fantasy LARP

Storytelling in AURELIA: LARP, Improv … or Both?

AurelianAleEven the smoothest of collaborative projects is bound to hit a few snags along the way, at one time or another.

Aurelia hit one such “snag” a few weeks back when a confusion arose among players about whether or not this is a true LARP or a true improv storytelling situation.

Those not familiar with one or either of these great traditions might wonder why it matters.


LARP (Live Action Roleplay) typically organizes a group of people to act out characters from another time period, dimension, or fantastical setting. Often LARP systems employ a “gamified structure” in which player-actors strategize, perform actions in order to move “up” the food chain, and may (in some cases) actually “win” the game or experience permanent character “death.”

LARPers are used to coordinating their storylines and expect the game to impose a strict system of consequences. For LARPers, each story action has an equal and opposite reaction which which characters must contend. It’s both challenging and fun.


By contrast, and much more widely-known, improv acting invites actors to improvise their performances with little or no pre-scripting. Improv is spontaneous. Actors who enjoy improv love nothing more than being “thrown” scenarios with which they must run. Improv is about flexibility, creativity, and “in the moment” tag-teaming that yields entertaining results.

While the art of improv may observe some rules for interaction, to my knowledge, it leaves the decision largely to each actor, where and how to include consequences and obstacles into his/her storyline. Too much pre-collaboration or rule-setting could actually detract from the process itself.

So which is it?

By now, the divergence between the two art forms is probably pretty obvious. The confusion we experienced in AURELIA, however, was not.

It turns out, some actors had been approaching AURELIA as a LARP, and therefore expected the world to “strike back” at actors with consequences, handicaps, and other game-type elements which would heighten conflict and force actors to think more creatively about how to evade them. Other actors had been approaching AURELIA as an improv acting scenario, in which they would collaborate with other spontaneously, entering each others’ storylines at will and “running” with whatever elements were introduced to their stories by others.

This confusion, so far into the show, really stopped me cold.

I could see pros and cons to both approaches, but actors were looking to me for a decision.

And the winner is . . .

In the end, I decided that AURELIA is not a true LARP, since we did not start out with a game structure and could not easily implement one now without much confusion. However, AURELIA is also not true improv, because actors do need to keep one another abreast of potential interactions for planning purposes. The story is getting too intertwined for major actor-to-actor on-stage surprises that might actually be upsetting rather than exciting.

So maybe AURELIA is the world’s first improv LARP?

I’m sure I’d get plenty of objections on that from both artistic camps! But one thing is for sure: AURELIA is breaking new storytelling ground.

I’ll keep you posted on how improv LARP works out!

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Storytelling in AURELIA: Reflections From Launch

Screen shot 2013-07-23 at 1.51.46 PMBack in June, I wrote a post about structuring the story of Aurelia. Theatrics‘ unique actor-response model has only been used a couple of times, so my twelve-week arc was tentative at best. What would happen when an unknown number of individual stories entered—and altered—the equation?

The answer to that question still eludes us. But after experiencing the  story at work for the last few weeks, here are a few thoughts:

1) Aurelia is co-created.

The truth of this idea did not really hit me until this past weekend, as I began assembling our fledgling show wiki, powered by Wikia. In traditional role play environments, players refer to and work within the guidelines of an often-huge “world bible.” While Aurelians have asked this type of content—and our team continues to deliver—we also encourage actors to consider their own self-generated details, props, and lore as part of that “world bible.” The team may set guidelines, but actors ultimately bring the world to life. Their vision of Aurelia is as important as ours.

2) Aurelia is asynchronous.

In traditional role play or theater environments, interaction happens synchronously. Actors gather at one place and time, to experience community face-to-face. (An exception to this would be text-based forum role play.) By contrast, Aurelia’s story unfolds in smaller visual parts and pieces, one video, blog post, or photo at a time. One might imagine this format impedes the development of community. But our actors are collaborating regularly backstage, helping one another, and even planning social gatherings (in real time), all based on a community that accommodates their individual schedules.

3) Aurelia is orchestrated.

Recently actors have asked if I’ll ever take over the role of a play or film director in Aurelia—telling actors what plots to pursue, or how their characters’ stories should turn out. The answer is always “no.” While I act more like a storyteller in a role play environment, stirring the pot and keeping things on track at a very high level, I also encourage actors to become proactive in choosing which stories interest them, who they want to collaborate, and what will happen next.  Nonetheless, their inter-character decisions will affect how I spin the meta-story. What an adventure!

AURELIA. It’s not quite LARP. Not quite community theater. It’s co-creative, asynchronous, orchestrated storytelling fun. Now if somebody could just come up with a term for that . . .

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