First Annual Steamposium Keeps Steampunk Conventions Alive in Seattle
The first Steamposium Seattle was held at the Bell Harbor Convention Center over September 26-28, 2014 and featured such guests as Jewel Staite and Sean Maher (Kaylee Frye and Simon Tam, respectively, of the beloved TV show Firefly), Steam Powered Giraffe, Kato and the Steam Girls, Shake that Brass Burlesque, a high tea with fashion show, plus artists, vendors, and exhibitors. The 2014 event looks to be “the first annual” Steamposium and passes are already on sale for a 2015 event. I believe that this con will get better and better should it continue for years to come.
The Seattle-metro area was at risk of not having a steampunk convention this fall after the demise of the popular Steamcon that provided Victorian-inspired fanfare over the last five years. It is impressive that the Steamposium event team pulled together a convention on such short notice. The Steamposium organizers and attendees should celebrate that feat. However, as an annual attendee of Steamcon, I can’t help but make comparisons between the two events and this post might be overly critical as a result of said comparison.
My main take away from Steamposium was a sense of disconnection. A large part of disconnection was the layout of the Bell Harbor International Conference Center. Spaces were distinct and separate with narrow corridors, off site locations, and an overall layout that was not intuitive. It’s too bad that a complete map of all the venue spaces and congregation spaces was not provided. It was difficult to figure out where to go and how to get there. I never found the kids’ section, the game rooms, and the hall for Steam Powered Giraffe was revealed after a treasure hunt of signage. The focus on celebrity guests and the Steam Girls left me wanting for more attractions that better suited my own interests, like author events, history lessons, and social issues in celebrating Victoriana.
My favorite part of Steampunk is the creativity of attendees and vendors; even a small event can bring about a feast for the eyes. Steamposium had its share of elaborate costumes: There was an impressive Iron Man (sorry no picture of this but you can check out Steamposium Seattle on Tumblr and Facebook album). I found it hard to get a good look at Steampunk attire—hard in the sense that some places were tight and crowded and others just devoid of people. I missed a main hall or thoroughfare as a place for lingering and people watching—a place where most folks passed by and costumes were on display (and had enough room to take pictures without blocking entire corridors). The registration area at Bell Harbor was a very plain space without decoration or fanfare—not very inviting for lingering, but could have been with a few exhibitions or pieces of art. I did not stay at or visit the con hotel and cannot attest to how that location added to the steamy, Victorian atmosphere. I might have had a different experience had I had time to spend there.
Despite my expressed lack of desire for celebrities at steampunk envents, I actually had the most fun at the Firefly panel on Saturday. Jewel Staite and Sean Maher were wonderful. The crowd was definitely pro-Firefly (as am I). Staite and Maher handled all questions with aplomb, especially when their wine glasses were full. While I don’t feel that this panel had much to do with steampunk and I had not even planned to attend, I am very glad I did.
A few of the highlights from audience questions:
On best Firefly set pranks: Nathan Fillion was the prankster on the set but he failed to see the humor when someone, who never came forward, placed a potato in the tail pipe of this brand new truck. Jewel said with a giggle, “He was so mad.”
If they cosplay themselves at cons: Neither do. However, Jewel told us that Adam Baldwin dresses as Jayne for Halloween.
On inspiration for acting and storytelling: For Jewel, it is retail—more shoes and clothes. It was a realization she had when offered a commercial as a kid. For Sean, his inspiration is the musical Into the Woods.
On the best catering on an acting job: Jewel immediately said that the food on Stargate: Atlantis was the best she’d had and that you can see the cast gaining weight through seasons 3-5. Sean remarked about being served salmon in parchment paper on one set. He said the parchment “was a really nice touch.”
On favorite piece of Firefly costume: Sean said he hated Simon’s vests. (Very humorous since he was in a room full of waistcoats.) Jewel told us all how hard it is to pee when your costume is a jumpsuit. What they liked were tailored suits Sean wore on The $treet and Jewel liked wearing the same thing all the time on Stargate: Atlantis.
The high tea and fashion show on Sunday was a lot of fun. My pictures are terrible, by the way—sorry about that. The designers showcased were Taken by the Sky, Helen Hawthorne, Lastwear, The Celestial Muse, and Seams Unusual. The fashions that walked the runway were all unique collections that were distinct and visually interesting. I think there is a great accomplishment in an aesthetic that seems to embrace a baseline of brown, olive drab, and gear motif. I loved seeing the creativity, especially the bold black and white color blocking from Taken by the Sky and the Marie Anoinette inspired collection of Seams Unusal. And the high tea comestibles provided by Queen Mary Tea Room and Restaurant in Seattle, were excellent. I dare say it was a big step up from the Hyatt-catered tea at Steamcon. Victorian Gray Tea was served and it was so very good and sustaining. (Those are three of my favorite words: Victorian, Gray, and tea.)
I think my biggest disappointment was totally missing the Steam Powered Giraffe show. Because that show was shown as a two-hour block on the schedule (from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.), I figured I would have time to grab something to eat and then catch the end. However, the show was really a single set that ended at 7:30 p.m. or so. I walked in and the band was on its last song. Had I not paid for a concert ticket on top of the pass price, it would not have been a big deal but it’s sad to see your dollars go to waste especially because I took time to eat. Who needs food at a con anyway? A lesson learned for next time: go early! A two hour block does not mean two hours of music. That said, a more true-to-event schedule would be beneficial in the future.
Steamcon used to have a theme. I understand from listening to the designers who participated in the fashion show that the theme was extremely limiting to them. And I get that. These designers want to show off what they do best and drive people to their businesses. But for me, as a regular attendee, I missed the theme. Without a theme, I personally lacked the drive to create anything new for this event and I missed seeing how others chose to interpret the theme into their own costumes and art. Not having that challenge of creating some new costume to show off also contributed to my feeling of disconnection from the event.
What would I like to see for the next Steamposium since I’ve been so critical? For one, a more informative program book and map of venues would be wonderful. Nothing fancy and certainly no need for the newspaper sized program and the small booklet as Steamcon did. However, I would like more than just a single sheet of paper with a grid and a map only of the panel floor. Panel descriptions would be great. Second, a larger vendor and artist space would be fantastic. For sure I found booths to spend my money (hello there, Steampunked Out), yet I missed a few of my favorites from the Steamcon years. Finally, I’d like more authors and illustrators in addition to or in place of TV or movie celebrities, unless the celebrities have a tangible interest or perspective into steampunk. Don’t get me wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed the Firefly panel, but I am definitely less interested in a con that is seeking movie or television stars or Steam Girls as a regular attraction. I can see celebs and cosplay models at nearly every other pop-culture convention–they are not why I personally choose to go to steampunk cons. Finally, I’d love a theme or a mission to spark my creativity and creation of new costume parts.
Now, despite all my criticism, am I looking forward to what Steamposium Seattle has in store for next year? ABSOLUTELY.