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Sparks Will Fly at Reno Steam Fest

Yule Steam Expo and Ball is the major annual steampunk event for northern Nevada

Wednesday, November 7, 2018
Professor Sparks and Miss Electra

Sparks will fly as the Yule Steam Expo and Ball takes place November 17-18 at the Wilbur D. May Museum in Reno, Nevada. That’s “Sparks” as in Professor Sparks, aka John “Grizzy” Grzywacz, who will present a live stage performance with high-voltage electrical devices. The expo will also feature music, panels, workshops, an art exhibit, a curated vendor room, a fashion show and more. Presented by High Desert Steam, it’s the major annual steampunk event for northern Nevada.

Strangely Doesburg, known for his comedy and “roaring accordion” music, will serve as MC. He’ll offer performances at the start and end of the event.

Professor Sparks

Professor Sparks will take the stage Saturday at 10:30 a.m., followed by an afternoon encore and two shows on Sunday. Entitled “Dr. Frankenstein’s Laboratory,” his performance features devices that were used to produce electrical special effects in vintage films such as Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein.

The performance is themed to the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. It will be the West Coast debut for the Professor, who has also appeared at the Big River Steampunk Festival in Hannibal, Missouri.

The Saturday evening ball will feature dancing, a cash bar and a costume contest. DJ Khaleesi will serve up the tunes. The costume contest winner will receive the “Mary Friggin’ Crawley” award, named for the founder of High Desert Steam. Crawley is the contest’s sole judge.

Attendees can receive dance lessons at a Saturday afternoon presentation featuring live music from the 1910s through 1940s.

Other highlights include:

Tentacle Dress

• A steampunk fashion show led by professional costumer Cindy Joy, aka Madame Euphoria Huffen-Bustle (shown here). It will include her own designs as well as pieces from PolyEsther’s Costume Boutique and Fabrefaction Studio.

• Presentations by authors Kirsten Weiss, Dover Whitecliff, and Sumiko Saulson. They include “Women in Horror” (Saulson); “Steampunk Haiku” (Whitecliff); “DIY Secret Societies” (Weiss); and “Building a Better Book Cover” (Weiss and Whitecliff). In addition, Buffie Peters will present a “Meet the Editor” Q&A for “local and aspiring authors.”

• “Make and take” kitchen workshops on aromatic bitters and boutique gins, presented by High Desert Botanicals. Each workshop costs $15, or $12 for High Desert Steam members. High Desert Botanicals will also host a Portrait and Alchemical Emporium with backdrops for photo ops.

“Make Your Own Resin Cameo,” a make-and-take workshop presented by Clockwork Monster. The cost is $8 ($5 for HDS members).

• “Songs and Stories” by Fly By Knight Players, a comedic theatrical group that performs at Renaissance Fairs and other events.

“Junk to Gems,” with tips by featured artist Fred Jeska on how to make steampunk crafts from inexpensive items.

Also on the program are presentations on swordplay, leather craft, belly dancing, and tea accessories.

In a departure from most conventions, each panel and workshop has its own Eventbrite page for making reservations. High Desert Steam chair Shelly Jackson is encouraging attendees to reserve spots in advance, but it’s not mandatory. You can find links in this Facebook post (the links above will also take you to the Eventbrite pages).

Steampunk creations by Burning Man artist Killbuck (shown below) will be on display throughout the convention.

Attendees are asked to bring donations for the Children’s Cabinet, a local non-profit. They can be unwrapped toys, gift cards or monetary donations. For each dollar of value, you will receive a raffle ticket.


About the Setting

Best known for its casinos, Reno is the hub of a region that has an active steampunk community. Part of this is due to the proximity of Burning Man, which is held about 100 miles north. “The Burning Man Community infuses our area with a constant flow of creativity and whimsy,” Jackson says.

The region also has numerous cosplay enthusiasts. Each December, the city hosts the Reno Santa Pub Crawl, in which people dressed as Santa Claus visit bars in the downtown area.

Founded eight years ago, High Desert Steam once hosted four annual events, but combined them into a single event as interest in steampunk has waned. “Regionally, I would say that people still love steampunk here,” Jackson says. “There are several stores in our trendy parts of town that cater to the style, new artists still coming out of the woodwork, and fresh faces at events. It’s lost the ‘trendy’ element that made us so big about four or five years ago, but things always come and go in waves.”


The $39 weekend pass includes both expo days and the Saturday evening ball. A weekend expo-only pass costs $15. Day passes and “Ball Only” passes are also available. Prices go up about 20 percent at the door. You can order tickets from the Eventbrite page.

The Wilbur D. May Museum is located at Rancho San Rafael Regional Park, 1595 N Sierra St, Reno, NV 89503.

Photos used by permission of High Desert Steam.

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