What does it take to run geek/nerd/steampunk conventions at hotels?

What does it take to run geek/nerd/steampunk conventions at hotels?

Winter landscape with old hotel at nightWhen people say, “What does it take to run weekend-long Steampunk, Fairy, or Goth events,” I generally say:

A hotel that actually WANTS your weird friends to hang out in it.

This is more unusual than you’d expect..  If you’ve not booked a hotel before, your feeling might be, “Well, it’s business; you’re bringing them money; they’re in business to make money, right?”

But it’s not unlike, say, restaurants that wouldn’t serve longhaired hippie folks in the 60s, or clubs that wouldn’t let you in unless you were wearing day-glow naugahyde pants with a purple polyester shirt..  They feel they have a certain image to maintain, and they make certain assumptions about who and what you are..  Hotels are often scared that your strange people will scare off their corporate clients.

Sure, your strange people are ALSO their corporate clients, and hotels are slowly learning that some of the businesspeople in suits and ties during the week ARE the ones showing up in Steampunk Pokemon outfits on the weekends, and they don’t appreciate having hotels condescend to them or their friends..  But that learning process is extremely slow, and sometimes it moves backwards..  There are still people in corporate boardrooms (and not always the oldest or most old-fashioned) who fear that potential “normal” clients will see your “weird” clients and decide not to patronize their hotel.

(By the way, the popular euphemism for scifi, geek, fantasy, horror, and other conventions and festivals, in the hotel business, is often “association groups”..  Don’t be surprised to hear yourselves called that.)

There’s also still a general belief that we’re the troublemakers.. It’s certainly true that some of our folks party (and, indeed, I would NEVER have expected how hard nerds party; that IS true).  But we’re seldom the ones making trouble, because we’re all really invested in coming back, and in seeing hotels welcome our kind.

Wedding parties, on the other hand?  Wedding parties are a holy terror.   If you’re ever in the position to speak to a hotel about holding an event, and they ask if your people are problematic, you can say, “Some of our people party, but not to excess.  You and I both know that a single wedding party will cause you as much trouble as any three association groups put together”.  Because it’s true – you get wedding people who feel it’s their genuine duty to party, and who may never see that hotel again; they certainly are hoping that their event only happens once.  So they’re not invested in coming back!

But even now, even with the rise of fandom, even with the recognition of fandom, even in a world where, say, I can tell a hotel, “It’s a Steampunk event”, and there’s a chance they’ll know what I mean before I even explain it–

it’s still a core rule.  Parts of society don’t accept us.  And you know, if the people at your local diner look at you funny, maybe you patronize that diner anyway because they’ve got good coffee or something.  But NEVER, if you have any way of avoiding it, go to a hotel that doesn’t respect and WANT your business.  Because they just won’t take care of you and your attendees, and that will hurt your event, no matter what else happens.

I’m pretty lucky – the two primary hotel organizations I work with have been partners with me for a long time–one for over six years, one for almost twenty!  And to be honest, I’ll follow good management to a new hotel.  Because the core remains the same:

A good event makes a home for people who have trouble feeling at home elsewhere.  Find a hotel that wants to help you do that.

~Jeff Mach

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Jeff Mach runs Jeff Mach Events, which in turn runs the world’s largest Steampunk event, The Steampunk World’s Fair; the peculiar Faerie festival Glimmerdark, and co-runs Dark Side Of The Con (with VampireFreaks).  He’s on Twitter @steamworldsfair.

 

How to make a great Steampunk costume

How to make a great Steampunk costume

There’s a lot of discussion about whether or not Steampunk dress is “costume”, and I have a firm opinion, which is: I don’t care.  If someone wants to dress in a Steampunk manner for fun, for fashion, as a lifestyle choice, as an identity, or because it makes them feel good, I say: “Go for it!”  And I’ll tell you how.

Want to know how to dress like a Steampunk?

Get some goggles.

Does that sound like a cliche?  Does that sound too easy?  Here’s the deal:  It’s only as cliche’d as what you choose to do with it.  Steampunk is not a Game of Goggles; it’s not a place where you gain respect by having the fanciest or most expensive stuff, nor lose respect by having the simplest and most inexpensive. You gain respect based on who you are and what you do.

I know – that sounds like a fantasy, right?  It’s not because Steampunks are better than other people – it’s not because Steampunks don’t judge by appearance or money or fashion; all humans do that, to some extent.  It’s because you can’t “win” Steampunk.  You can’t say “My Steampunk is better than everyone else’s” – I mean, you can, but then other people won’t want to play with you.

Steampunk grew up in the age of the Internet, when it’s incredibly easy to mock things or criticize.  But it lives at gatherings, dinners, festivals, conventions, concerts, and shows – social spaces where you see each other, face to face.  Internet trolling happens because it’s faceless and anonymous and easy and you don’t have to deal with consequences.  But some of the greatest fun and greatest fulfillment happens in person, and that means that we share our work and discuss things on the Internet, knowing we’ll probably meet up, or have friends who meet up, someday.

And that makes us accountable.  It means our choices matter.

And so, given the choice to be nice or not, we choose nice because it’s how we want to be treated ourselves.

So seriously, for costuming: Just start off with some goggles.  Buy ’em, make ’em, facepaint ’em on – it doesn’t matter.  The goggles just open the door; the best Steampunk costumes are the ones worn by our friends, because friends make us happier than even the shiniest of shiny things.

Oh, and top hats.  Top hats are also pretty cool.

 

~Jeff Mach

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Jeff Mach runs Jeff Mach Events, which in turn runs the world’s largest Steampunk event, The Steampunk World’s Fair; the peculiar Faerie festival Glimmerdark, and co-runs Dark Side Of The Con (with VampireFreaks).  He’s on Twitter @steamworldsfair.

Why goggles, anyway?

Why goggles, anyway?

Steampunk performer wearing goggles

This photo is the talented Psyche Corporation; it’s a self-portrait.

Of all the symbols Steampunk could have – why goggles?  Of all the things needed to complete a Steampunk outfit, why do goggles top the list?  They’re not even functional items for us.  They’re not boots that help us walk through Renfaire mud; they’re not flasks for convention enjoyment.  They’re not cosplay of Steampunk’s big heroes, because Steampunk isn’t dominated by big characters in the same way that comic book or scifi or fantasy franchises are.

So–why goggles?

Because the retrofuture’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.

Sorry – that’s a reference to a 1980s novelty hit song.  But honestly, I’m a little serious about this theory.  What if it’s true?

Sunglasses make you look cooler, even if you’re actually, genuinely wearing them to block the sun.  Goggle?  Goggles make you think of people who fly aircraft (planes, hot-air balloons, dirigibles) – people who make and forge things, and, of course, mad scientists.

Goggles are for people who change the world around them.  They’re for people who adventure to new places.  They’re for people who make things that haven’t existed before, or work hard to keep the strange engines of a new world up and running.

Do you need to wear or have goggles to be a Steampunk?  Absolutely not; Steampunk is a state of mind and creativity; you can dress the part if you want, but that’s not important.  What matters is accepting other Steampunks and taking part in our nigh-infinite worlds of peculiar creativity.

But that is my own personal pet theory.  We wear goggles because they’re badges of Makers, Doers, Dreamers, and Creators.  They’re marks of people whose imagination throws off so many sparks that we need imaginary eye protection…just to be on the safe side.

(And the top hats are, of course, to protect us against the possibility that brilliant ideas will enter our head with such force that they’d flatten our skulls if we didn’t have some sort of clothing to protect them.  That makes sense, doesn’t it?)

~Jeff Mach

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Jeff Mach runs Jeff Mach Events, which in turn runs the world’s largest Steampunk event, The Steampunk World’s Fair; the peculiar Faerie festival Glimmerdark, and co-runs Dark Side Of The Con (with VampireFreaks).  He’s on Twitter @steamworldsfair.

My Steampunk is without regrets

My Steampunk is without regrets

Steampunk! Dancing! Mythology!

Jeff Mach is ridden by a Dragon at Glimmerdark Misfit Faerie Festival.. Imagination is triumphant. We live and love in joy.

My Steampunk could be easier to see in a bunch of pictures, or a Facebook post.  Facebook’s algorithm really will pick up on goggles and grab, because that’s what Facebook wants – gorgeous, magnificent, strange Steampunk stuff.  Not some event promoter in a t-shirt.

My Steampunk could be simpler.

My songs could all be about pistons and oil.

I could write about gears and mad scientists all day long.

I could cater to every Steampunk stereotype, and people would love it – not because people are conformists, but because we are a tribe, a tribe that’s small and close-knit and we are excited to see tribal symbols in ourselves in each others.  Goggles, top hats, corsets?  You must be one of us.  T-shirt and a funny hat?  We’re not so sure, and it’s hard to put yourself out there for someone who might not love you as much as you are ready to love and join with them.

I don’t care.

Your Steampunk is magic.

Your Steampunk is power.

Your Steampunk is you, individually, by yourself, made by you, accountable only to you – and it is your admission, your declaration, your contribution to our wild Steampunk tribe.

Steampunk has limits, sure, but we break them, shatter them, leave them behind.

Create Steampunk.  Create the Steampunk you want.  And have no regrets.  None.

Make Steampunk your own.  You deserve it.  Make it bigger and better, and we will love you for it.  That’s the secret.

No fear. No regret.  Just creativity.  And that’s more than enough.

 

Grinding gears and mechanical stars,

~Jeff Mach

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Jeff Mach runs Jeff Mach Events, which in turn runs the world’s largest Steampunk event, The Steampunk World’s Fair; the peculiar Faerie festival Glimmerdark, and co-runs Dark Side Of The Con (with VampireFreaks).  He’s on Twitter @steamworldsfair.

To tell the truth, I’ve never felt I fit in anywhere

To tell the truth, I’ve never felt I fit in anywhere

“Steampunk isn’t about fitting in.  Steampunk is about refitting – the Universe, the past, your clothes, your idea of how to have fun, your ability to make stories, everything.”
― Jeff Mach, The Steampunk World’s Fair

“But you don’t have to fit in to be okay. Believe me! I am the not-fitting-in world expert. I have not fit in in maybe five different countries so far. I am homelandless. I even make mistakes when I speak Bulgarian. But it’s not big deal, not really. It’s not the end of the world, right? It’s okay.”
― Anne Nesbet, “The Cabinet of Earths”

I’ve never really felt I fit in.  I’ve never really felt at home in groups, even though I love groups, even though my life’s work depends on bringing people together into large groups and making them feel as safe, excited, and happy as possible.

But I’ve never felt at home anywhere.

Which is odd, because I now have a lot of places that I can call “home”, and a lot of places where people welcome me with great kindness.

It’s true that I’m an extrovert. But the only real home I have is inside me – or inside the moments when I suddenly realize I’m part of a shared experience, creating something that’s never been before.

Humans are social animals; you can Google any number of studies on social isolation to find out what happens when we don’t have our own kind, our own tribes, people we can speak to.

I’m surrounded by people, people I genuinely love, and still, it’s hard.

It’s weird and it’s lonely. But at the same time…

It makes me treasure what I have even more.  It makes me treasure Steampunk, Faerie, Goth, Fandom, and all the peculiar worlds we build.  Because I’d rather feel at home a few times a year, and be driven to make those experiences, than feel at home all the time, and be content where I am.

~Jeff Mach

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Jeff Mach runs Jeff Mach Events, which in turn runs the world’s largest Steampunk event, The Steampunk World’s Fair; the peculiar Faerie festival Glimmerdark, and co-runs Dark Side Of The Con (with VampireFreaks).  He’s on Twitter @steamworldsfair.