Monday, January 14, 2013

Her Royal Majesty's Steampunk Symposium Event Recap - An @LinerNotes Bonus Track

"Have you seen my rat?"

Welcome to another edition of Bonus Tracks, where the music-centric focus of this blog takes a left turn into other lands of awesome and often geeky adventure. This time, adventure is quite literally the theme, as I recap the events of a weekend spent aboard the Queen Mary, in attendance of the 2013 edition of Her Royal Majesty's Steampunk Symposium. Come inside and find out the story behind that incredibly epic picture above. Goggles not required.

For the uninitiated, steampunk, in the simplest terms, is a hybrid genre of science fiction, set during an alternate version of the Victorian era, with an emphasis on steam powered technology. Now, to be fair, that is a very oversimplified description, but should help a bit if the term is new to you. I say this because there were more than a few quizzical looks and questions from non-convention goer's who were also staying on board the Queen Mary during the weekend. 

This year marked the second edition of Her Royal Majesty's Steampunk Symposium. While I was unable to attend last year, from everything I heard from two-time attendees, it was even better this time around and my experience this weekend supported their conclusions.

For starters, I can think of no better place than The Queen Mary to hold a steampunk fan convention. From the Art Deco architecture to the ornate woodwork to be found around the ship, the entire experience was made so much more "real" by having the event at this location. Indeed, after a few hours aboard, and especially during the evening events, when the thick portals distorted much of the outside world, you well and truly felt like you were transported to another time, which is entirely the point of an event such as this. It's like the Disneyland Effect; that moment when you feel truly disconnected from the real world.

Queen Victoria and her Royal Court

Another thing which added to the realness and separated this event from similar one's I've attended, was the inclusion of a Royal Court, complete with actors portraying steampunked variations on young Queen Victoria and her family. This made the event similar in theme to the annual Southern California Renaissance Pleasure Faire and the innumerable faires like it across the country, where one of the highlights is watching the performance of the actress cast as Queen Elizabeth I. While I was not selected to be presented to the Queen formally, I was greeted by her mother, the Duchess of Kent, during one of the evening events. I tip my hat to the actress portraying her, as she played her part quite well.

The weekend was programmed wall-to-wall (or rather, port to starboard) with events and activities. Beyond the mandatory vendors room (which was open to the public and not just paid attendees; another very smart decision), there were panels, workshops, readings and autograph signings. Everything one would expect from a fan convention. However, one could go even deeper down the rabbit hole if one chose. If you were interested in LARP'ing, there were several to participate in. Fancy a go at solving an H.G. Wells-inspired murder mystery inside the engine room of the Queen Mary? You could do that too (which was one of the few things I didn't participate in that I wish I had).

Of particular interest to this music writer, were the large number of live concerts which took place during the weekend. I was fortunate enough to take in sets from Lee Presson and the Nails, Steam Powered Giraffe and even several very niche and underground artists over the course of the event. Without a doubt though, the most magical performance I was lucky enough to experience was given by cellist-singer, Unwoman, which took place inside the boiler room of the decommissioned luxury liner. I will include all the details in my full review of the set in another post, but suffice it to say, this was an early front runner for one of the best live music performances of the year for me.

The musical automatons known as Steam Powered Giraffe

Friday night featured a dinner complete with comedy, magic, knife throwing (yipes!) and music acts held in the Grand Salon of the Queen Mary. As a regular attendee of the Southern California Renaissance Pleasure Faire, I was very excited to see the interactive comedy duo known as The Washing Well Wenches bring their act indoors for this event. The evening also featured sets of music from a band I was hitherto unfamiliar with named Cirque Noir which had a dude in a bunny head mask on bass (yes really) and from the evening's star attraction, San Diego's Steam Powered Giraffe, who delivered a fantastic performance. I will expand upon both groups' performances in a separate review.

One of Saturday's main events for television fans was a chance to meet the creators and cast of the upcoming steampunk-themed show, Bruce Boxleitner's Lantern City. It was particularly exciting to see this panel, since despite the series still being in the development stage, it has already amassed nearly 659,000 Twitter followers. To put that in perspective, that is over five times the Twitter followers of HBO's hit series Girls, and more than double the followers of ABC's Once Upon a Time, which has featured two Lantern City cast members, Tony Amendola and Raphael Sbarge. I was very excited to learn from this panel that Lantern City would reunite Bruce Boxleitner with his Babylon 5 co-star Mira Furlan. Both Boxleitner and co-creator and executive producer Trevor Crafts impressed the assembled attendees with their revelations about the series and receptiveness during the Q&A portion. You can find out more about Bruce Boxleitner's Lantern City, right here.

Impressive concept art from Bruce Boxleitner's Lantern City

Saturday night's featured event was a masquerade ball, where Unwoman performed again, followed by two sets from Lee Presson and the Nails. I'd not yet had a chance to see these unsung heroes of the 90's Swing revival in a live setting and, without giving too much away from the forthcoming review, let's just say that despite being very ill, Lee Presson soldiered on to give a performance which would put many other live acts to shame with the showmanship he displayed.

Lee Presson and The Nails

The masquerade ball also afforded an up close opportunity for convention attendees to meet and photograph the magnificent birds of the SkyKing Raptors rescue group, the convention's featured charity organization. It was a rare treat to be able to be face to face with these wondrous creatures of nature.

A Barbary Falcon from SkyKing Raptors

The masquerade was also where I encountered a very colourful vendor and his very well behaved rat companion. During the day, the cute little things was a rather effective murine mascot of the vendor's booth, but at the ball, it sat atop his top hat, wearing its own tiny top hat. The next day I encountered the duo again, dressed in matching pirate outfits. Coat and tricorn and all.

Sunday is generally a winding down day for most conventions. Not so with Her Royal Majesty's Steampunk Symposium. In addition to a full schedule of events and panels, many attendees took the day to explore the Queen Mary, decked out in their steampunk outfits and accoutrements. The highlight though was the very first event of the day, where, if you hadn't overslept from the previous night's revels, you could attend the C'thulhu Prayer Breakfast. Yes, it is exactly what it sounds like and even more hilarious than expected. Presided over by Bishop Ichabod Oddbody, the breakfast featured Lovecraftian-themed hymns, orations, a performance by The Slow Poisoner and a trivia contest. The highlight though was the tentacle-in-cheek sermon given by Bishop Oddbody, which, if you are a fan of the writings of H.P. Lovecraft as I am, were even funnier than if you didn't know the source material.

Give me that really old time religion. Bishop Ichabod Oddbody and the Amorphous Tabernacle Choir

One of the great things about attending a fan convention of any sort, especially dressed in costume, are the unplanned interactions between attendees and muggles in the vicinity. While the majority of the Queen Mary's guests this weekend were convention goer's there were a handful of guests and many visitors who cast curious looks (the brave even asked questions) at people dressed as everything from adventurers, mad scientists, airship pirates, gear-enhanced Victorian ladies, undertakers, cowboys and even a woman-cat-hybrid escapee from the Island of Dr. Moreau. The opportunities for people watching for both conventioneers and muggles alike were vast.

Major props must be given to the organizers and volunteers of Her Royal Majesty's Steampunk Symposium for all their hard work in making such a fantastically fun weekend event a reality. It was also most impressive how several members of the Queen Mary staff played right along with the costumed assemblage. In the interest of full disclosure, I was a paid attendee of Her Royal Majesty's Steampunk Symposium, and not there as invited media. I can honestly say that I am already looking forward to attending next year's event, and I haven't even unpacked yet.

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