The Sheraton Hotel in Madison, Wisconsin was home to the second annual TeslaCon the weekend of November 18-20, 2011. TeslaCon proved in its inaugural year that it is one of the premiere Steampunk events in the nation, and this year its organizer, Lord Hastings R. Bobbins (aka Eric Jon Larson) pulled out all the stops to create a convention even more lavish and spectacular than the original.
The Sheraton was completely taken over by Steampunk guests by Friday afternoon. Lord Bobbins and volunteers had transformed the space into the HMS Trident, fitting with this year’s theme, “20,000 Leagues Under the Aether.” All the Sheraton logos, for instance, were replaced with HMS Trident logos; the walls were adorned with advertisements and “wanted” posters fitting with the convention’s theme; and the soft “ping” of submarine radar could be heard echoing through the hallways throughout the day. To add to the immersive feel, guests were given passports instead of badges, which could be stamped when they ventured into various parts of the ship.
Fashions at this year’s convention were nautically themed; naval uniforms were popular gentleman’s attire and, likewise, ladies in bathing costumes seemed to be around every corner. Captain Nemo of the Nautilus and the Aquillan Ambassador were both in attendance. One guest felt the need to wear his diving suit indoors, though the submarine seemed overall to be quite safe.
The guest list for this year’s TeslaCon read like a “Who’s Who of Steampunk.” Author guests included Gail Carriger, George Mann, and Paul Magrs. Famous bloggers in attendance were Ay-leen the Peacemaker (aka Diana Pho) of Beyond Victoriana, Miss Kagashi (aka Jeni Hellum) of Multiculturalism for Steampunk, and Kevin Steil of Airship Ambassador.The Airships Archon and Passepartout, The Vagabonds, The League of Cincinnati Steampunks, The Red Fork Empire, The Uprising Collective, The International Anti-Piracy Squadron (IAPS), and other groups were on hand to share their expertise on various topics.
Popular Steampunk fashion designers were also in attendance. The Couture Room, a space separate from the Dealer Hall, boasted Steampunk and lolita fashions by KMK Designs, Scoundrelle’s Keep, Blasphemina’s Closet, Megan Maude, and jewelry designer Bionic Unicorn. Saturday night’s fashion show featured looks by all these designers, as well as fashions by Irregular Pearl, House of Canney, and GlamourDandy jewelry. One of the most spectacular items in the fashion show was a House of Canney look with exaggerated pauldron-like shoulder pieces that bounced in time with the model’s steps.
The Dealer Hall was an impressive display. Vendors included antique dealers, artists, leather workers, milliners, and crafters of all sorts. A few of my favorites were the fine items of Spencer’s Mercantile, the gorgeous hats of Bustles and Britches, and portraiture by Gary and Suzy Zahradka. I also enjoyed the teacups adorned with elegant curse words offered by Geek Details, whose booth also sold pins emblazoned with the likeness of Lord Bobbins that have since become something of a collector’s item.
Do-it-yourself panels are always popular at Steampunk conventions, and this year’s TeslaCon featured panels detailing Victorian lace-making, Steampunk embroidery, creative airbrushing, grooming for Steampunk gentlemen and ladies, the basics of performing divination, Steampunk makeup application, sewing a bustle or corset, and prop-making. Aaron Egan of IAPS, “The Steampunk Chef,” presented a panel on Steampunk cookery. Other panels discussed the world of Steampunk costuming, community, and
character creation. Editor Liz Gorinksy of TOR Books was on hand to enlighten hopeful authors about the basics of Steampunk publishing.
Historically accurate panels also abounded, with experts presenting the facts
about women’s suffrage, airship combat, the discovery of pigments, Victorian libations, and a late-night, adults-only look at the history of pornography. Guests could also take lessons in dancing, fencing, self-defense, and bartitsu, a martial art popularized by Sherlock Holmes. A separate Gaming Hall in the Ship’s Annex gave us the chance to try out games such as The Hive and The Flame, a Victorian science fiction miniatures game.
The evenings at TeslaCon were just as packed as the days. Friday night, guests enjoyed a screening of the French Steampunk film Les Adventures Extraordinaires d’Adele Blanc-Sec. The Royal Ladies’ and Gentle-men’s Experimental Madness Society hosted an HMS Trident launch party, and the IAPS crew welcomed “enemies of the ‘demon-rum’ and hangover-dodgers alike” to their Sewing Circle and Temperance Binge.
Saturday night’s TeslaCon Ball had guests up on their feet and dancing. The event, which featured The Lords & Ladies: Vaudevillian Disc Jockey Extra-Ordinaries, was so popular and boisterous that the hotel was forced to end the evening early, for fear that the ladies would dance themselves ragged. Scandal! Fortunately, the IAPS also hosted An Evening of Ribaldry and Recollection that featured Victorian games, food, risque poetry, and drinking, and there were plenty of late-night room parties and panels to attend.
One of my favorite features of TeslaCon was the Music Parlor. With so many musical acts on hand, including Eli August, Unwoman, and Veronique Chevalier, it was possible at almost any time of the day to go to the parlor and enjoy a little live music in a very intimate setting. I was lucky enough to catch Unwoman’s Saturday night performance, which featured a rousing, sing-along rendition of “Serenity,” the theme song to Joss Whedon’s series Firefly. Unwoman was delightfully easy to approach, full of smiles, and performed with a clear, sweet voice that was the perfect accompaniment to the thrum of her cello.
Other locales unique to TeslaCon were the aforementioned Couture Room and the Tea Room. For only $10, a guest received a stamp on his or her passport that allowed access to the fully stocked and staffed Tea Room for the entire weekend. It was a nice, quiet escape, especially on a Sunday morning. My only complaint was that selecting biscuits to accompany my tea was difficult, as there was no edibles menu, but this is a minor quibble with an otherwise lovely feature. The Tea Room Mistress and her serving girls, always impeccably dressed and perfectly friendly, are to be commended on their efforts to bring some old English charm to the depths of the aether.
Lord Bobbins strives to entertain his guests with no less than his best, and this was never so apparent as during the Opening and Closing Ceremonies. An entertaining movie, with professional-level production values, told the story of the HMS Trident and her enemy, the Leviathan, captained by the dastardly Doctor Proctocus. In the final installment, Proctocus kidnapped Lady Bobbins and demanded that, in return for her release, Bobbins must take him to the moon! Thus, the setup for TeslaCon III: A Trip to the Moon.
TeslaCon is an astounding accomplishment, especially given that most of the organization of the event falls on the shoulders of Lord Bobbins and a small team of volunteers. Just under a year separates us from TeslaCon III, but most of the attendees of this year’s event have already purchased tickets for next year. Lord Bobbins has promised a bigger hotel, an Art Room, and more international involvement. I, for one, can hardly wait to grab my ticket. See you there!
For more, you can read Miss Kagashi’s take on TeslaCon over at Multiculturalism For Steampunk, listen to a podcast from several members of the League of Cincinnati Steampunks, and view photos from the event at the TeslaCon Flickr Pool. There’s even a video on YouTube!