me & Tony!

  9. Aw, thanks Sally! And I linked the set because it was public, and I didn’t figure he’d mind. (Generally if people object to you linking pictures, they make them private. I always just link, and always credit, of course.)

    This was a paid gig for me insomuch as they covered my room and airfare; and next year I’d very much like to attend – though you heard them mention next year’s GoH :) I might just show up to be sociable, depending on how flush we’re feeling. My husband kind of wants to come this time, too…

    But yes – it’s always good to see you two, and if I don’t catch you at TC next year, maybe I’ll see you around DragonCon :)

  10. Thank you for giving us a peek into what sounds like a fab weekend. I love all the details and links to photos! Congratulations to Mr. Larsen on successfully pulling off an ambitious project!

  11. Wendy

    I’m glad you had a good time.

    I was the scenario’s reporter, and I had a bit of awkwardness with a group of “characters” who wanted to take over part of the plot – you don’t go to a renfair and expect to be able to replace the captain of the guard, do you?

    But in general people were very interested and very responsive to what we were trying to do. I’m of the opinion that in the end we are all dorks who like to play dress-up and no one has the right to harsh someone else’s squee. I was pleased to find so many people to play with and I hope to help next year’s show be even more awesome.

  12. This event sounds amazing. All the photos are great. I wish I had been there.

  13. My photos of the con are here:


    and there’s a thread on the Teslacon website with links to a bunch of others:


  14. It was lovely meeting you at Teslacon. I have to say that it is probably one of the best conventions I’ve ever attended. Very well done and incredibly fun. I met some amazing people there :)

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