A history lesson, Steampunk-style



When this year’s Brass Ring Academy and Cabaret arrives at the New England Carousel Museum later this month, the event will be more than just a costume party for aficionados of the subculture known as Steampunk.

As Lauren Grover, the organizer of the event, explained in an email interview, there will be an opportunity for guests to take a history lesson or two.

Grover explained in an email interview that the two-day event in Bristol, which starts Jan. 20, is framed within the Steampunk genre. But the many classes and activities offered at the museum will hold appeal to fans of history and Victoriana, whether or not they want to dress in as a character from the world of Steampunk when they come to the Mum City.

In addition to classes that help visitors craft their own Steampunk gear, such as how to make a medal or make your own working spy glasses, there are classes about the women’s suffragette movement of the Victorian age, the history of hypnotism, and a discussion on how “The Wizard of Oz” helped inspire Steampunk.

Like many of the guests at the Brass Ring Academy, Grover is making her own list of what classes she wants to attend.

“I only wish we had three weekends, so I could attend everything,” said Grover. “We have 38 hours of really terrific historical and creative programming, so it’s really hard to pick stand-outs.”

“Our period martial arts expert, Mark P. Donnelly, is creating a class on fighting with sword canes that will see its worldwide debut at our event,” said Grover. “We have author Dennis Anfuso coming to talk about the Oz books by L. Frank Baum, and well known local Steampunk artist Joey Marsocci from Grymm Studios will be teaching some of his amazing creature and prop building techniques.”

Grover also is taking up the professorial gauntlet as well at the Brass Ring Academy. “I am teaching a workshop this year myself, on quilling- a paper filigree art that was a very popular pastime for Victorian ladies- in which we’ll be making jewelry,” said Grover.

One new wrinkle this year for the Brass Ring Academy and Cabaret is the introduction of “Steampunk: The Next Generation! The Isaak Greenstone Creative Arts Exhibition for Students.” It’s an opportunity for the Steampunk event to reach out to younger people. The opportunity, as far as Grover knows, is a new wrinkle for Steampunk gathering.

The hope, said Grover, is “twofold.”

“First,” she said, “if I can help encourage a love of history, a curiosity about the world as it is and was, and inspire people to create something new, well that’s really what our event has always been about. I’m just reaching out to younger people this time.”

“Second,” said Grover, “I’ve always thought it unfortunate that although most kids love to play and imagine, as they grow up, they are encouraged to leave behind these ‘childish’ things that give them joy. I want to encourage people of all ages to come, and to see (and be!) a group of adults that are both grown-up and still loving that learning and creating.”

“I feel it’s desperately important to encourage young people to ask questions, and to think about things in their own ways,” said Grover. “Maybe today they’re drawing a picture of an imaginary steam-powered airship, and then in 10 years, they’re designing the first electric car with a 3,000 mile battery. Today, they write a slice-of-life historical story about how a servant girl would get up before dawn to start breakfast for the family she works for, and then by the time she’s 30, she’s developed a new way to get fresh produce into inner city food deserts.”

“With this exhibition,” said Grover. “I’m saying ‘Yes, design,’ ‘Yes, create,’ ‘Yes, be silly and dance and play dress up,’ ‘Yes, dream,’ and ‘Yes. be surrounded by people who will encourage you to do that at the event and in real life.’”

“I hope the domino effect of inspiration continues,” after the introduction of the student event, said Grover. “I want someone who’s there for the Victorian history content to see something an enterprising third grader did and write a best selling novel based on it. I want the third grader to fall in love with one of our classes, and go on to get a Ph.D. in the subject. “

As far as what she expects to see in the students’ exhibition, Grover said she had no idea. “That’s really exciting. I find that people who are new to a concept tend to come up with the most terrific new ideas. When a genre has been around long enough to become a genre in and of itself, it develops tropes and a sort of visual shorthand that is fun and recognizeable, but after a while, it’s predictable. I love not being able to predict what people will create.”

In addition to the classes and history lessons, the Brass Ring event will hold a cabaret with a slew of band’s sympathetic to the world of Steampunk, such as This Way To The Egress, Them Damn Hamiltons, White Elephant Burlesque Society, and the Eternal Frontier.

“One big change that we’re having from last year is that our cabaret headliners, This Way To The Egress, will also be playing a concert on Sunday, so they can be seen by people who can’t come to the evening part of the show,” said Grover.

Brass Ring Academy and Cabaret will be held Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 20 and 21 at the New England Carousel Museum, 95 Riverside Ave., Bristol.

The Academy is Saturday, Jan. 20 from10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and is all ages.

The Cabaret is Saturday, Jan. 20 from 7 to 11:30 p.m., and is 18-plus.

The Workshop is Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and is all ages.

Admission to Saturday’s and Sunday’s Academy for one day only is $21 ($16 for ages 11 to 16) and . The Cabaret is $21. For more information, visit www.brassringct.com.

The Eternal Frontier serenades last year’s Brass Ring Academy and Cabaret at the New England Carousel Museum. The event returns to Bristol on Jan. 20. (FILE PHOTO)