New Convention Puts Chicago Steampunk on Full Display

In 1893, the World’s Colombian Exposition brought many wonders to the city of Chicago, and this September you can imagine yourself walking the thoroughfares of an “alternative” 1893, filled with strange contraptions and eccentric inventors. Experience retro-futuristic visions of an antique future at the Chicago Steampunk Exposition as you wander through the exhibits, artists, authors, vendors, presenters, and entertainment in Rosemont Illinois on the weekend of September 27 – 29 at the Westin O’Hare Hotel.

The term Steampunk was whimsically coined in April 1987 by American science fiction author K.W. Jeter as a play on Cyberpunk when he noticed a new trend of some novels that had Victorian settings, but with dystopian themes. While the name Steampunk is 32 years old, the genre itself stretches back to Victorian authors such as H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, and some date the birth of Steampunk as June 14th, 1822, the day that British engineer Charles Babbage almost invented the first modern computer, The Difference Engine! It was designed in 1822, but was not actually built until 1991 when it was proven to actually work. So in the laws of alternate realities, the Information Age occurred during the reign of Queen Victoria, and Steampunk fans like to dream and create what that world might have looked like; they are “historical reenactors of a future that neverwas.”

While Steampunk is the main focus of the Exposition, there are several rooms devoted to specific aspects of the fandom

It was around 2005 that Steampunk began to evolve from a literary genre and blossom into the full subculture of music, art, fashion, and shared community that we enjoy today. During that time Steampunk events have been emerging across the globe, and this year Chicago is ready to play host to one of the biggest in the world. The Chicago Steampunk Exposition is a blend of part Comic Con, part Renaissance Festival, and large dash of eccentric mad scientist, all mixed up with Victorian style and grace. In September, both floors of the Westin O’Hare’s conference rooms will play host to the massive gathering with almost a hundred exhibitors including artists, writers, musicians, vendors, and over a hundred hours of workshops, presentations, and entertainment.

Goth and satirist Aurelio Voltaire headlines the music program which also includes: Unwoman, V is for Villains, Sir Reginal Pike Devant Esq., and Chicago’s favorite retro-futuristic DJ, Vorteque. In addition to music, the entertainment also offers dramatic and comedic theater performances from Outerworld Theatre, Moebius Theatre, Terra Mysterium, and L.I.V.E. (Locked Into Vacancy Entertainment) Radio Show. Throughout the weekend, there are also workshops on costuming, prop building, and a huge variety of presentations on Steampunk related topics. 

Numerous speakers will be offering up their real and alternate history expertise, many of whom are widely regarded in the Steampunk community and publishing industry. Writers Leanna Renee Hieber, Michael Coorlim, and other authors will share the joys of writing and Steampunk literature. From film and television the Exposition is joined by actor Bishop Stevens of The Steampunk Adventures of Salem Tusk, Thomas Willeford of the show Steampunk’d, H.H. Holmes documentarian John Borowski, and other filmmakers. Diana Pho, the leading Steampunk multicultural expert and TOR Publishing editor, is the featured speaker for the “Around the World” track that brings Steampunk from beyond Europe and North America.

While Steampunk is the main focus of the Exposition, there are several rooms devoted to specific aspects of the fandom, such as the aforementioned “Around the World” program. For those liking the darker and shadowy side of the Victorian Era, there is the “Gothic Parlour,” and for those who like tabletop gaming, there are several rooms devoted to board games and role-playing games in the “Steampunk Gaming” track. If you like to make things with your hands the “Maker Room” and the “Crafts Room” are places you should visit, and for aspiring writers or avid readers, the “Retro-Futurist Writers Conference” is a must. There are various other presentations on offer, and with activities for all ages, much of the weekend is family friendly.

For a Chicago event of this size, tickets are very reasonably priced, starting as low as $5 for Sunday tickets for children aged six or above; five and under get in for free on any day. One day tickets are available for Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, but many people opt to buy a full weekend pass in order to get the whole experience. Parking at the Westin O’Hare is just $10/day, which those familiar with Chicago events will know is a great bargain. For those taking public transit, the Westin O’Hare is just a block from the Blue Line Rosemont station, and a dozen bus services also go to the Rosemont CTA stop. A free shuttle runs from O’Hare Airport to the venue, so whether you are flying, busing, driving, taking the train, or steering your steam powered airship, the Chicago Steampunk Exposition is easy to find.

It is worth noting that while many people will dress up in various outlandish and elegant Steampunk outfits, all explorers are welcome regardless of attire; as Steampunks like to say, “costume admired, but not required.” That said, however, there will be plenty of merchants at the Exposition with amazing outfits and accessories available if you find yourself taken with the style. Also, there will be many workshops that teach you how to make your own Steampunk props and costume pieces for the DIY inclined.

To find out more, and delve further down the rabbit hole, visit www.ChicagoSteampunkExpo.com for information about ticket prices, special events, entertainment line up, and much more.

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A Convention Out of This World

As I stepped off the plane, I had no idea what to expect, and I wasn’t the only one. As confused as we all were, the best course of action was to just go with the flow. That same idea is what made this adventure fun– no real planning.

I had met a lovely, older couple from Texas who were introduced to Steampunk through friends. Their friends drove, versus flying in. The overwhelming consensus was to drive, if you can. Flights may be quicker, but, as any con-goer can attest, you can pack so much more, as well as have a car handy. This would have been especially helpful at Wild Wild West Con (WWW), in Tucson, AZ.

Thursday was badge day for early arrivals, as well as any last-minute troubleshooting (which is the norm, as far as convention schedules go). For most there, it was a reunion, with hugs, tons of laughing, catching up.

Friday was the big day! The whole event takes place at Old Tucson. Old Tucson is an historic film studio/park, opened in 1939, where nearly every popular western was filmed, Including Tombstone and The Three Amigos.  The first western filmed here was called Arizona, in 1940. The title could not have been a better choice for this perfectly appointed film studio, about to hit its stride in the big business of western cinema. There are, of course, small museums set up throughout the park. The park also has shows running constantly for guests to enjoy, in the form of can-can girls in the saloon, or a high-noon style shoot-out in the streets. With WWW being held at Old Tucson, it gave the “normal” folks some extra fun. Some even requested to volunteer, due to how much fun everyone was having.

A fair warning, Old Tucson is about 20-30 minutes from the main hotel, which was the Double Tree by the Tucson airport. Due to this long distance from the main hotel to the convention, I highly recommend finding a friend who has a car, making friends to those who have a car, or renting a car. I cannot stress this enough. Luckily, I was able to use the VIP shuttle service, an underutilized, but wholly appreciated service, specifically for entertainers of the convention, which means that I met more friends on this shuttle, which should be no surprise to anyone who has ever met me. I’m friendly, and not even the tiniest but shy. This con shuttle’s drivers were also entertainers, and fantastic ones at that. My primary driver was a tiny powerhouse, who went by the name “Mama.” She was entertaining, educational, and determined to give excellent and timely service to those she drove. She was applauded by the head of VIP transportation, who impressed that she and her fellow drivers took their jobs seriously, and got everyone to and from their venues safely.

An amazing group to know is the Tea Scouts. What I’ve learned is that you can count on the Tea Scouts for just about anything. They’re fascinating for tea conversation, but if you need help with anything else, they are quite useful. I got a ride from one named Charity one night because I was still learning the ropes of the VIP shuttle services. We never met before that day, but she was willing to drive me to my hotel (as were my Texas friends, who gave me a ride another night). Tea Scouts are now international, and can be found on Facebook, in both local and main chapters.

The first day of the convention, Friday, was overwhelming, with the size of the venue, the convention covers, and the fabulous costumes. I attempted, admittedly poorly, to figure out all the panel sites. I was distracted by intricate costumes, shows, belly dancers, talking to wonderful people, and so much shopping. There was one panel I, regrettably, missed on Saturday, featured a special effects person from Star Trek: The Next Generation© but I was drawn in by another, equally fun activity.

Throughout the convention, different people have small ribbons or buttons, the size of your badge, to collect.

One activity I would recommend to other convention organizers is organizing a scavenger hunt for ribbons or buttons. I’ve seen this at other conventions, but this was much more colorful than any I’ve seen in the past.  Throughout the convention, different people have small ribbons or buttons, the size of your badge, to collect. The ribbons I saw had a saying or quote or image that went with the theme, or reflected the person/vendor distributing them. People loved collecting these! I saw a woman whose impressive collection was as long as her skirt.

The vendor halls are, in a word, amazeballs. The halls consisted of one large tent, a few small tents in between, and a barn. There was also an artist/ vending area at the “city hall” location. Personally, I really enjoyed the larger of the vendor halls. WWW even had a vendor from Japan, who will be featured in a later issue, comparing the vastly different Steampunk scenes of America and Japan. What made the layout more epic was that there was a space between the large vendor tent and the barn, used exclusively for belly dancing performances. The sound of the music being played in that area made me want to shimmy while I shopped. It was reminiscent of sci-fi wastelands, or a trading planet from a certain, fictitious landscape (heavily- copywritten, possibly rhyming with “far snores”). The atmosphere  was so welcoming, and the people doubly so. The music ranged from Beats Antique to Wumpscutt (gypsy music to industrial music).

The after-hours entertainment for any night is an extra fee that is highly suggested to buy in conjunction with the convention passes, while being bought online. That threw me off a bit, due to the conventions we have covered prior to this one. Paying for the big entertainment is a regular occurrence at the cons we’ve attended. Fees for events, such as an after-hours tea duel (alcohol or not) or an absinthe tasting panel has been a pretty cheap, sometimes nonexistent, price (with unlimited drinks) when going to the Wisconsin Steampunk conventions. To make it worth the attendee’s money, WWW’s absinthe panel came with a complimentary, gold-plated absinthe sugar spoon/holder. The swag was fun, but, I’ve genuinely been spoiled by Wisconsin convention hotel parties.

The main Saturday event was absolutely worth every cent of admission. Professor Elemental graced the stage as the main performance. The opening performance, however, was Tommy Spase and the Alchemists. They lit up the stage with the energy needed to start the night after a very long day (most attendees never leave Old Tucson to change or to freshen up, since it is so far away from the hotels.).  They were great, and I highly recommend checking them out, I won’t get into much detail (I plan to interview them soon), but I will say they were high-energy. A 4-year-old, little girl, by the name of Gypsy, ended up becoming the center of the show, dancing & loving the band with all her little heart. It was freaking adorable to see a little girl, dancing to her own beat, which absolutely captured the spirit of her namesake.  

When Elemental was introduced on stage, the energy of the crowd swelled. As a long-time fan, I have to ask: Who doesn’t need Elemental in their life? He makes sure everyone has a great time, no matter what. Towards the end of his performance, he invited everyone to the stage. If you haven’t seen Professor Elemental live by now, why not? You can watch an old video of the Professor at TeslaCon on our Facebook page to get an idea of how much fun it is to experience his show.

What I can say about the Arizona Steampunk community is they will welcome anyone with open arms and helping hands. A few conventions ago, the community helped gather money for a gentleman who needed a lung transplant. They arrived on Thursday to thank everyone for the support and to report the transplant’s success. He was still recovering at this point, so he and his wife showed up, in brief increments, to enjoy their community.

A big shout-out, and major kudos, go to Deena, Jason, and their amazing team, for their continuous work on getting their convention up and running. Every person was essential to the smooth operation of the convention and knew their shows inside and out. The rumor is that they broke records for the largest steampunk convention, as well as record-setting attendance for Old Tucson itself. Considering the venue is approximately 320 acres, it’s not hard to pack people in there, but impressive nonetheless.If you love history and entertainment I highly suggest Old Tucson. If you want to experience one of the best steampunk conventions out there, with the wildest, most imaginative costumes, and some of the nicest people you will meet, check out in Tucson Arizona.

Entire photos & videos of WWW8 taken by Sarah Harris (even the super bad ones of herself) are here if you click.