Shakespeare’s plays can be seen performed around the world, and there are so many different interpretations of his work – that’s part of what makes his plays so enjoyable! At Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival we’ve been known to have some new interpretations of our own, and this season, Scott Bellis will be directing a reimagining* of his successful production of The Comedy of Errors done in steampunk style. What is steampunk, you ask? We went to Tracey Ernst, who manages Vancouverites for Steampunk, for some answers. 

Bard: In a few sentences, how would you best describe steampunk?

Tracey: Steampunk has its origins in Victorian science fiction, particularly Jules Verne’s novels. Think ornate steam and clockwork machines, arcane in their complexity and glittering with brass, in combination with early experimental electricity. It is an aesthetic of Victorian-styled science fiction and fantasy, brought to life through art, fashion, gadgets, music, and literature. Picture yourself wearing Victorian fashions modified with a modern flair, as you board a fanciful airship to float you to your destination in style. Steampunk takes you to a world of adventure, discovery, mad science and imagination.

Bard: What aspect of steampunk interests you the most, and what do you think our audiences might find intriguing about it?

Tracey: Steampunk is every costume designer’s dream. I love the strong historic flavour without being restricted by historic accuracy.  Elaborate corsets can be worn over clothing inspired by Victorian and Edwardian garments.  Gentlemen can have goggles perched on their top hats. Accessories are key. Steampunks come replete with pocket watches, rayguns and a thousand cunning gadgets for every imagined function. I think audiences will enjoy the lushness and creativity of the style.

Bard: What are some of your favourite references to steampunk in pop culture?Hugo, 2011

Tracey: The movie Wild Wild West is very steampunk in fashion and technology, and makes for a visual treat whatever one might think of the film itself. I love the aesthetic of the recent Sherlock Holmes movies with Robert Downey Jr. with Victorian costuming and some elaborate machinery and gadgets. Hugo has steampunk elements with its focus on clockwork and gears. For novels, I’m partial to Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan series and Phil & Kaja Foglio’s Girl Genius series (novels and beautiful online web comic).

Bard: What advice would you give to someone who doesn’t know what steampunk is and might be a bit unsure of what to expect?

Don’t worry – steampunk isn’t “punk rock”! Steampunk rebels against a modern world of pajama pants and lax manners. It celebrates graciousness and style. But we have fun with it, too. You’ll see familiar Victorian and Edwardian designs and styles, tweaked in imaginative ways.

Have you seen hints of steampunk in pop culture? Let us know in the comments below!

The Comedy of Errors previews begin June 4 on the BMO Mainstage. Purchase tickets from April 8 on the Bard website

Vancouverites for Steampunk is an open community for locals interested in Steampunk. It’s a place to share and encourage steampunk and steampunk-related activities, information and events within Vancouver and the Lower Mainland, as well as the nearby communities of Vancouver Island and Seattle. They have regular get-togethers from craft meets to costumed field trips and steampunk picnics.
*It was originally staged at Studio 58 in 2011