Out & About: Springfield Set to Fire Up Steampunk Festival

  • Jennifer Ucci, of Unity, is the director of the Springfield Steampunk Festival. (Courtesy photograph)

Valley News Correspondent
Monday, September 11, 2017

Springfield, Vt. — Halloween isn’t the only costume-wearing occasion coming up on the fall calendar. Before that, there’s the Springfield Steampunk Festival, a two-day celebration of the creative movement that combines the aesthetic elements of the steam-powered Victorian age with contemporary and futuristic technology.

The festival, which will be held at the Hartness House Inn in Springfield, Vt., on Sept. 23 and 24, includes music, food, workshops, activities for kids and adults, a fashion show, an absinthe tasting and more.

The event is a fundraiser for the Steampunk Society of Vermont, which has created a fund to support education scholarships for local students pursuing post-high school education in the “STEAM” subjects — science, technology, engineering, art and math.

In a recent email interview, Jennifer Ucci, of Unity, a Steampunk Society member and director of the festival, discussed how the Steampunk aesthetic has captured the modern imagination — and hers, as well. (Questions and answers have been edited for length.)

Question: Why are you drawn to Steampunk?

Answer: First and foremost are the history and fashion. I have long been an avid reader, and most of my favorite works are set in Victorian and Edwardian England. So, an entire subculture that celebrates the iconic fashion of the time was irresistible.

Q: How did you first get interested?

A: My interest was piqued about four years ago after seeing a piece on a local Facebook forum. My significant other and I own a sound production company, and my initial focus was on producing the entertainment portion of the Steampunk Festival. However, the excitement of bringing a conceptual event to Springfield, Vt., took root, and over the last few years I became more involved in the planning. This year, I was honored to join the board (of the Steampunk Society) as treasurer, as well as to be appointed festival director.

Right now is an exciting time to be a part of the Steampunk Society, as we move past Steampunk as a kitschy novelty event to really educating the community at large as to why Springfield and Steampunk make sense together. Both have a rich history and roots in manufacturing, engineering and science. Once you add in the culturally appealing aspects such as literature, art, fashion and music, suddenly our small city becomes the perfect backdrop to feature this eclectic genre.

Q: What are some examples of historical events, books, movies or artwork that serve as an inspiration to the movement? Do you see Steampunk influences in modern fashion, music, or design?

A: Literary and film references include most notably The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells. Most people are familiar with the Spielberg film adaptation starring Tom Cruise back in 2005. The film was based upon Wells’ novel, originally written in 1898. Wells is widely credited as being the founding father, so to speak, of Steampunk, and his works were steeped in science fiction and retro futuristic fantasy.

Other movies or books include The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The Golden Compass, Van Helsing, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Sherlock Holmes, the list goes on and on. Steampunk itself has become its own music genre, which has a growing list of performers from coast to coast.

Q: What makes something Steampunk? Has the movement evolved over time?

A: I believe the European culture is ahead of us in terms of embracing the idea of Steampunk. There is a misconception here that Steampunk is heavy metal, goth, punk, brazen and overall very risque. I would challenge that definition. Steampunk, while it certainly contains elements of “punk,” and the unique costumes can at times run risque, is really just the physical manifestation of science fiction, literature, fashion and culture. It’s a mashup of what was and what could be. It has no limits, and can be as traditional or modern as you make it. There are a multitude of family elements that, as a parent, I embrace fully. Our society’s mission is largely devoted to challenging the perceptions of Steampunk, while continuing to educate the community, promote economic growth and preserve our history.

Q: What are a few special events at the Steampunk Festival this year?

A: There are a multitude of new additions and I encourage everyone to check out the website and our social media, as we are constantly adding new things. Some notable events this year are our headliner band, Rasputina, a dazzling trio of hard-rock cellists. Their lead singer, Melora Creager, performed around the world with Nirvana in 1994 on their last tour. We are excited to have them, especially as our festival is the only public appearance they will make for the rest of this year.

We have added a full children’s carnival. Children ages 11 and under are free, and all the children’s carnival activities are also free. There are games, activities, crafts and more.

We’re excited this year to feature the New England Center for Circus Arts, out of Brattleboro, Vt. They will be on the grounds both days busking. You will see jugglers, acrobats, mimes, unicyclists, stilt walkers and more. The performers will roam the grounds and do mini feature performances all throughout the day.

Q: Are costumes required? Is everyone in character?

A: Costumes are not required, and not everyone is in character, per se. We are just as excited to see you in jeans as we are to see you in a hoop skirt or top hat. Additionally, if you happen to be inspired while on site, many of our vendors sell handcrafted pieces and costume items that will quickly help you to transform your look.

Q: Where do people get the components of their costumes? Are there guidelines about which wardrobe elements fit the definition of Steampunk and which don’t? 

A: Well, most of us get our costume pieces from thrift shops and Amazon. Etsy and Pinterest are also amazing sources for inspiration. Our costuming guidelines are relatively standard. This is a family event, so no nudity or extreme graphics or obscenities are allowed. Otherwise, the sky is the limit. More specific festival definitions are on our website. If anyone is struggling with a costume or unsure of anything, they are welcome to reach out to us on our social media, website or emails, and we will happily offer advice for costumes, makeup, styling and more.

Q: Is there a certain demographic who attends the festival (older, younger, male, female)? 

A: It’s funny you ask this, we were just discussing it today. Our demographic is everyone. We see all ages, from baby boomers to children in strollers, dressed up or not, out enjoying the festival. We really hope to see more families this year. I think it’s a fun dress-up event that parents can go all out with for their kids and also enjoy for themselves.

Editor’s note: For more information about the festival, visit http://springfieldvtsteampunkfest.com.