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Gaslight Gathering 2011 Convention Report

9 May 2011 2 Comments by

Gaslight Gathering, a new steampunk & Victoriana convention here in San Diego, was last weekend. And it was fun, yes sirree. It had it’s ups and downs though. Here’s a quick run down on the good, bad and ugly.

The Good

I had quite a bit of fun Saturday at Gaslight Gathering. And most of it was due entirely to…

Bartitsu Demonstration and Lecture

This 2 hour panel was worth the entire convention price. Instructor Thomas Badillo gave a demo of the British martial art Bartitsu/Barjitsu that was invented in the late Victorian era. But, like all good teachers, he didn’t just stand at a projector and talk.

First of all, most of the floor was cleared. Then Badillo asked if anyone in the audience had training in the martial way or arts. He called up everyone who raised their hand, about five people, and had them grab a cane of their choice from the selection he had leaning against the wall. Then they took their stances for their various blade schools (everything from fencing to SCA blade style to Japanese Kendo). Then he alternated talking about the cane technique in Bartitsu with showing how the art would counter the various styles of the volunteers. All while encouraging the audience to call out responses.

Then he sent everyone back to their seats and went through a few slides and covered the Victorian and Edwardian situations that led to the creation and use of this British martial art, how and why it was taught to ladies, as well as the various parts of the art.

And then he called for any volunteers interested in learning Bartitsu. I practically leaped out of my seat. There was a parasol among the canes, which none of the first group of volunteers had grabbed. I was curious how it’s use in Bartitsu would vary from a cane, especially having read the steampunk novel Souless. So I snagged that. You want something done…

My sister, who came with me, loved the panel too. As did all the volunteers and audience (which grew steadily as Saturday morning progressed). The young lady I was sparing with and I were all, ‘we SO have to get canes now’. Though, I think I may continue rockin’ the brolli; keeps off rain and attackers.

CFB Assistant Editor Chriss Cornish called forward to demonstrate parasol bayonette-strike at Gaslight Gathering's bartitsu panel


Period Camera Hack Panel

This quick yet great panel covered how to make a steampunky/psudeo-period housing for your modern camera.

As the panelist pointed out, you put so much work into your costume and then pull out an ultra-modern camera and it kind of throws the image off, so to speak. So he showed off some cigar box and tripod-type housings for modern cameras that could be made with stuff from Home Depot.

As cool as that information was though, the panelists’ willingness to let people in the audience shine was even cooler.

There was a fellow in the audience who had made a truly spectacular housing for his digital SLR camera, including zoom bellows. When the panelist asked if there were any questions someone raised their hand and said they wanted to know how that guy had gotten the bellows on.

The panelist admitted that he had no idea and invited the fellow up to talk about how he’d done it.

SO darn cool. Not to mention classy.


Hall of Wonders

The ‘Hall of Wonders’ exhibit was really cool and a totally awesome idea on the part of Gaslight’s organizers. There were fanciful steampunk contraptions, some of which were functional and others that were merely visual curiosities; from the flame thrower to the Zeppelin Examiner’s Device/Vehicle.

And then there was the Edison. *giggle of audio-geek delight*

One of the displays in Gaslight Gathering’s ‘Hall of Wonders’ was a pair of antique Edison phonographs, plus cylinders and ephemera. The devices were from the collection belonging to the husband of the volunteer who was there to demonstrate the devices. There were antique ear-buds that plugged right into the same hole that the trumpet/speaker-horn screwed into.

And after a group of us (who, interestingly, included my sparing partners from the Bartitsu panel earlier in the day) had listened to a recording of a woman singing on the small phonograph the volunteer took the cylinder off and put it on the bigger unit, with one of those BIG speaker-horns you could stick your head in. The kind everyone thinks of when they think of phonographs. The difference was night and day.

And the volunteer was very knowledgeable, talking about how the changes in and limitations to the technology affected the sort of music that was recorded. She also was able to provide some good information on how to start collecting the cylinders and phonographs in answer to my sister’s excited questions. We are SO going to try adding an antique phonograph to our record player collection.

The Bad

This was Gaslight Gathering’s first ever event, so there were a few teething issues.

The Website

The Gaslight Gathering website is pretty and, compared to the standard for convention website’s, it’s a marvel. However, it’s REALLY hard to use. Partly because the theme of the convention was given higher priority than conveying information. So there were too many mystery meat navigation links, not a lot of info on the home page, too many pages had too little information because the people writing it left out so many details, and ticket prices were hard to find and understand.

I had a hard time using the website myself to find information for writing CFB articles about this new steampunk convention, and I build websites. A friend of mine was almost reduced to tears of frustration trying to use the Gaslight website to figure out how to buy a ticket. She would have given up entirely and not gone to the event at all if she hadn’t known she could just come ask me for the information.

So, information architecture/data design on the site definitely a BAD. I hope Gaslight takes the time between now and next year’s event to do a re-haul on how they organize their site and present their event info.

Friday Night

Friday night was pretty harried and disorganized. There didn’t seem to be enough volunteers and people in registration didn’t tell me that Saturday passes weren’t available for pick up yet when I asked for them; I was just told they couldn’t find the ticket. So I went home thinking Saturday morning was going to be a hassle.

But, on the plus side, when my sister lost her badge the registration staff and volunteers were friendly and polite and told her it was no big problem. That it would be okay and they’d get it all sorted out.

Time Traveler’s Masked Ball

The Friday night dance was a disappointment. The music was too far on the techno side for me to dance to. I also didn’t see anyone who was supposed to be in charge, and the write-up on the Gaslight website had talked about a costume contest being part of the event.

Overall, it had that awkward feel of a high school dance. Of course, I went shortly after the dance started so it may have just been slow getting going because it was a Friday night. So, pinch of salt and all that.

Loud Acts Next to Soft Ones

There was a bit of an issue with loud performance type panels being in the same ‘room’ as quieter discussion type panels. For instance, on Saturday the magic show was in one side of a giant room and the ‘Victorian Origins of the Detective Novel’ panel (featuring the literary Guest of Honor) was in the other side with just a temporary wall between them. It was distracting in the mystery novel panel and a little hard to hear the panelists.

Another panel late Saturday afternoon had to suddenly be moved from that same ‘room’ to another that wasn’t setup yet with chairs because the musical act on the other side of the curtain wall (Unwoman, incidentally) had developed at the last minute to include a drummer. Though, the Programming Director did move the panel BEFORE the sound issue could become a problem. And he was apologetic and worked to get the hotel to bring in chairs to the back-up room pretty quickly. And there was a volunteer in the originally scheduled room to redirect people. So it was handled well.

Overall, the ‘bad’ for Gaslight Gathering’s first ever event were just teething problems. These are the same people who put together San Diego’s excellent ConDor sci-fi/fantasy convention, so I’m sure they’ll work to have these sorted for 2012′s Gaslight event.

The Ugly

No, I just didn’t go with this division in my article for the Western reference. I saw staff behavior Friday that can only be described this way.

At the Time Traveler’s Masked Ball I witnessed one of the staff members playing costume nazi to a group of folk clearly new to the genre, who’d obviously gone through their closets for something to wear.

Not cool.

And I mention it here not just because this was a convention staff member pulling the “you can’t play because you don’t do it right/my way”, but because this is too wide spread an issue in steampunk. So much so that there’s a whole Cog of Acceptance group in the Steampunk Empire forum community in response to this negative trend.

I have a friend in the San Francisco area who was into the Victorian Goth scene but doesn’t do steampunk anymore because she got sick of other steampunks deriding her for ‘not doing it right’.

The people at the top of Gaslight’s organizational chain are professional and responsible, committed to customer service and such. So I’m sure they’ll respond appropriately, when they get wind of this incident, by admonishing their staffers and volunteers to comport themselves respectfully and put representing the convention ahead of enforcing their beliefs on attendees.


Gaslight Gathering’s first event was fun. There were some organizational issues but they were handled well and quickly. Overall, I’m looking forward to next year’s event. Especially if there’s more Bartitsu.

Check out pictures in CFB’s Gaslight Gathering 2011 Flickr album.


  • Bob Mogg said:

    Aw shucks, nice comments like this are the whole reason presenters come out for conventions!

    As the panelist for the Period Camera Hack, I figure it is in everyone’s best interest to get the best ideas out there, and that fellow (all the way from New Zealand!) was kind enough to do an impromptu share with the fabulous camera he had created.

    Does that take the spotlight off of me? Who cares! I just want people to leave my panel with great ideas, and inspiration, regardless of who came up with it!

    Applause for the Gadget Exhibition on Sunday, that gave many creators a chance to show off, and visitors an opportunity to get up close and personal with the inventions and the creators. The highest praise comes from another creative person who appreciates your work, and the convention was filled with creative people, some who were dressing up for the very first time!

    Bob Mogg
    Happy Costumer

  • Colleen Burks said:

    As Captain of Gaslight Gathering, I take full responsibility for anything that happens at our event.

    We encourage everyone to give us feedback, good or bad, so we can make next year’s event is even better. Your comments will help us improve greatly.

    Most of your “bad” will be corrected and tweeked for next year. It was your “ugly” that hurts the most. If there is one thing I dislike about fandom, any fandom, its the costume nazis. It really angered me that one of my crew turned out to be one. If I could identify the staffer, I would ask that person to step down. I have posted my disappointment to our concom list and will reiterate it at our wrapup meeting. This is unacceptable behavior and I will not allow it to continue!

    I apologize for the unfortunate comments made and will do everything in my power to make sure it does not happen again.

    Colleen Burks aka Capt Kinvarra Devonshire