I got a chance to ask Al Fox a few questions about the International Steampunk Symposium and his background.
Phoebe Darqueling: Which came first, your love of Steampunk or your knowledge of large-scale event planning?
Al Fox: The love of Steampunk came first. Then evolved from putting together small social gatherings to planning full-scale weekend conventions.
PD: What is your favorite thing about Steampunk in general, or your Steampunk event in particular?
AF: Without a doubt my favorite thing about Steampunk is the people. The Steampunk Community is amazingly creative and not afraid to spill their imaginations everywhere! With some other fandom conventions, attendees come in with the attitude of “show me what you’ve got.” Whereas Steampunk attendees bring so much with them and approach the con with the attitude of “let me show you what I’ve got.” There is such a positive energy shared by most Steampunks.
PD: Tell us a little about your event and the inspiration behind it.
AF: The International Steampunk Symposium is an annual gathering of Steampunks from all over the country and some from other countries. Our signature event is probably the Symposium Games, which is basically a Steampunk Olympics involving various light-hearted sports and challenges. This includes Nerf Dueling, remote-control Dirigible Races, and the ever so dangerous Umbrella Fencing. The whole convention is very participatory and inclusive of the attendees. And the Symposium ranks highly on being a most socially engaging experience. As with Pandoracon, our sci-fi & fantasy convention, the inspiration for the Symposium is “verb.” We want to fill the weekend with so many things to do . . . our most consistent criticism is that there’s too much to do!
PD: Where did the Symposium Games comes from?
AF: The Symposium Games were at the core of the show’s planning from the very beginning. Inspired by the Olympics, I had the vision of different Airships and Steampunk groups from various cities coming together to compete in Victorian style games, but with a whimsical twist. One of the key games is the RC Dirigible Races. The Symposium was the first to start this sport and now our rules are being used at other conventions around the world. While we may have started a couple of Steampunk sports, we are more than happy to host contests that were started elsewhere, such as Tea Dueling and Teapot Racing.
PD: What was your biggest mistake, er, “growth experience” when you first started holding The International Steampunk Symposium?
AF: The Symposium has been blessed with good luck, despite several attempts to tempt fate and disaster. The biggest mistake was actually during the first year in 2012 and the Umbrella Fencing event’s lack of safety steps. The concept of the special event was supposed to be a light-hearted folly. But several of the combatants were out to win and left mercy at the door. Pretty much as soon as the bouts began we realized the risk, and swore that we would never have this event again. Then for the 2015 Symposium we actually brought it back, but this time we brought the armor, too.
Thanks so much to Al Fox for taking the time to answer my questions!
The International Steampunk Symposium runs April 28-30, 2017, in Cincinnati. I’ll be covering the event for Steampunk Journal, as well as giving several talks. Find out more about the convention, and stay tuned for stories from behind the curtain at this year’s event.