Imagine you are on a dirigible soaring over Europe. The year is 1880. Tea is being served by butlers carrying silver trays and gentlemen wearing suits and carrying brass telescopes are milling about, talking about an evil mastermind roaming the skies.
Later this fall, these dreams will become reality. Sort of.
It's all part of TeslaCon, a steampunk immersion convention set to take place at the Madison Radisson on November 5-7. TeslaCon's creator, Eric Larson, says that this con is different from other gatherings of science fiction or comics fans.
"You're not going to come in, walk around, go to panels and then sit around a hotel for a weekend," he says. "We're creating an illusion that you are actually in 1880. You'll believe it."
For the uninitiated, steampunk is most easily explained as science fiction set in the Victorian era.
"Imagine if the Victorians were fifty years in the future with their ideas, but they still used wheels, brass and steam," explains Larson. Films that rely heavily on steampunk imagery include Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and the newest iteration of Sherlock Holmes, starring Robert Downey, Jr.
Steampunk is a growing genre of fiction, but it's more than just novels, comics and movies. Steampunk aesthetics influence fashion heavily (as illustrated in this New York Times article from 2008), as well, and there will be plenty of opportunities for con attendees to purchase corsets, gowns, hats, suits and brass accessories over the weekend.
Larson and his team are going to completely transform the west side hotel into the inside of a zeppelin. Their modifications plan to include new room number signs, period furniture and draperies and the removal of computers from that section of the hotel. The Victorian era was one of opulence, grandeur and attention to minute details, and TeslaCon promises not to disappoint. Larson plans to give attendees passports in lieu of nametags.
"When you go to various panels or to the tea room, we'll stamp your passport, just like they would have in 1880," he says.
The absence of nametags forces convention participants to converse with each other in a civilized way, as opposed to staring at someone's chest to learn their name, as happens at many other conventions.
Larson, a design instructor at Madison Media Institute, has years of experience working in Hollywood working for studios like Lucasfilm and Disney. He started running a Star Wars convention in 1999, which he used to bring people together to talk about acting, films and film-making.
Last year, he grew interested in steampunk and saw an opportunity for something fantastic. TeslaCon will feature a workshop on tiny hat making, a panel about Daguerreotype photography and a seance, among other things. Attendees are encouraged to create a persona for the con.
"For the weekend, forget who you are and be someone else," Larson says.
Dueling, fisticuffs boxing, a visit by Cherie Priest (author of Boneshaker), a tea room, and a custom-made soundtrack for a murder mystery are also on tap.
Proceeds from the convention will benefit the Capital Candlelighters, a charity that provides support for families of children with cancer who are being treated in the Madison area. The Capital Candlelighters host a support group, award limited financial assistance to families with difficult situations and offer transportation assistance.
Interested? Pre-registering for TeslaCon is very important, says Larson. "When people pre-register, it gives us the chance to make the con better." Also, pre-registering saves attendees some money. Until October 31, register for $45. And Larson is offering readers of this preview an additional $5 savings by using the code RAVEN at checkout when they register online. Memberships can be purchased at the door on the day of the con, and one day passes will be available.