The Steampunk Empire

The Crossroads of the Aether

     Have you noticed how many of my convention reports start out with “I hadn’t been intending to go to Such-and-such-Con but. . . “ Well, here is another one. I had only remembered the steampunk weekend at Old West Fest after I had already made arrangements to go to the Cowboy Action Shooting event in Donegal the same weekend. But with Pandoracon coming up and Old West Fest being only about half an hour away from that, I thought I would combine the two. One for one day and the other the next.

     And the Pandoracon hotel still had rooms available.

     So, I got up at 3am on Saturday for the 5 hour drive. If I was only going to be at the con for one day I was going to maximize my time there.

     After creating the Steampunk Symposium earlier this year, Aloysius Fox has created a more general media sci-fi con, although it has a very thick Doctor Who bend. He had three tracks of panel programming, which was fairly light. I heard that attendance was in the 300 to 400 range. This is a respectable number for a first time con but the important thing is room block and con space. I don’t know if he made the numbers necessary to break even.

     I was on my way somewhere when the guy cosplaying Mal Reynolds stopped me in the hall, asking if I would go to the main desk and see if I could borrow a sharpie. He was trying to get con guest Jason Carter to autograph a Ranger pin. It turned out that Mr Carter already had a Sharpie and, after that, we spent half an hour or more talking about conventions, the accident he had where he lost his sense of smell, the things he missed being able to smell, growing older and being over the hill.

     Jason Carter was also drunk off his a**. At 2 in the afternoon.

     As I was only at the con for one day, I missed half of the programming. I only attended a few panels. The first was “So you want to be a panelist”, generally how to create a panel or presentation and get it accepted by the ConCom.

     Team ConDoc are performers and admit that they don’t have a script of program for their panels, and it showed. While it can be entertaining, the panel drifted way off topic. It started with some things not to do, such as having a presentation where you read powerpoint slides, had some information on how to market yourself in the con program application but drifted to actually doing a panel. Within a panel. They brought some random people up to do a panel on writing and spent too much time on that and not enough on how to be a panelist.

     In their impromptu panel, they just happened to pick someone who was an actual writer and she instinctively took on the role of moderator, which is something that Team ConDoc doesn’t seem to have in their presentations. Thus, they completely missed out on explaining how important it can be to have a moderator when you have a collection of random people on a panel and the things that a good moderator can do to manage and guide the panel.

     They focused on the performance and entertainments aspects of a panel and left out the importance of actual content.

     Having been going to conventions and seeing panels of all types for two decades, having been on panels at WorldCon and other conventions, having created and presented panels from scratch, I felt that I had some things I could have contributed to the core topic but the chaos of this panel left me no opportunity to contribute.

     No offense to Team ConDoc but I don’t think the best panels are performance art.

     Calamity Dawn and associates did a Steampunk 101 panel. It seems that every con, even steampunk cons, have steampunk 101 panels. In this case, I was pleased to see mention of K.W. Jeter and the “creation” of the steampunk literary genre represented. Too many panels focus on the sub-culture or scene aspects of getting costumes together and creating personas and skip the literature that is the foundation of steampunk. They also gave coverage to the varied definitions of steampunk.

     Gaming convention CinciCon had some tables set up. The Battle for Hoth, Episode I pod racing and Battlestar Galactica were the miniature games set up. I would have liked to see smaller scenarios. The games they had would take several hours to play. Maybe they would have had more people playing if they had shorter time games available.

     The gaming room upstairs had board games but I thought the selection was limited. When we have sci-fi club parties here in Pittsburgh, my friend Randy brings more games with him than the Pandoracon game room had available. More variety is good. Short play times are good.

     I’ve never actually been to a gaming con. I should probably go to one as I don’t play games as often as I should like. On the other hand, I have a closet full of games that I don’t play. Going to a gaming cone is likely to end up with me coming home with even more games that will just take up space in my house.

     I didn’t wear my red dragon vest, tails and fez in the evening as I otherwise might because there was someone else there with the exact same vest and tails and there was also a huge Doctor Who contingent so there were fezzes (fezi?) everywhere.

     I’m not going to say something like “I probably won’t go to Pandoracon next year” because we all know how that is likely to turn out.

     On Sunday I drove the half hour to the Wild West Festival. There were signs at the entrance, and had been on the website, that firearms were not permitted. I had sent an email trying to ask about fake guns tied down in holsters but received no response. So, I left my gunleather in the car when I went up to pay for admittance. The person at the booth said that replica guns were ok. She didn’t make a big deal about it so I suspended that it was a common enough occurrence.

     I didn’t go back to the car right away. I wanted to walk around once first to see if it would be worth doing so.

     The first thing we ran into was one of the staged set pieces. At the Gunfight at the O.K. Coral event in Old Bedford, they recreate history. There are a few generic things with a stagecoach robbery and a jail break, but the main shows are from the life of Wild Bill Hickok and recreations based on the movie “Tombstone.” At Old West Fest they don’t bother and go straight to having fun with it.

     So, two guys are out in the street arguing about cheating at cards. Things are obviously building to an altercation. A woman bystander is yelling at them about the risk to all the people standing around. The sheriff shows up and decides to let the gunfight take place to settle things. 1. 2. 3. They both fire and two bystanders go down. There are recriminations but one of them was the town drink so no one much cares. He’s declared dead and the gunfight can continue. 1. 2. And the town drunk groans and half rises before collapsing again. He is declared dead again. They try to have the gunfight again and the drunk again groans and tries to get up before collapsing again. On the third iteration, the two gunfighters and the sheriff all shoot the town drunk to make sure he stays down and doesn’t interrupt the proceedings. 1. 2. 3. The gunfighters shoot and two more bystanders go down, including the woman who had been screeching about the danger to bystanders. 1. 2. 3. and two more bystanders are shot, including the sheriff. With no one to count three, the two gunfighters talk it over, can’t remember what the dispute was about and decide to go have a beer together.

     Now THAT’S entertainment.

     The most important thing about the performance was that the performers had wireless microphones and speakers so that the entire audience could hear exactly what was going on. Old Bedford needs to get a few of those. I’m going to try to get involved with the Old Bedford “show” and wonder if I can bring some of this sort of stuff to them, both performance wise and encouraging them to get a few microphones or at least stage things in such a way that more people will be able to hear.

     Speak up, guys.

     The miniature pony pulling the cart was absolutely adorable.

     I went back to my car and got my gunleather. Just back inside the gate I was stopped by a field trip group who wanted to ask questions and have pictures taken. Only after leaving them did I get a chance to talk to the sheriff and have him check my gun. I have the feeling that he was watching me intently while I was interacting with the guests. They wanted to see my gun and I showed it to them but, even though it was not real, I would not let them handle it. I don’t know what the official rules are but I thought it a reasonable assumption.

     I spoke with another person later who recognized me from being at the Steampunk Symposium earlier in the year and he said that guests are even allowed to carry real firearms so long as they ar checked and kept unloaded. I noticed that the performers were carrying colorful sleeve garters so I concluded that only those with the garters get to load their guns. Anyone carrying a gun without a garter is subject to a check.

     But most people didn’t know that and I was continuously mistaken for being a staff person. Lots of people wanted my picture or to have their picture taken with me. Then, those same people might walk by and completely ignore an actual Old West Fest staff person.

     It’s the beard

     And maybe the walk. I was walking around and a parent who had just bought cowboy hats for her kids was trying to get them to walk like cowboys. She pointed to me to try to get them to walk like me.

     I don’t walk in a way I would consider “cowboy”, certainly not the horse riding, bow legged mythical cowboy walk, (even though my legs are a little bowed) but there is a different walk when you have boots and are armed. I take my cue from Lee Van Cleef. I think I may want to round out my costume with the white scarf that he wore in “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly”

     I could enjoy being on staff at something like this. That isn’t going to happen because Old West Fest is 5 hours away and I had heard from some of the S.T.A.R.S. people who were working security at Pandoracon that some of them had worked Old West Fest and had been promised that they would get paid but then weren’t. Two years in a row. Volunteering is one thing but being promised compensation and then not getting it is something quite different.

     Standing in the street talking to some of the performers I learned that the owner had also done some micro managing. One of the set pieces was deemed to be too short and show the performers had rewritten it. In the meantime, though, the owner had changed the schedule around so that now the program that had been too short is was now overly long for the time slot he had put it in.

     It seemed to me that, for the most part, the performers manage things themselves and, left to their own devices, would sort things out much better than the owner would.

     Too bad they are probably going to not get paid for that.

     I definitely want to try to come down next year for the Steampunk day. I’ve already marked it on my calendar so I don’t miss it.

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