Okay, so now that you all know a little about me ((sort of)) and have been subjected to one of my less venomous rants I think I can start in a little on the meat and potaoes….
I started the Steel City Steam Guild ((SCSG)) on April 16th 2010. A mere 3 months ago. At the time I had really begun immersing myself into the steampunk culture. I had always hovered at the fringes as one of those people that always dressed a little victorian with random industrial accents, but didn’t really even realize there was a culture for it until a random stranger asked me if I was, in fact, a steampunk. I had no idea what they were talking about and immediately went home and googled the term. Low and behold, I found a whole new realm of aesthetics and culture to explore. For about a month I studied up on everything steampunk and after that time, I determined that this was something i seriously wanted to explore and take an active part in.
My first reaction was to find others of a similar mindset. The only problem was, I didn’t know anyone in my social network who was steampunk, nor did I even know how to find any in my area. A couple of queries on Brass Goggles introduced me to people in the region, but most of them were in Philadelphia which was apparently where the bulk of the Pa. scene was.
Well, of course not everyone in the world is on Brass Goggles, so I knew there was a pretty good chance there were steampunks around Pittsburgh. I just needed to find them. So, I skipped over to the one website I knew almost everyone in the world was on, and after making sure there was nothing already there, made a group on Facebook for Pittsburgh steampunks. I figured i’d get maybe half a dozen members in addition to friends I already knew. A modest “society” ((as I had originally called it)) where we could meet for teas and such…
I was NOT expecting us to jump to 64 members our first week.
Then my friend Schieny mentioned that once a week, Altar Bar held a steampunk night with no cover. It was on a Monday night- not at all convenient- but having just completed my first full scale outfit ((before this I was usually just in a corset and jeans)) I wanted a chance to show off. My best friend of the past 15 years, Suzn, said she could use a night out, and having also caught the steampunk bug, was excited to get a good taste of the scene. So we made plans to all meet and party. I figured if it was a good night, it might be worth the massive energy drain and hangover at work on Tuesday mornings and I could make it a regular thing and promote it to my fledgling club as a possible meeting night for us all.
Suzn and I arrived a couple minutes before things were set to begin, grabbed a couple drinks and found a spot to sit and talk costumes while we waited for others to arrive. Schieny appeared with a few of her friends about a half hour in and it was about that time I began to realize that the 12 other people in the building might be all that would be coming. Listening in on the gothic industrial trance that was playing, and realizing I was the most- and best- dressed person there the first thought that went through me heads was: “This can’t be right. No. No, this ISN’T right! This is definitely wrong!” Everything I’d learned about steampunk in the last month had me listening to Abney Park and Ghost Fire while drinking tea by gas lamp! I liked Abney Park and tea and gas lamps! I liked those things about steampunk and I wanted more of those! I didn’t want this overplayed trance-goth! Even as inexperienced as I was I could see that this whole party was decidedly NOT steampunk.
More out of insulted outrage than anything, I looked at Schieny and Suzn and declared, “We could do this so much better!” I like to think their heads were in about the same place because they both agreed. And that’s when the pieces really began to fall into place. Yes. We could do better. We had 64 people who weren’t here, but were behind us in the society. Between Suzn’s knowledge of promotional design, my own experiences with event planning and visual development and Schieny’s massive music and cultural nightlife network, we could conceivably make this a real society with events and road trips… A loot at the society the next day ((then up to 73 members)) confirmed my decision.
While resolute in my newfound determination, I can tell you I still felt like I was standing on a beach with a mason jar, staring at an 80ft wave and going “Well now, how the hell am I gonna pull this one off?” I was going to catch water in the jar, but there was a good chance of drowning in the process.
I’ve been antisocial, shy and generally uncomfortable in groups since the emotional trauma that was middle school. Now I was making myself a social director for a lot of people that I didn’t even know. Worse! I have no money to do it with. Literally none. Having just purchased our first home, My boyfriend’s company had waited until the week after we’d closed to inform him his services were no longer necessary. FML…
So sitting down with a cup of tea, Abney park in the background and no lamps because it was the middle of the afternoon, I went to thinking. All I really wanted to do was create a place for people of a like mined nature to get together and have fun. If someone else could do so better than me, I would yield to their expertise, but as no one else was forthcoming, I would lead this ramshackle group of mechanical miscreants and out of place time travelers. Next I started thinking, if I had joined a club, ((someone else’s club as a bottom rung member)) what would I like to do in said club? Well for one I didn’t want to feel compelled to be at EVERY event they hosted. None of that “if you don’t show, you’re not really a member” shit you find in the girlscouts or cheerleading. This wasn’t a cult. Everyone would be free to come and go as they pleased. Next, I would want inexpensive events and outlets where I could meet with people like me to hang out, converse and just be friendly. Well we already had one event forthcoming, but the plan was we were going to need alot more planning on that one, so what to do in the meanwhile?
I finally hit upon a little idea. It would let me test the waters to see how many people would be interested, be mostly free, and fun for everyone. I took a good long look at my steampunk costume and realized I really needed some nice pictures of me in it. I’d spent a lot of time working to put it together, and was quite proud of it… And something told me that if I was so proud of my costume, no doubt others were as well. So I decided our first event would be a photoshoot. Everyone could bring cameras and come dressed to the nines… We’d migrate around a few of the more interesting places in the city, and play around. It’d give everyone something to do other than stand around, it would cost little, we could use the photography to promote the club, and anytime anyone sees a bunch of people wandering around town in costume, they usually have to go ask what its all about.
All in all a good idea. So I set things in motion, promoted it as best I could, and then spent a week fretting that no one was going to show up. Or that a ton of models would show up and no photographers. Or a dozen photographers and no models! Or what if it rained? What would we do if they didn’t let us take pictures? What about food? Was I starting things too early? Too late? What props did I have to help break the ice and add interesting elements? What props could I make in 3 days time?
Then to add to my terror, A friend of mine mentioned that two rather prominent members of the Steampunk culture in England would be staying with a friend near Pittsburgh that weekend. Naturally, I extended an invite, and was shocked when they accepted. I was elated to have three well known people coming whom I could bounce questions off of and learn from, but I was also terrified to realize they were coming for my first ever event. I had little to no idea what I was doing and if things were a complete flop I’d feel humiliated.
So, naturally, by the morning of I was a complete wreck. I dressed, stuffed myself into my little lancer and made it to our designated meeting point a few minutes early… It was raining, of course, but as people trickled in and I made introductions and greeted everyone, I realized we had collected a nice little crowd of about 12 people. Not a huge gathering, but with four photographers and eight models in my first ever event, I felt this was a fantastic turn out. We spent several hours in the cathedral of learning, everyone getting really into things, went and got lunch, then migrated and took more pictures outdoors as the rain had stopped and the sun appeared…
Eventually a lot of people headed home, but a few of us decided to grab coffee. We made it to a little cafe in East Liberty with minutes to spare before the cloud reopened and a deluge dropped onto the city. We spent the rain storm chatting more, and when it cleared up we gave a fond fairwell to our guests from England, and headed home.
A couple weeks later, I planned out our next event- a picnic in Schenley Park. By now we’d been joined by our newest partner, Rob, who was full of tons of great ideas. We put together the picnic-myself again freaking out over food, cost, and turnout while Rob informed me I needed to chill out- and while the turnout wasn’t quite as big, the smaller group proved itself the perfect company for the gathering. Everyone brought fun snacks and food, and one guest even brought a ukulele and played for us. It was the perfect laid back afternoon, and even though the day was hot, we all kept fairly cool and comfortable on our shaded veranda.
Eventually everyone took their leave, and not a moment too soon. I wasn’t fifteen minutes from the park when once more the clouds opened for one of Pittsburgh’s infamous afternoon summer thunderstorms.
Still I was grinning all the way home. SCSG was on its way to becoming an established group for steampunks. Perhaps it was time to step things up a bit….