2016-07-29 / Front Page

Steampunk Fest organizers get into gear for upcoming festival

By Tory Jones Bonenfant

A top hat sits in front of a window at Hartness House Inn, the location of this year's 2nd annual Springfield Steampunk Festival. — D.F. DASCENZOA top hat sits in front of a window at Hartness House Inn, the location of this year's 2nd annual Springfield Steampunk Festival. — D.F. DASCENZOSPRINGFIELD — Organizers of the Springfield Steampunk Festival are gearing up to present the second annual three-day celebration that will mesh Victorian fashion and science-fiction culture with futuristic costuming, corsets, clockwork and gears.

“One person made two jet packs this year,” said Sabrina Smith, Springfield resident and coordinator of the annual festival.

Smith said on Thursday, July 28 that this year’s festival brings new music, teapot racing, expanded workshops, an all-in-one venue and a free Friday night admission, among other improvements to last year’s festival.  The Hartness House in Springfield and the Steampunk Society of Vermont are partners in organizing the festival, she said.

As the coordinator, Smith oversees a team of volunteer managers who have been helping prepare panels, workshops, and other aspects of the festival scheduled for Friday through Sunday, Sept. 24-27 at the Hartness House.

Last year, the festival drew about 500 participants, including about 100 volunteers, Smith said. Volunteers are each required to contribute at least a four-hour shift, and in return they receive a weekend pass to the festival.

The festival is also a fundraiser. Last year, the organizing team donated net proceeds of about $1,000 to the Springfield Community Center. This year, proceeds will go to the Springfield Humane Society after the bills are paid and “seed money” is returned to the festival’s coffers to start planning for next year, Smith said.

Last year, she and a few friends who were also interested in steampunk started organizing the first festival “with zero money,” she said.

“We said, ‘Let’s just try it’ … It took a life of its own,” she said.

Smith was born and raised in North Mississippi, moving to Vermont to be near her grandchildren, son and daughter-in-law, who live in Perkinsville. She has lived in Springfield with her life partner, Gary, since early 2012 and became involved in community work in Springfield soon afterward.  

She has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Memphis in sociology and film studies, and currently works for an attorney in Springfield. She has a background in office administration and has worked in website design, live theater, radio, television, and the music business.

Smith said she has admired the steampunk aesthetic and movement for several years, and that she wanted to organize something locally to celebrate it. She used to talk with her friend Melody Reed about steampunk, and their friend, town selectboard member George McNaughton got into the conversation, she said. They concluded that Springfield would be “perfect” to host steampunk activities because of its industrial background, history of innovation and invention, and the fact that gears are a part of the town’s architecture and are also a major part of the iconography of steampunk.

McNaughton “kind of nudged us a little bit,” Smith said. After some discussion, Smith took the lead as coordinator of the event.

To prepare for the 2016 event, organizers have been conducting planning meetings and taking immediate action on decisions. They have learned what to expect after last year’s event, she said.

“We knew what the moving parts would end up being,” she said.  

They also surveyed 2015 participants on what they liked or didn’t like, and received “a lot” of responses on musical preferences, workshops and other suggestions.

With that feedback, they have added some big changes, including free admission on Friday night, which will “help those who want to learn what it’s about,” Smith said.

Friday’s activities will include the opening ceremonies, live music, a Steampunk 101 workshop, and steampunk parlor games, which will also take place through the weekend. Smith said she hopes those who visit on Friday will decide to buy a ticket to come back on Saturday and / or Sunday for more events.

New this year is “Splendid Teapot Racing,” first conceived by Simone Montgomery in Dunedin, New Zealand and premiered for the first time in 2014 at Steampunk New Zealand Festival in Oamaru, NZ. The races are set for Saturday in the wedding tent.

Splendid Teapot Racing involves radio-controlled teapots negotiating an obstacle course within a set time. The vehicle is a teapot of the entrants’ choice attached to a radio-controlled car or truck and embellished to taste, for all ages and skills levels. Festival-goers are encouraged to make their own teapot racer and enter the race.

Also new or improved this year will be three bands “known in the steampunk community,” performances under the wedding tent, and free access to the vendor tent all weekend. Also new, the Springfield Players will perform a dramatization of a Sherlock Holmes short story, and Springfield-based Dark Mountain Games will set up a gaming room throughout the weekend, Smith said. People also wanted more workshops, so this year’s event will include “a ton more workshops,” she said.

The event will again this year include an indoor photo booth in the Hartness House’s parlor and library area. A fashion show under the wedding tent is also scheduled.

Smith said that steampunk enthusiasts are preparing for the festival by assembling period clothing, accessories, Victorian outfits, top hats or bowlers, canes, or a combination of Victorian and futuristic clockwork and gear. Some may attend dressed as Victorian-era doctors or firemen, for example. Typically the participants will appear “dapper,” she said, or wear corsets on the outside of their clothing. Many will sew or create their own outfits and accessories. She also recalled a young woman who sports a handcrafted octopus, based on an underwater exploration theme.

“People are really proud of the things they make,” she said.

Tickets for the rest of the festival will be available on a per-day basis or for the whole weekend.

Smith said she, Reed and McNaughton were discussing last year where to host the festival, and thought of the Hartness House on Orchard Street because of its Victorian decor and backdrop.

The inn, which houses an astronomy museum, also features Victorian design and furniture including a grandfather clock and piano, fireplaces, ornate woodwork, Tiffany-style lamps, chandelier lights in the outdoor wedding tent, an antique-style record player, and steampunk drop-bulb light fixtures with iron piping and steam gauges in the Telescope Tavern dining room.

The entire festival will take place on the grounds of the Hartness House this year, an improvement over last year’s dual-location venue, which was difficult for some people trying to get from one location to another on buses, Smith said.  Parking will be available either at the Department of Motor Vehicles lot or at the high school for overflow. Buses will run all day through the weekend, bringing festival-goers to the venue.

Smith said organizers are still seeking volunteers for the 2016 festival.

For a complete schedule, ticket information, or a volunteer application form, visit the festival’s website at http://springfieldvtsteampunkfest.com.

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