AURELIA: Edge of Darkness
– Lisa Walker England | Creator, Writer, Showrunner
– Kelly Cook | Assistant Producer & Actor Coach
– Nick DeMartino | Marketing Director for Theatrics (http://theatrics.com)
Please tell us a little bit about yourself:
Lisa: “I’m a self-described “compulsive storyteller” from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I’ve been making up stories and telling them since I was a very small child—although back then I’m told they looked (and sounded) more like bad rip-offs of Cinderella. I didn’t decide to tell stories seriously until I was in graduate school, where I slighted my master’s thesis in order to finish the novel that has become the basis for AURELIA five years later.
“In between then and now, I’ve studied the craft of storytelling for fiction and film, have written screenplays for hire and production, blog about storytelling, teach screenwriting, write graphic novels, and apply storytelling professionally to brands at a digital agency. But my first love was and always will be fantasy and more fantasy-influenced iteration of science fiction like Steampunk.
“In 2012, I decided to get over my raging perfectionism and fear of someone actually seeing that five-year novel project. So I called it Rise of the Tiger, launched it online as a serial, and invited a few local artists to sketch something inspired by each chapter to accompany the prose. Seven months and 48 episodes later, we finished that project. A week after that, Theatrics invited me to turn the world of the serial into what is now AURELIA: Edge of Darkness.”
Kelly: “I am the ‘actor coach’ of the project. I have been doing LARPing for nearly twenty years and role playing for 30 years. I also focus my time on my studies and travel to Morocco.”
Where can we find you on the web?
Lisa: “You can view my writing blog and learn more about me at http://journeycraft.tv —although I’ve taken a brief hiatus during the show. You can read the original serial Rise of the Tiger at http://riseofthetiger.com. I blog about AURELIA at http://enteraurelia.com. Facebook is http://facebook.com/riseofthetiger and Twitter is http://twitter.com/lisawengland. You can also visit my comic book company City Beast Studio at http://citybeaststudio.com.”
Is AURELIA your first interactive project?
Lisa: “For me, yes it is. I’ve done interactive work with brands before, but never with a fictional property, and certainly not one of my own. I’d had a big itch to do this for a long time, though. I wanted to take my one-way stories into a two-way experience. At the outset of my collaboration with Theatrics, I spent a lot of time studying how LARPing works and talking to long-time LARPers. I am also fortunate to have Kelly Cook on board. He’s a twenty-year veteran of many LARP systems; this was his logical next step from all the game play.”
Kelly: “I’ve been involved with an organization called One World By Night that utilizes the World of Darkness setting first created and introduced by Mark Rein-Hagen in the early 90s. It originally began as a vampire the masquerade LARP but soon incorporated Werewolf the Apocalypse and Mage: The Ascension. I’ve been doing this for almost twenty years and so this was merely the next step in an interactive process.”
Where did the idea for AURELIA: Edge of Darkness come from?
Lisa: “It was mine originally, through that novel I wrote and serialized online, called Rise of the Tiger. Five years back, Aurelia was an underdeveloped, high-fantasy type setting. I named it Aurelia for Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor who was as sharp with his scholarship as he was with his sword. That’s the kind of people I wanted Aurelians to be: tough, scheming, savvy AND scientific. I also wanted to pay homage to the Tower of Babel and themes from John Milton’s Paradise Lost, which helped birth the idea of a self-perpetuating city in a Wasteland.
“Over the years, as I learned more about worldbuilding, I was fortunate to spend time in the Act One & Act Two programs in Los Angeles, where I was mentored by long time pop cultural expert and writer Leo Partible. Leo really helped me begin to solidify Aurelia into the Steampunk-inspired world it is today. With his help, I found a schema that “fit” and was able to launch the story in its serial form.
“All that being said, however, Aurelia has become even more unique and specific thanks to what our talented actors have brought to it. They have asked questions, pushed me deeper, and even brought ideas to the table that have enriched Aurelia considerably.”
Why did you choose Steampunk as one of the elements used in the setting?
Lisa: “Frankly, I didn’t want to write ‘another high fantasy.’ Sure, I love those stories as passionately as any genre fan, and I always swill. But I wanted to preserve some of the hallmarks of the high fantasy genre while mixing something fresh and different into it.
“Steampunk allowed me a way to introduce a higher level of technology than medieval-type stories have. Although I recognize, much to the ‘purist’s’ dismay, we’ve departed from many traditional Steampunk elements such as the alternate British empire setting. Aurelia has tried to blend high fantasy and elements of Steampunk. I’ll leave it to the audience to decide for themselves how successful or not we’ve been!”
Were you in any way inspired by Riese the Series?
Lisa: “I did watch Riese and enjoy it very much. Scientifically, creativity is really just a fresh remix of all the sensory input our brains receive—so I’ve no doubt that watching that show influenced me in some way. But I didn’t deliberately sit down and think, ‘Hey, I want to pay homage to Riese in my tale.’” Any inspiration I received from it was just part of the natural remix of stimuli.
Where else did you get your inspiration from?
Lisa: “John Milton’s Paradise Lost has always been a huge creative inspiration for me, and I believe his work speaks a lot to the turbulence we see and experience in our world today. So Paradise Lost was a big foundation for the story—as it has been for Lost, Watchmen, and many other fictional stories in the last few decades.
“In addition, I love the classic works of fantasy like those of Tolkien and Lewis, and more recent authors such as Patrick Rothfuss and George RR Martin who create dark fantasy worlds with less emphasis on traditional magical beings, and more emphasis on human turmoil. I also lived in Nepal for a while, and experiencing a heavily stratified society, where a caste system was very much in place, helped pull me toward making Aurelia a similar social structure.
“Overall, I seek to travel, have lots of experiences, and consume books, graphic novels, and films of many genres. It’s amazing where inspiration comes from sometimes—often not directly from other books in the genre I’m writing.”
Kelly: “I don’t know about Lisa, but as for myself, I took a lot of inspiration from both my previous LARPing experience and day-to-day life going on in the world. If you pay attention to the details that play out in Aurelia you can see some parallels to what is currently happening in our global community today.”
Do you have a vague plot line for the story, is it completely interaction driven, a bit of both or are you tinkering with the plot as it develops?
Lisa: “All of the above. It depends on the moment! Seriously though, I DO have a loose overall plot for the story. I’ve found, however, that actors are very proactive and really excited about building and interweaving their individual plot lines, so the overall plot has taken a bit of a back seat at this point.
“But I keep close tabs on everything, and am working with the actors tie their stories back into the loose overarching story. Which is why all three answers apply! Basically: those actors we have right now are highly invested in their storylines and willing to bring a lot to the table story-wise. If we had actors who were more interested in following a single linear story, we’d lean more heavily on the loose backbone narrative.”
Have you already decided on the length of the story and the number of calls to action?
Lisa: “We’ve set this ‘season’ of Aurelia for twelve weeks, with a 2.5 week beta on the front end of that. So a total of 14.5 weeks if all goes as planned. Many actors have been surprised and sad about that—but I’ve told them all that our story structure leaves plenty of room to reevaluate and launch a season two if enough people are interested in continuing. The number of calls to action is roughly set at once per week (so a total of 14), but again, that is fluid based on what’s happening. For example, if I knew a number of actors were busy this week and wouldn’t have time to post their current videos until later, I would hold off on posting a new call. This is one advantage of being small right now, which leads into your next question …”
Is there an upper limit of participants?
Lisa: “In theory, no. Our predecessor Theatrics show, the popular Beckinfield paranormal drama, had a three-year run with 4,000 actors. I admit, I do enjoy the personal interaction I can have with all the actors because there are only like 30 of us or so right now. As the show grows, it will change character somewhat—but that allows for new and different storytelling opportunities that are unique in themselves.”
Will there be interventions from the director of some sort?
Lisa: “I try to interfere as little as possible outside the weekly calls to action, and when I do interfere, it’s as an actor, not as a director. Once in a while I have to moderate a story point, or help actors connect with each other or get themselves out of story quandary. Other than that, they’re great about contacting each other and keeping their own stories rolling. I do watch everything though and stay up to date.”
Kelly: “As the staff and crew, I don’t think there requires much if any) intervention on our part. We have a brilliant group of people as our cast and they really know how to let their imagination guide them along on this journey. We DO occasionally provide back story and fill in minor details from time to time, but by and large we simply let the story unfold on its own accord.”
Since this if very much an online LARP, do you have any LARP experience or regular role-playing game yourself?
Lisa: “While Aurelia does have serious LARP ties, I would not call it LARP categorically. The primary difference is that our format is asynchronous. Beyond that, there are no character sheets, no impending character death (unless you plan it), and conflict/drama is generated more by how actors craft their stories in relationship to the setting than by any set of ‘game rules.’ Together, we’re inventing a new storytelling experience, and because it’s so new, we don’t really know how it will play out. That’s the fun of it!
“I call Aurelia more ‘co-created storytelling,’ or (from a tactical perspective) ‘story chess,’ as I termed it in a recent showrunner blog post. From the co-creative storytelling aspect, I have lots of experience from working on collaborative fiction, film and graphic novel projects. I do not have a long history of LARP involvement, but I’m fortunate to have a team member who does—and the actors are teaching me a lot every day!”
Kelly: “Oh yes. As I had said earlier I’ve been LARPing for nearly twenty years and role-playing for about 30 years starting with the D&D red basic set.”
Will there be more background available for the world of Aurelia?
Lisa: “Two more official backdrops will release in the next week or so, from our artist Julie Roth. We are also fortunate that a few more should be coming from a class at the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design. Beyond that, however, backdrops are up to the actors. No one has done green screen to date except for one actor; however that’s always an option because our show-provided scenic backdrops are sized for regular and HD shooting. Otherwise, I’ve been really excited with the variety of locations actors are using to mimic some part of Aurelia. Really, the emphasis of the show is on the acting and the individual dramas. That being said—if an artistic actor wished to draw/paint and green-screen their own backdrops, that would be awesome too!”
More specifically, will there be a map or bestiary?
Lisa: “There is a map of the city already on the site. A bestiary is planned for release at the end of Season One, although artwork from it will probably be available in upcoming weeks.”
As a forum admin, I have made the experience that forum-based RPGs are soon being taken over by those who have the most time at their hands, who may not necessarily be the best contributors. Do you see any problems there for the development of the story of Aurelia – Edge of Darkness?
Lisa: “I’m pleased to say ‘No.’ Not thus far. I guess you might say that there is a pretty high level of commitment from people who are willing to develop a story, dress up and perform on a regular basis in front of a camera. It’s this level of commitment, I believe, that has united such a great cast thus far. They’re responsive. They’re creative. They’re collaborative. One might imagine all sorts of complications of this variety—but we’ve experienced none.”
Kelly: “Thankfully, no. Our cast are some of the most well-versed in their respective genres and most have had years of experience to add to the world of Aurelia. The only challenge is for us to keep up with the amazing storylines that have been cropping up.”
In a related note, since nothing is scripted, is it possible for one character to oust another one in one way or another?
Lisa: “It could happen, but only with both actors’ consent. If someone showed up claiming to have killed someone else, and the ‘dead’ party knew nothing of it in advance and had not agreed to it, then I would pull that video and work with the actors to come up with an alternate storyline. However, if a character consents to ‘perish’ and possibly thus free the actor to play a different character, that is totally plausible. As long as actors are making mutually agreeable decisions as they interact, it’s all good.”
Kelly: “It’s plausible, but since our players stay closely in touch with one another, no one is caught off guard really.”
Tell me a little bit more about your partnership with Theatrics, please.
Nick DeMartino, Theatrics Business Development Director: “Theatrics was born in 2010 from the marriage of story and user-contributed video. The founders of Theatrics saw an opportunity to create a new kind of story that leveraged the popularity of online video as a performance tool. The tool was actually the outgrowth of their own story called Beckinfield — a sci-fi adventure that took place in a fictional California town and which unfolded through the performances of characters created by fans themselves. Backstage prompts drove the focus of the story forward, but the action was entirely in the hands of the community. Nobody had ever done this before.
“Now other storytellers can use Theatrics to bring their imaginations and their fan bases to the story format. Lisa Walker England and steampunk fans are perfect partners to explore the innovative story engine that Theatrics has created. Lisa has built a rich and detailed world with Aurelia, and has extracted plot points to drive the story arc over several months, creating a container within which the global community of steampunk and fantasy fans can either view or directly participate in the unfolding of the story.
“Lisa has produced a deep repository of assets in all of the forms supported by Theatrics — video, graphics, text, and links — for fans to explore and play off of. It’s amazing to see the care with which her fans create their characters and produce authentic in-world videos, image artifacts, and story statements and other elements. We can’t wait to see how Aurelia unfolds, and are extremely pleased that Lisa chose to work with Theatrics to bring her story to life in a new way. Theatrics is a better platform as a result, and will be more useful to other storytellers who have their own worlds to build.”
Are there any character you would like to see in the story, anybody missing?
Lisa: “There’s room for all kinds of Aurelians! That being said, characters we don’t currently have any of include ‘navvies’ or navigators on the Grand Canal, merchants, craftspeople of various types, servants, and machine workers. Those interested in makeup and non-human characters could play a renn (machine-augmented soldier) or a kiega (furry, mole-like miner). Keep in mind thought that even the poorest Aurelians aren’t telling you everything about their TRUE goals and motives.
“Also, we have plenty of room for more minor nobles, thieves, middle class, poor folk, etc. The key is, ‘What is going to be your unique take on that type of character?’ The sky’s the limit within the confines of the world. New actors will find plenty of info and possible roles, etc. on the Getting Started tab of our homepage, which should be the first they land on when they visit http://theatrics.com/aurelia. There’s also a persona called Advanced World Info where I post each week on new topics that go deeper into Aurelian history, lore, culture and economics.”
Wow, this has been quite a haul now. Thank you so much for taking the time and providing us with such a host of information. And now, everybody, check out AURELIA.