TROY – This Saturday, the City of Troy transforms into The Enchanted City, a festival with a theme all too fitting for one of the capitals of the Industrial Revolution.
The Enchanted City is a “steampunk” fair with faerie flare featuring cosplayers, a fashion show, culinary competition, live theater, storytellers and music. Its mission is to celebrate the industrial heritage and creative spirit of Troy’s past, present and future.
“Steampunk is kind of a hard thing to define,” said Chris Stocking, a science-fiction and fantasy novelist out of upstate New York, whose nine books delve heavily into the world of steampunk. “It’s sort of a mash up of 1800s culture with an emphasis on steam-power, but it goes so much further than that. It’s another world. It’s traveling back in time, and sometimes forward in time. It’s about elegance and creation. … It’s so many things at once that it’s more than just a genre, but it’s a culture.”
Enchanted City is the brainchild of Troy’s Susan Dunckel, owner of Sweet Sues on River Street. When she moved to the area several years ago, she became enamored with the Victorian Aged architecture and the stories behind the city’s role in the Gilded Age.
“You take the technology out of context and match it with the beautiful Victorian architecture in Troy, it’s neat,” said Dunckel. It fits perfectly with the steampunk theme. The city’s outside aesthetics melds with its historical heritage. It helps festival-goers fall into character. The Enchanted City is much like a renaissance festival in that people dress in elaborate costumes and slip into characters of intricate detail and history.
Dunckel recalls pitching the idea to Troy Mayor Lou Rosamilia shortly after moving to Troy four years ago. She observed how the city already hosted a number of festivals, but nothing that engaged families with young children. Her idea involved bringing together classically trained musicians, dancers, artists, theatrics – entertainment that was family friendly, and imaginative.
And, to have it a few weeks from Halloween, makes it all the better, she said.
“That’s also the dream, to have it in October,” said Dunckel. “Because, when you have the people who are on the fence, you say ‘It’s okay [to dress up], it’s October. … It’s very much like Disney, in some ways and different in others. In Disney, you are pretending in this fantasy world. People create a name, a full history [and] construct a costume.”
Approximately 1,500 people have committed to attend according to the festivals event page on Facebook. “For an audience that is a little more tech savvy,” said Dunkel, “If we factor in others, we’re looking at 5,000, which is huge for a second year.”
“The buzz about The Enchanted City festival last year allowed me to see that this is something people really want,” Dunckel. “We’re really pulling out all the stops this year, doing a lot of research and talent scouting, to create a unique experience that will draw festivalgoers from far and wide.”
In its first year, The Enchanted City festival transformed downtown Troy into a Victoriana wonderland that attracted nearly 1,000 people before heavy rain ended the event prematurely.
With its grant of $10,000, the Troy LDC will be listed as the “Presenting Inventor Sponsor” on all Enchanted City materials. The grant will help pay for a long list of technicians, entertainers, educators and festival support staff. A month-long Kickstarter campaign was launched in July to raise another $3,000 towards the festival. Another incentives to donate towards this weekend’s event were VIP tickets to a post-festival concert and “Queens Ball” featuring alternative cello ensemble Rasputina at the Takk House.
An Inventors Challenge will ultimately devise a “mechanical conveyance” — a vehicle — to transport “Queen Mab,” the festival’s costumed figurehead. The mobile machinery must be able to safely carry the queen a distance of a quarter mile. The winning vehicle was selected last Friday during Troy Night Out, and earns an automatic bid into the “Queens Tourney of Mad Machinery” on Oct. 3. The tournament features a variety of races that pits each vehicle into battles with time, space and gravity.
“Troy, as a location, has become the nexus of the creative class and the creative economy,” said Bill Dunne, Troy’s Commissioner of Planning and Economic Development and Executive Director of the Troy LDC. “This event is that mix between art and technology which is our brand.”
The Enchanted City Inventors Challenge was made possible through a strategic partnership with Tech Valley Center of Gravity and The Hudson Mohawk Industrial Gateway.
“Troy has a history of out-of-the box thinkers who did things, at the time, that seemed crazy — like George Ferris, an RPI graduate who modeled his Ferris Wheel after Troy’s famous Burden Water Wheel,” said Dunckel. “We are seeing that inventive spirit reemerge in Troy today, with groups like the Tech Valley Center of Gravity, PRI and companies like Apprenda. The Enchanted City is all about showcasing that spirit in a fun way — bringing it into the streets, so people can see it and put their hands on it and rekindle our ‘future-past.’ That’s steampunk.”
For information about the Troy LDC, visit http://troyny.gov/Departments/EconomicDevelopment/TroyTLDC.aspx.
Michael Hallisey is managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.