By MIKE CHAIKEN
On Saturday, the cultural movement known as Steampunk takes over the New England Carousel Museum.
The event is a benefit held by Brass Ring Academy and Cabaret on behalf of the Bristol institution to help with roof repairs on the Riverside Avenue building.
The benefit will feature authors, performers, and presenters knowledgeable in the Steampunk genre. There will be an all-ages day of classes, a High Tea, and an evening of performances for ages 18 and up.
When asked how the gathering evolved, Lauren Grover of Brass Ring Academy and Cabaret explained, “Over the past several years, I’ve gone to many gatherings of creative types, from science fiction conventions, to geek and maker gatherings, to Renaissance faires. At all of them, Steampunk has been increasingly popular.”
“When I go out-of-state, many of the people I see at these events are people from around this area, so it seemed natural to hold something closer to home,” said Grover.
“I originally wanted to just have an evening party with performances,” explained Grover.
“But as I started talking to people, I realized that the Hartford area in particular is incredibly rich with resources about historical Victoriana,” said Grover.
“The event grew quickly from just the cabaret to the full academy, with an incredible slate of classes from some of the top names in their fields,” said Grover.
“I want to introduce the people who like the Neo-Victorian look but don’t know much about how to pull it off, to the people who know a great deal about history but don’t have much of a chance to play with it imaginatively, and see what fun they can have together.”
Bristol’s carousel museum seemed like a perfect fit for the Steampunk academy and cabaret, said Grover. “The building was made during the Victorian period, and the original beams and ironwork and all the gorgeous carousel horses make a perfect backdrop for us. Steampunk people love anything made of brass, and the firefighting museum is one big room of random brass instruments. It’s fascinating.”
Additionally, Grover said, the museum “had the same educational idea I had- to make history fun- it seemed a natural fit.”
The decision to turn the event in a benefit began when the group learned the museum’s roof needed a helping hand, said Grover.
Asked to define Steampunk to those outside of that universe, Grover explained, “Steampunk is part of a larger movement of retro-futurism. A quote that’s being passed around recently is ‘What if the future had happened sooner?’ What if modern technology had happened while the Western world was still culturally Victorian, and everything was brass and steam powered instead of steel and electronics? What if Jules Verne and H.G. Wells and Mary Shelley were reporters and not fiction writers? Playing dress-up in corsets and top hats is a great deal of fun, and then we add airships and ray guns and clockwork computers.”
In terms of popularity, said Grover, “I don’t have a way to compare the popularity of people who already know they like Steampunk, but I have definitely found a large group of people in Connecticut who enjoy things that Steampunk people would also be delighted by. For example, the state has two Victorian-era baseball teams who play exhibition games in period costumes by period rules. We have a Steampunk cafe on the shoreline, a Steampunk soda fountain in a mall, and several art exhibits on the theme each year. “
And why does the world need a day of classes and lectures on this throwback-yet-futuristic universe?
“The large majority of the classes at Brass Ring aren’t specifically Steampunk, but historical,” explained Grover. “Part of the fun of Steampunk is taking authentic historical stuff and putting a twist on it, so the more we actually know, the better we can do that.”
“For example,” she explained, “airships— blimps used like airplanes— are a staple of the Steampunk genre. We have a class on how they might have actually worked, and why they didn’t catch on in real life. If I was interested in aviation, or military history, or physics, or was writing a story that took place on an airship, I’d love to be in that class.”
“Someone could come to Brass Ring and learn how to build a costume based on period clothing, then how to outfit herself with futuristic brass gadgetry, then how to use her fan to gesture to someone she wanted to meet later, then how to defend herself against ruffians using her parasol,” said Grover.
As for the lecturers, Grover said, “I wrote to everyone who I thought I personally would like to take a class from, and I was astonished to get so many positive and enthusiastic responses back. These are all people who are well-known in their field, and are starting to be well-known outside it. Mark P. Donnelly was recently featured in the Wall Street Journal for his teaching of Bartitsu, the martial art mentioned in Sherlock Holmes books. Thomas Willeford’s amazing brass and leather constructs have been seen on several television shows in the last few years. There’s dancing and etiquette and fairy lore, and even a make-it-and-take-it to build your own foam goggles. I am excited to have a range from technical to active, and super historical to complete fantasy, so there really is something for everyone. “
Besides the classes in the day, the evening will feature a variety of entertainment for patrons.
“We feature five acts. Daniel Greenwolf is well-known in the area and is starting to be known across the country for his fun and energetic magic shows. He’s doing a class on stage magic, during the day, then the evening show will be classic and new illusions like we might have seen in Houdini’s time. White Elephant Burlesque is a troupe from New Jersey that specialize in theatrical and dramatic burlesque scenes. They’re a little naughty and a lot of fun. Them Damn Hamiltons is a local band that plays dark, dreamy indie folk rock. Desert Moon Dancers will present a series of performances inspired by Little Egypt and Sol Bloom, the man who invented the term ‘belly dance’ in 1893. Frenchy and the Punk is a rock band with a Steampunk theme. They are loud and smart and will have you dancing and laughing the night away. The vendors from the day will also be open all night, and offer everything from raw materials to build your own clothing and gear, to jewelry, hats, and accessories, to finely detailed art pieces of incredible craftsmanship.”
And if you’re not a fan of steampunk, why will the day appeal to you? “Even though the concept of this and much of the costuming is Steampunk, I am confident that someone interested in strict history will find more than enough to make them happy- and then maybe they’ll leave with a new pair of brass goggles. The people who already love the genre will find a great combination of favorites from other events and new people with great information and ideas. And of course, it supports a fabulous museum, so it’s a win for everyone involved.”
On Saturday, Jan. 4 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., the Brass Ring Academy and Cabaret will present a day of classes as a benefit for the New England Carousel Museum at the museum, 95 Riverside Ave., Bristol. Period dress or costumes are not required but are highly encouraged. Evening performances begin at 6 p.m. For ticket sales and further information, go to www.BrassRingCT.com
By MIKE CHAIKEN