Steampunk Willie: A look inside Madison’s TeslaCon
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Steampunk is a science fiction genre on the rise. Of course, it’s been that way for over two decades. Steampunk touches upon several authors like H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, and mixes in metal limbs and giant airships with high collars and repressed sexuality. But what makes steampunk impressive is that it has no central text. There’s no Lord Of The Rings book or Star Trek TV series for fans to worship and bitch about. The few attempts that Hollywood has made in recent years to cater to the genre have blown up, underperformed, or, in the case of Jonah Hex, both.
Eric Larson took part in a steampunk LARP four years ago. He finished a run as the director of FilmCon in Madison, and was looking for a new project. He enjoyed the LARP, but wanted to do something bigger. That something bigger involved a multimedia production called TeslaCon. The first TeslaCon expanded the idea of a LARP beyond just imagining that a conference room was an exotic location. It involved sound effects, visual effects, and dedicated performers on stage for hours at a time. The public responded: In three short years, 400 con goers became 1,400 expected attendees for this year’s show, TeslaCon: A Trip To The Moon, Nov. 30-Dec. 2 at the Madison Marriott West hotel.
Walt Disney is a name that comes up often in discussing the con. Like Disney’s theme parks, TeslaCon offers a completely immersive experience. There’s an audio file meant to be played during the drive up to the door. Professional actors play the main roles. The main characters are active any time they are in public. Those main characters present a script throughout the weekend that ends in a short film. Staged fights break out in the hall. Attendees can watch the show or interact with it. Whereas LARPs require participants to buy in, this is a show on a grand scale. The con runs a full 24 hours for the costumed staff. Shirts are pressed and starched overnight to make sure those costumes are sharp the next day.
Most cons offer a mix of panels, vendors, and experiences. TeslaCon does these things with its own flair. Many of the panels involve the Victorian era, and there’s a wide mix of panels ranging from light subjects (how to be a proper villain) to dark subjects (Victorian funeral rites). People come from 40 states and four countries to attend these panels. Many of the panelists, when not wearing a mix of top hats and gears, are scholars of great renown in the real world.
People looking for unique parties can marvel at the Masquerade Ball. Many of the attendees come in costumes that cost thousands of dollars. The Ball is the perfect place to show off such costumes. This year includes a full orchestra playing music for the ball. It is a three-hour show, but the music doesn’t stop there. For members of the convention looking for a lower-class experience, the steerage ball begins. Livelier music, bawdier atmosphere, and a chance to dance like Leonardo DiCaprio await those staying up late.
The window for attending the con is closing, and only a few general admission passes are still available. Tickets for TeslaCon 2013 go on sale the day after this year’s show, and Larson has ambitious plans for the next few years. He still has plenty of secrets in store for 2012, but by the time he announces them, the show may already be at capacity. If that happens, the only way to see the spectacle of TeslaCon: A Trip To The Moon will be to whip up a time machine.