The Future Past That Never Was – Airship Isabella part 5

We celebrated the end to 2012 with a vengeance.  There was not one person in the shop who wasn’t happy to see that calendar turn over.  With the year behind us, we looked to a much calmer 2013.  We didn’t book nearly as many events, and we all made plans to see our families.  But we set out at the very beginning of the year with focus: recover, rebuild and reorganize.  In January of 2013, we filmed an episode of Oddities, and worked on getting the shop in order.  We focused most of the early parts of

Mardi Gras 2013

Mardi Gras 2013

2013 on melding into New Orleans.  We organized a Mardi Gras parade krewe for the St. Anne Parade.  We got to know the people in our neighborhood and the Quarter, and we focused on shoring up our personal lives.  We did book some new conventions and ventured into Ohio as well as returning to Arizona for Wild Wild West Con.  We made an effort to reach out to other performance art troupes, makers and steampunk artists.  We got to know the steampunks in our city.  We coordinated a stop of the Steam tour that featured The Cog is Dead, Frenchy and the Punk and This Way to the Egress in New Orleans, and brought in our old friends Marquis of Vaudeville for good measure.  And for the first time since the start of ASI, we slowed down.  We settled in, and we started carefully moving forward.  When our lease was up in May, we found a more suitable and stable base of operations in uptown, and in June opened the doors to an actual brick and mortar store on Lyons St.  In August, we met with Kinematic Entertainment out of Pensacola, Florida and contracted for a gig as the wardrobe department for a music video for the metal band, Mind Cage, which was released at Prog Power USA in September.  We were approached by a lovely couple for an international art festival in Fort Payne, Alabama, Boom Days, and decided to give that a shot as well.  We were also featured in The Anatomy of Steampunk by Katherine Gleason.

Behind the scenes with Ken Braden of Black Sails Photography during the shoot that was used for The Anatomy of Steam.

Behind the scenes with Ken Braden of Black Sails Photography during the shoot that was used for The Anatomy of Steam.

In October, Zombie and Lulu relocated to New Orleans and became full time shop members, and we were finally able to operate with an in house art department.  With their addition, we were able to provide on the spot concept art, started work on developing a coming and with two more leather workers in the shop, greatly increased both our production rates and reduced our turnover time.  We were promoted from vendor to coordinator of the White Court for the Endless Night Ball.  Cedric became more involved in the Sabertooth Clan in the Vampire community, and he was granted permission to produce

The krewe of Endless Night, 2014

The krewe of Endless Night, 2014

merchandise with the Sanguinarium Ankh.  By the time Dickens rolled around in December, the pains we experienced during the previous year were a distant memory, and everyone was refreshed and ready to once again pick up the pace.

Which brings us to this last year.  2014.  Where as 2013 was calm and steady, 2014 was a strong wind in a sometimes stormy sea.  We relentlessly pushed forward and the year didn’t have the normal lulls and breaks we were accustomed to.  There was no more than a few days pause until the week before Christmas, and that pause was a decision to rest on the part of the group.  As I sit here and try to think about what happened over the last year, I, once again, find it hard to recall.  The Oddities episode we filmed aired in January.  It had been so long since we filmed that we were all terrified because no one could remember what we had said or done.  In the end, we were really happy with the results.

Me and Brian Kessinger at Wild Wild West Con 2014

Me and Brian Kessinger at Wild Wild West Con 2014

We traveled from Florida to Tuscon to Ohio and made lots of stops in between.   We once again started embracing the idea of convention runs, but none of them more than 5 weeks at a time.  Sales picked up significantly, and much of our time in the last year has been, well, working!  We developed a returning client base.  While many of us might have been hesitant at the idea of becoming more involved in the Vampire community, by early 2014, we had all gotten past that and embraced the idea, and a lot of our time, energies and some of our biggest projects were with them. For the first time since 2010, we took on new prospects, not to replace members, but because there was need and room for growth.   Projects that were put on the back burner in 2010 have resurfaced and are coming to life.  The comic series was introduced, and I couldn’t be happier

Dark Steam Social at Big Mama's in the Quarter.  2014

Dark Steam Social at Big Mama’s in the Quarter. 2014

with what Zombie, Lulu and Becca have done.  We started hosting socials in the Quarter for the dark subcultures and in the process made many new friends.  There has been more, but as strange as it is to say, a lot of what we’ve been working on, I can’t even acknowledge exists.  All I can say is, we’ve been busy.  But in the midst of what was easily the heaviest workload we’ve seen to date, we managed to find our way back out into the world.  Not as steampunks or even as vampires, but as people.

We rounded out our calendar with regular plain clothes outings and for the first time since the inception of ASI started doing things that really didn’t have any connection to our job except for the people.   Somewhere in 2014 we started finding a balance.   While work was strong and steady and often chaoticly busy, we still  managed to make time to escape the shop on occasion if only to walk a few blocks for a few hours.  Thank you, Suzo, for finally convincing us that maybe some time in the outside world would be good for us.  It was and is.

Buddha Belly Karaoke!

Buddha Belly Karaoke!

Early on when Zombie and Lulu first moved in, strange and unpredictable things would happen.  They happened before they moved in, but we just didn’t notice until Zombie started pointing it out.  He would burst out laughing and scream…”This doesn’t happen to real people!”  After countless times of this happening, we finally responded with “Well, then we’re not real people!  Because it happens to us all the time!”  Most of the time, it’s funny or really great things, and occasionally it’s on the level of bad that makes you cry.  But we have been doing this for long enough now that it’s hard to remember what the real world is like.  To realize that what we see as everyday occurrences are really unusual to a lot of people, and even to our own crew mates who don’t deal with the shear amount of crazy that seems to  be bound to this journey.  And in 2014, we were given the opportunity to see just how far we’ve come through the eyes of people who haven’t been sailing for 5 years.  It’s easy to forget the back porch of the Lake house, the Ike shack and even Celina in the steady march forward.  It’s even easier to forget the secretary and the fire fighter.  But it’s good to look back at that desperate family with an old box of leather and turn around to a world, while far from perfect, which is so much richer than the world we left behind.

photo courtesy of Black Sails Photography...taken one night...just because.  :-)

photo courtesy of Black Sails Photography…taken one night…just because. 🙂

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The Future Past That Never Was – Airship Isabella part 4

At the end of July, our plan was to go back to our home in Celina, and start living there only coming to New Orleans for no more than 10 days at a time.  We didn’t want to spend any more time in New Orleans during hurricane seasons than was absolutely necessary.  We weren’t planning another long stay here until starting at Halloween through early Christmas season.  We went back to Celina, and then on to Amarillo for the first Amacon.  On the way back from Amacon, we got a phone call that we were losing our home in Celina.  We called back to San Leon to find that our former shop had been rented out, and in a week, we were going to be homeless.

We had an inner crew meeting to discuss what to do.  We didn’t have a lot of options.  Ultimately, we decided that we were going to move permanently to the shop in New Orleans.  Delacru could not see himself moving to New Orleans and opted to stay in Dallas.  The rest of us packed the entire shop and our belongings into a 24 foot uhaul, a borrowed trailer and the van, and headed for Louisiana.

The air conditioner had been broken in the house in Celina so it was too hot to sleep, and what sleep people had gotten was fitful with all of the stress.  So when we left, people had only napped for four days.  We were exhausted.  As we pulled up to the first gas station at 10pm, we got a phone call that Delacru had announced he was leaving the crew.  We spent the next three hours in that parking lot, 5 minutes from our start point, on the phone.  But in true ASI fashion, we kept going.  We stopped in Shreveport to rest, and everyone but me did.  I couldn’t sleep.  I spent the time comforting some of our members who were out of the loop, worried and upset.  We arrived in New Orleans at 2am the next day worn, beaten down, confused and broke.  When we got here, we realized that during the massive rain storm that happened while we were gone, the roof inside the shop had actually collapsed and was separating at one of the rafters.  That was it.  It was all I could take.  I hadn’t slept in 5 days.  I’d lost my home.  I’d lost a friend. And the only place I had to turn, had literally fallen down.  Understand, that in the entire history of ASI this was the first time I had broken down.  The only time that I felt truly lost since I had embraced the idea and run with it.  The guys that were there were very understanding.  They pulled me up by my boot straps and made me help unload the truck in the middle of the night while I was a blubbering idiot.  By 4am we were done, and I fell into my bunk and slept for the first time in almost a week.

There was no time to wallow in sorrow.  We were leaving for a three week run in less than a week.  We had spent every dime we had to move.  Rent was due. Electricty was due, and we had to drive to Arkansas on Thursday.  We spent exactly one day sleeping, unpacking, and building merch and went directly to the market.  Somehow we managed to make enough money to cover our expenses, and we headed out again.

We went from Bentonville, Arkansas to Dallas, from Dallas to San Antonio and then from San Antonio to Kileen.  Andy’s Aunt Connie, graciously offered up the use of her home as our designated “honeycomb hideout” for stopping points while in Texas.  It went off without incident, and at the end of August, we returned home.  We had been home less than a week when the hurricane warnings started coming in.

On the seventh anniversary of the landfall of Katrina, Isaac came ashore in Louisiana.  It ran right over the top of us, and took two full days to completely pass.  It was a small storm, and the damage to the actual city was minimal.  But we didn’t have electricity for a week at the house we sheltered at.  We couldn’t stay in the shop because the roof had just gotten shims put in but the short time frame, didn’t give enough time to actually repair the roof.  And the shop didn’t get electricity back for about 10 days.  We had some funny moments and some scary moments.  We played Apples to Apples by candlelight, and laughed at our absolutely unbelievable bad luck.  But we made the best of it, and helped out in the neighborhoods where we could.  Our friends in town helped with keeping an eye on the shop and with replacing food.  But the worst was the tourists didn’t come back until October.  Times were tight, and the fallout from leaving Texas was becoming overwhelming.

In September, on a particularly hard day, our friends took us for a drink on the way back from our shift at the market.  We talked about what we could do to reduce the stress in the shop and to help us heal from a really hard year.  I responded immediately.  Give SCARS to the community.  I couldn’t take care of it anymore, and they needed the opportunity to grow with out us.  So that night, Cedric set in motion the transition.  By the next day, we had bowed out to focus on healing and moving forward with our goals.  We still wanted to promote creativity and inspire people to find their own muse, but working at the market had made us realize that there were ways to make enough money to survive on our own as a collective.  We wanted to move from that to making enough for each of our artists to be able to strike out on their own as well.  For that to happen, we had to start thinking bigger and focusing more on the  financial side of the business.  We made a new game plan, and started working towards advancing in new directions.  In the process, we lost a few more people from the part time crew.  While losing crew is hard, this time we were ready and had new people already lined up.   We booked a few television appearances, and started putting feelers out to the movie industry.  One of the first things we realized was that to make this transition, we needed to widen our base.  We needed to branch out of steampunk and show that there were other equally valid avenues for creativity.  That October we did our first Endless Night Vampire Ball in New Orleans, and met Sebastiaan Van Houton, aka Father Sebastiaan and his krewe.133379_350686785028408_770217728_o

The Future Past That Never Was – Airship Isabella part 3

We’d didn’t agree to the idea of the French Market right away.  There was a lot of back and forth and logistics questions.  For one thing, we lived in Texas.  Donald offered to let us stay at his house for the times we came down to New Orleans, and suddenly it looked like we could do this, at least part time.  We were going to Mardi Gras anyway, so we set up an appointment for February 17th, 5 days before Mardi Gras.  We would try it out for a few days, get our sea legs, and see how it worked out.

In the same time period, we catered a wedding, attended Clockwork Con in Austin, and got an offer to move to Celina, TX that we couldn’t refuse.  Our own home with enough bedrooms to house the whole full time crew, a two car garage for a workshop and an acre of land.  So, we started packing and getting ready to move.  On February 15th, we drove from San Leon to New Orleans with literally the last $250 that we had.  We had our meeting, got approved, had an epic foot race to get

Mardi Gras 2012, our first venture into New Orleans as vendors

Mardi Gras 2012, our first venture into New Orleans as vendors

all of our paperwork  signed and payed for…in the middle of Mardi Gras…and with minutes to spare, we had licenses and badges as official vendors in the French Market.  We did our first day that Saturday.   We used the last of the money we had to buy our booth space, and we set up in a tent in the back corner of the French Market.  We realized a handful of things.  We had no idea how to promote steampunk to tourists.  We were not accustomed to working outside.  None of our set ups were designed for a tent or for wind or rain.  At 3pm, we hadn’t made a single sale, and we had scared off most of the people that we had tried to talk to.

This was a market.  People come to shop, and we had no idea how to sell to a mundane crowd.   Our retail had supported us to some extent for years, but it wasn’t our first goal.  For this environment, our priorities were completely skewed.  We were more than a little flustered, and out of our element. We were starting to count pennies and talking about how much ramen we would need to feed the number of people we had with us.  I called the sales team together to discuss a different approach.  Let’s assume for a second that we are here where we were in the convention world two years ago.  No one knows what we are.  Let’s try starting this out with introducing people to the idea of steampunk.  But unlike the convention world where we have panels, people know the word and the kids have time, here you have less than 30 secs to get them to just stop.  So we used a simple line “So I bet you guys are wondering what us crazy folks are doing out here.”….and it worked.  In three hours, we sold more than we did at most weekend conventions.  The next two days were much easier, and it marked a turning point in Airship Isabella.

We suddenly had the potential to have a consistent way to bring income to the artists and the company.  So in between an already busy convention schedule, we put in at least one weekend a month in New Orleans.  What ended up happening was a 16 week long run.  That’s four solid months starting with Mardi Gras where the only weekend we took off was to move to Celina the first week in March.   At this point in time, I can’t really talk to you about what we did or how that was.  Most of it is a blur of roads, exhaustion, rain and goggles.  We went from North Texas to Daytona Beach, Florida and everywhere in between.  I remember some specific moments, like buying a trailer in Mississippi that promptly tried to kill us, and then bailing out of the car on the side of the road when we stopped holding the ground and clutching a bowl of blackberries that Tracy Stewart had given me that morning. But the non-facing death moments are hazy.  I talked to a very nice woman who I apparently met at Louisianime during that run, which was week 12 btw, just last weekend.  I apparently told her my real name, my whole life story and talked her ear off about me, steampunk and ASI for hours on the smoking deck.  I can honestly say I don’t remember any of it.  I thanked her for listening to me then, and that it was entirely possible that I was trying to remember who I was myself at that point in time.  But I can’t say because I don’t remember anything that didn’t involve nearly dying.

When we finally got home, we all hugged each other, cried and made a solemn vow to NEVER do that again.  On the road, we had a friend secure a semi-permanent location two blocks outside of the French Quarter in New Orleans for the time we spent there.  We had agreed to split the cost of the warehouse.  They had need of a place to store some of their stuff and a vehicle.  We had need of workshop space and sleeping quarters.  Just two weeks after ending the run, we all gathered our things and headed back to New Orleans.  The convention run had been expensive and we needed to recoup some of the income we lost on the death trap trailer.  The plan was to go to New Orleans for five weeks and make as much money as possible to get us through the summer.  In the middle of this, we also had the good fortune of making it to a charity dental clinic and finally getting the surgery to fix Cedric’s teeth.  We spent most of the summer in that warehouse working and enjoying what very much felt like a vacation from the craziness of the spring.

The first New Orleans ASI shop on North Rampart.

The first New Orleans ASI shop on North Rampart.

But life on the road is addictive, and it messes with your concept of time.  People quickly began to get restless and thought we weren’t moving fast enough.  We had been in New Orleans less than a month when the jitters started kicking in.  Most of us realized what was happening and managed to work through it.  Some of us didn’t.  In this time, we also realized something about New Orleans itself.  For those of you have haven’t ever been here, New Orleans is alive.  The city lives.  And you only survive here if she decides to keep you.  The locals told us this early on, but we were only staying for at most a week at a time.  And according to them, anyone can stay here a week.  After that, you will either never want to leave or you will be clawing at the walls to get out.  We’ve been told that it’s best to listen to that instinct.  Either you leave on your own two feet or she will throw you out…generally in a pine box.  It really does take a certain type of person to live here, and unfortunately, not everyone on our crew at the time felt that warm embrace.

The Future Past That Never Was – Airship Isabella part 2

After that Spring run, four of our full time members went on part time/inactive status.  They had gotten jobs, were finishing school or needed to get back to their personal lives.  Doing this kind of work is stressful and assumed at the time a certain level of poverty, so it was understandable.  We were sad to see them go, but there was nothing to do but push on.  We started looking to replace them, and chose Mr. Fox and Suzeaux Ryette.  They, perhaps foolishly, accepted our invitation in the summer of 2011, and molded into the crew almost immediately.  Summer has always been a slower season for us, and living in a house with no central air, we became serious night owls.  We had been discussing some long contemplated storylines and lamenting the lack of villains in our steampunk story.  We had also been discussing how disconcerting the change in direction that our characters had taken was.  We all started as pirates, who by their very nature, aren’t necessarily good guys.  The renegade label was chosen for a reason.  But with the popularity of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, and with nobody exploring the idea of the dark underbelly of steampunk, all of the stories had gotten a little bit tame.    Late one summer night, Delacru sat at his computer and started giggling and typing.  In all honesty, this wasn’t that unusual, and we thought nothing of it.  At the time Cedric had his computer monitor mounted to the wall above his work station, and we were still at a point that we left chat open on our facebook pages.  Cedric was tooling on leather when the first ping hit.  He didn’t even look up.  And then there was another and another….and his screen filled with chat box messages.  “What the hell….”  He read the first one, and we were all staring at him as he turned to Delacru and very seriously asked him “What did you do,

Cedric as Faust

Cedric as Faust

Dave?  What. Did. You. do?”  Delacru burst into laughter and explained.  He had created a facebook account for a fictional villain we were working on, Faust Horcrust.  And then, he got onto the SCARS chat box and started posting, in character, as this person.  The SCARS community didn’t know what was going on, and didn’t know what to make of the new person.  Being the geeky people that we are, sitting in the same room with each other, we started acting out our characters in the SCARS chat box.  Everyone caught on pretty quick and we had a blast.  We called our crew mates in the middle of the night and told them to get on line to play.  By morning, SCARS no longer had a chat box because we had added more than 100 members.  So, we started playing in the group.  We made accompanying videos and audio recordings.  The posts ran 180 plus messages long of people online role playing.  It was such as success that we set up an in person role play experience at San Japan for that July.  And thus, SCARS v. Order as a LARP was born.

We set up a scenario and told people that it was going to be free form role play, just like online.  Tons of people showed up.  We were in no way prepared for the explosion both in numbers and in activity that this caused in the community.  While fun for some, it caused a ton of problems at the convention, and there were some people that were out right offended by the interactive role play.  Up to that point, we had done in character performances, but they were scripted inside of ASI and only we participated.  This involved everyone that wanted to play, and it was chaos.  We knew after that first attempt that we were out of our league in this, and that while we were great at working with each other in improv situations, involving that many people with no experience with improv was a recipe for hurt feelings and disaster.  On the plus side, it shined a huge light on the dark side of steam, and created a huge movement of “bad guy” characters for us to play with.

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SCARS v Order LARP hosted by Mad Raven Productions at Louisianime.

We booked more, and more and more conventions.  By the time that Dickens rolled around in December 2011, we were already looking at bookings in 2013.  New steampunk conventions had begun to pop up all over the country including several in the SCARS area.  The online role playing had reached such a fevered pitch that it was in desperate need of its own home, and the community was growing faster than we could keep up with.  2012 promised to be the busiest year that we had seen yet, and it didn’t disappoint.

We closed out the year in Dallas, Texas at the  Difference Engine Convention, and started preparing immediately for the busiest con season that we had booked to date.  Before our first scheduled event, Clockwork Con in late January 2012, we got a phone call from Donald Tennant in New Orleans letting us know that Del had passed on in his sleep.  He was 48 years old.  We gathered what crew was available, and traveled to New Orleans for his wake.  Donald graciously let us stay in his house, and after a memorial pub crawl, we took the next day to wander about the Quarter talking about Del and how much this city meant to him.  We were all a little down, and in sombre moods as we somewhat aimlessly wandered into the French Market.  As we passed the front office, a small blonde haired woman darted out and grabbed Cedric.  She asked him if we made our outfits ourselves.  We told her yes.  She, in what we would come to know was a typical way, turned her head sideways and said with a sly smile “Do you sell this stuff as well?”  We promptly produced business cards and introduced ourselves.  Her name was Ann Meyer, and she was the Director for the French Market.  And out of the blue, she offered us a job.  Contact her online, fill out the paperwork, show up with product for vetting, pay the city and have a place to sell our wares year round.  And at this point, the world opened up around us, the clutch let go of the roller coaster and we all held on for dear life.

The Future Past That Never Was – Airship Isabella part 1

We have started filming on a documentary, and I was tasked with updating our written history.  In sitting down to write, I realized that while we have touched on a few of our life and company events, we haven’t logged anything since December of 2011 and that only chronicled until December of 2010.  You can find our early history here:  https://airshipisabella.wordpress.com/2011/12/29/airship-isabella-the-real-life-origins-of-cedric-and-amelia-whittaker/

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Cedric and John Strangeway at Steampunk World’s Faire 2011.

We’ve come a long way from that Dickens on the Strand in December of 2010.  It was our first big show, and so many of the newly burgeoning community showed up to support and promote the idea that steampunk belonged in both the spotlight and the everyday lives of the main stream communities.  It was filled with hope and energy and excitement.  The chant of “Steam….punk….Steam….PUNK….” haunts my dreams to this day.  We came off the high of that event into what would become our first extended convention run in the spring of 2011.  Six weeks in a row traveling between Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Arizona.  We started reaching out towider audiences and seriously ramped up our online presence.  It was in this time that SCARS was created.  It started as an idea that had been discussed between us and Ben Hamby of the Skydogs.  A statewide internet community group to promote discussion of the ideas, philosophies, build techniques and events that related to steampunk in Texas.  But with the rapid expansion of territory we had been reaching, limiting it to Texas seemed to be excluding some our most avid followers.  So we expanded it to the idea of the south central United States, hence the South Central Armada of Renegade Steampunks.  It took off like a weed and took on a life of it’s own almost instantly.  In March of 2011, we started our very first real internet campaign.  We decided, sitting in our run down Ike shack, between conventions, that there wasn’t enough representation from the South Central region in the awards ceremonies that were being held in some of the bigger events in the Northeast and West coast.  Steampunk World’s Faire had just announced nomination openings for a Knighting ceremony that May, and our first officer decided that this would be our chance to bring ourcommunity to the attention of the guys outside of our area.  We nominated our illustrious leader for knighthood, and campaigned vigorously for SCARS representation in the event.  The response was explosive.  Literally overnight, Cedric had outpaced every other nominee in the running.  John Strangeway, otherwise known as Steampunk Boba Fett, one of the other contestants, contacted us for the first time and his first words to Cedric were literally, “Who the hell ARE you?!”

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The photo we used for the Knighting campaign in 2011

Cedric flew through the nomination process and then the voting started.  Their systems crashed repeatedly with the traffic that was going to their site.  It was fantastic.  In the end, three men were granted knighthood, among them were Cedric and Strangeway.  So we pooled every penny we had, and bought tickets to Steampunk World’s Faire, a hotel room, and round trip greyhound bus tickets for Cedric and Javert.  And we sent them to New Jersey.  If you ever want a funny story, or just to see either Javert or Cedric turn beat red and angry, just ask them what it was like riding a greyhound bus for 40 hours.  It was our first experience with an established steampunk community and we were really surprised by the differences between there and home.  They had the same problems that we were facing, butthe sides were literally reversed.  It was bizarre, but comforting all at the same time.  We had begun having “purist” backlash in the SCARS world while in the Northeast it was the “purists” who were being givena hard time.  It just proved to us that the message of inclusivity in steampunk was important REGARDLESS of your affiliation.

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Del circa 2010 before we met in September

Local community forums had also started popping up all over the SCARS region.  One, Steampunk Americans, headed by Del Zarpafolus in New Orleans, contacted us and set up a meeting after Louisianime.  We met him and one of his members, Donald Tennant, at Cafe Du Monde the Monday after the con.  We spent all day touring the French Quarter, discussing the ups and downs that we had faced in Texas, the pitfalls of community building and the challenges of running a subculture based business.  Del wanted to see the New Orleans community become more active and united.  We made plans to attend Mardi Gras with them the next year.  We left the meeting loving New Orleans even more than we had, excited to see where these guys would take the New Orleans community, and energized in seeing the love of the genre spread.