Arts and Entertainment

In Anchorage, it's full steampunk ahead

The bustles, bicycles and bowler hats of the steampunk scene will accent Anchorage over the next two weekends.

On Friday, April 7 and Saturday, April 8, the Cirque Mechanics Pedal Punk cycling circus will bring acrobats, aerialists, jugglers and magnificent machines to the Atwood Concert Hall stage.

And on Saturday, April 15, and Sunday, April 16, the third Alaska Steamposium at the Alaska Experience Theatre will present costume contests and workshops, otherworldly oddities, "steampunk sports" and a special guest appearance by steampunk author Gail Carriger, writer of several series including "The Finishing School" books.

"Lately, steampunk has been coming to the forefront," said Steamposium co-founder Tess Purvis. "You see more steampunk influences and shows on TV. It's fun for those of us who have been doing steampunk for a while."

Steampunk melds Victorian style and classic science fiction a la Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. The subculture's aesthetic and creative energy are alive on shows like "Steampunk'd," a steampunk maker reality competition on the Game Show Network, and Showtime's decadent horror fantasy series "Penny Dreadful."

Although steampunk is the focus of the Steamposium, Purvis added that the event welcomes cosplayers of all genres.

"We've had Trekkies come and we say, 'Welcome, time traveler!'" Purvis said.


Steamposium-goers of all stripes should pack some cash in their thigh holsters and utility pouches for a steampunk shopping spree in the vendor area.

Local artists and artisans will be peddling wares including knit octopi, handmade watches and accessories, and of course, tea.

The essential steampunk beverage will be sold by Sipping Streams Tea of Fairbanks. Purvis said Sipping Streams brews a special blend for the symposium every year, and that it tends to be inspired by an English tea.


This year's steampunk blend, which is still a mystery to Purvis, will play a major role in the symposium's most suspenseful event: the tea duel.

Tea Dueling is a sanctioned sport with enthusiast organizations like the American Tea Dueling Society.

"You sit across your opponent, and whoever can hold their biscuit in their tea the longest and then get it into their mouth intact without crumbling wins," Purvis said. "There is much smack talk; dramatic insults like, 'I heard you showed your ankles last week' and, 'Your bustle looks deflated.'"

The Victorian vitriol is just for fun. According to Purvis, Steampunk is a positive and liberating pastime. That's why she thinks it is such an enduring subculture.

There are some specific steampunk characters to emulate, but Purvis said most steampunk identities spring directly from the individual cosplayer's imagination.

"Steampunk is what you make of it; the character you create," she said. "There is no standard character you are mimicking. You're not restricted like you are in a lot of pop culture fandoms."

Steampunk has its roots in the idea of an alternate universe — "what could have been if we did not go down the path of internal combustion and electricity during the industrial revolution and gone toward steam, which has these romantic associations," said Cirque Mechanics founder and director Chris Lashua.

The steampunk-inspired Cirque Mechanics Pedal Punk suggests cycling as a way to escape the grip of technology. The "punk" part of the name is a reference to steampunk, Lashua said.

Bicycles are key to steampunk culture, said Lashua, who toured with Cirque du Soleil for seven years before creating his own company.

Bikes were popular in Victorian England, and the most steampunky is arguably the penny-farthing bicycle, a tall bike with a huge wheel in front and a small wheel in the back.

It's named penny farthing, Lashua explained, because a penny coin was much bigger than a farthing coin. The big wheel represents the penny, and the small wheel the farthing.

Pedal Punk presents a unique perspective on the classic conveyance. Lashua said two aerialists will perform on a penny farthing bicycle suspended 22 feet up in the air.

The daring feat is filled with the levers, cranks, goggles, gears, garters and wheels that illustrate steampunk's style and spirit of invention.

But don't expect protruding bustles and intricate petticoats.


"We build these wacky machines that interact with acrobats and create a look and feel that gives people the inference of steampunk," Lashua said.

"But I can't put bustles on the performers because they are going to get in the way if someone is swinging around in the air 20 feet above the ground."

Cirque Mechanics Pedal Punk

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday April 7-8, and 2 p.m. Saturday, April 8

Where: Atwood Concert Hall, 621 W. Sixth Ave.

Tickets: $32.50-$71.75. See for details.

The Alaska Steamposium

When: Saturday, April 15 and Sunday, April 16


Where: The Alaska Experience Theatre, 4th Avenue Market Place, 333 W. Fourth Ave., #207

Tickets: $20-$60. See for details.