“More Than Just a Convention”
TeslaCon 9 will offer an immersive alternate-world experience with a surprise ending
“The Battle of Britain” will be fought near Madison, Wisconsin, as TeslaCon 9 takes place Nov. 15-18 at the Madison Marriott West. Billed as “North America's largest and best known immersion Steampunk Convention,” it will feature the latest episode in a long-running steampunk drama that began in 2010. This battle will be set in an alternate 1888 England that’s defended by the Britannia, a gargantuan dirigible.
TeslaCon is “more than just a convention,” says event chair Eric Jon Larson. “It’s a destination experience.” It has many activities associated with other steampunk conventions — panels, teapot racing, vendors, etc. — but it also has elements that you might find in a theme park.
Larson once worked on advertising campaigns for The Walt Disney Company and cites Disney as a major influence.
“When I go to conventions, they’re pleasant enough, but a lot of them are formulaic,” he says. “I like to do different things. I like to keep things exciting.”
TeslaCon’s story has a large cast of characters, many played by professional actors. Larson himself portrays Lord Bobbins, who has ascended to British Prime Minister. In this alternate world, Britain and Germany are allies against a nefarious organization known as the Society for War Against the Royal Masses (SWARM).
The drama plays out in a series of skits that are listed on the program. Between the skits, the performers will interact with attendees much like the characters at Disney World.
The immersive experience will be enhanced by sound effects and visuals throughout the convention, Larson says. “When you walk in, you will hear the streets of London throughout the halls — the horses, the steam carriages, all that kind of stuff.”
This year, Larson promises a jaw-dropping surprise in the final presentation, where the true villain of the story will be revealed. “The last two minutes of the convention is the payoff,” he says. This will set up the story for TeslaCon 10 in 2019, which is themed “Murder on the Orient Express.”
The decade-long narrative will end with TeslaCon 10, he says, but “it’s not going to end the convention.” A new story cycle will commence in 2020, beginning with a musical called “Mary Bobbins.” He describes the character as “a pseudo Mary Poppins, but it’s not the same story at all. She’s similar, but she’s an automaton.” During a panel on the last day, attendees will get to vote for story ideas at events after 2020.
In addition to the dramatic presentations, TeslaCon will feature a large and varied program of panels, dinners, and other activities. They include:
• The Official Royal Ascot Race Ball, featuring a children’s choir, hat contest, horse races (with inflatable horses and sound effects), and music by Vardo, TeslaCon’s “Official Steampunk Orchestra.”
Prior to the ball, dance instructor Jason Ottmann will teach attendees a new “Cog Song” dance for the evening’s performance. “If you see it aerially, it will look like people are moving like clockwork on the dance floor,” Larson says.
• Four panels with Author Guest of Honor Gail Carriger. Three will focus on her series Parasol Protectorate, Finishing School, and Custard Protocol respectively, with Airship Ambassador Kevin Steil serving as moderator. In the fourth, Carriger and Steil will discuss 19th century food recipes. Carriger will also host two Tea and Crumpets events that require separate tickets.
• Four panels about Jack the Ripper, focusing on the victims, the suspects, the East End neighborhood where he committed the murders, and other serial killers of the era.
• “Iron Taxonomist,” in which volunteers choose strange steampunk contraptions they haven’t seen before. Each has five to 10 minutes to craft a description. Then they present the device to the audience, and “people can ask questions about it,” Larson says.
• The Promethean Society’s 8th Annual Fair of Mad Science, with “mad inventions” that can include props as well as working gadgets.
• Teapot Racing and Newtonian Races. Larson describes Newtonian Races as a steampunk version of “Pine Car Derby” in which the vehicles are constructed from teacups. They’re propelled by gravity instead of motors. This year, the racecourse will include a recreation of Stonehenge.
• “How to Grow a Mighty Moustache,” with tips and tricks for “growing and maintaining elegant facial hair.” This will be followed by the BrassGears Adventurers Society Moustache Contest.
• Sean Patrick Little’s presentation of Lord Bobbins and the Dome of Light, his new novel based on the storyline at TeslaCon. It will be released shortly before the event.
• “Alter Your Corset for Your Mastectomy,” presented by breast cancer survivor Deborah Gerard.
Celebrity maker Thomas Willeford is scheduled to present two panels, and Lord Bobbins will host one on “The Costumes of Downton Abbey.” Other panels will explore various aspects of history, literature, crafting, costuming, culture, science, and technology in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In contrast to other conventions, Larson schedules each panel for 90 minutes instead of the typical hour. This includes 15 minutes for Q&A and 15 minutes for cleanup.
The first day’s program begins at 2 p.m. Festivities start at 9:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday, and 9 a.m. on Sunday. The full schedule will be posted on the website and Facebook page before the convention.
It’s mostly a family-friendly event, but some panels have age restrictions.
TeslaCon will also have two rooms for vendors. “Beside the panels, my dealers are my second line of entertainment,” he says.
Whereas past Teslacons have sold out, Larson says they’ll be selling tickets through the start of the convention. He expects about 1000 to attend.
Tickets for the full convention cost $65. They’re available on Eventbrite. A tea room pass costs an additional $15. Day passes will be sold onsite.
Related story: Larson is making plans to launch a West Coast version of TeslaCon, likely in spring 2020. He’ll be doing it in partnership with Airship Ambassador Kevin Steil. Read about it here.
Photos used by permission of TeslaCon. They’re from past events.
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