Just three days before it was scheduled to open at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa, the steampunk event known as Aethertopia has been canceled. Organizers say a lack of advanced ticket sales left them without enough funds.
"There were just too many pieces in play, it just wasn't coming together," said Aerthertopia creator Anthony Sakovich, a marketing executive from New Port Richey. "We spent a lot of money up front, spent thousands on airline tickets and the set pieces, but I can't go to a state agency and write a rubber check based on tickets sales I hope will be there."
Some 200 tickets were purchased in advance, and about 30 vendors were lined up. Sakovich said he is trying to figure out a way to issue refunds, "as soon as my accounts have cleared all the show-related debits and I can get a grip on what little is actually left."
Steampunk is a genre that combines elements of Victorian clothing, steam-powered gadgets, the science fiction of Jules Verne, post-apocalyptic stories and the Old West. The steampunk community has been shockingly kind to him, Sakovich said, many telling him to keep their advanced purchases as a deposit on a future remake.
"This event is definitely not dead," Sakovich said. "It's 'mostly dead,' to quote The Princess Bride. We will call this a hiatus to create an immersive event that will accomplish our core mission as a maker exhibition to share knowledge and promote steampunk and its maker mentality."
Meanwhile, vendors and fans are turning their attention to two pop-up steampunk markets this weekend.
From noon to 6 p.m. Saturday, Steam Market Day goes down at the SpookEasy Lounge in Tampa's Ybor City, 1919 E Seventh Ave. And from 12:30 to 6 p.m. Sunday at Largo's Waypoint 6 Tavern and Geekery, 9057 Ulmerton Road, there is the Tampa Bay Steampunk Society costume competition and Steam Market Day.
Sakovich was touched by the outpouring of support and said Aerthertopia will return, "because they aren't giving me a choice."
This would have been the second year for Aerthertopia, which Sakovich said sold about 500 tickets in 2018. He thought the advanced ticket sales looked strong, but the MegaCon fan convention in Orlando in May had a big steampunk gathering. He said he was surprised to see ticket sales dry up after MegaCon instead of surging like they did last year.
One big lesson, he said, is that he needs to get general admission down to a lower cost or free instead of the $39 starting price. He may join forces with other organizations to make that happen.
"We are still reeling from all this," Sakovich said. "We should be at the fairgrounds right now setting up our set pieces. Instead we're loading them into storage units. I pushed it too hard and I broke it this year, but that doesn't mean it's gone. I just need to fix what was wrong."
Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @SharonKWn.