Story

Perfect Endings: A Showrunner’s Reflections

Cameo_BlogFive months ago, I began the journey of AURELIA. It seems like I’ve lived a lifetime since then. From hiring a creative team for the first time, to recruiting actors (many of whom quickly became friends), to traveling to Los Angeles and being featured on a Huffington Post blog to experiencing the ups and downs of a story that went exactly where I thought it would (and nowhere near it at all!) . . . it’s been a whirlwind of a journey.

Along the way, in the spirit of Kelly’s latest post, here are a few things I’ve learned, from a showrunner’s perspective:

1. The world is always deeper.

Whatever I thought I knew about Aurelia from Rise of the Tiger, the Aurelians always found a way to challenge it. Sometimes it was as simple as a really smart question that set me thinking. Those questions often led to clarifications or even adjustments to my personal (or our collective) understanding of the world. At the end of the day, the deeper the world, the more for actors to play with. Don’t be afraid to confront those gaps.

2. Collaboration enhances story.

As writers, it’s so easy for us to be possessive about our worlds, or obsessively anxious about our “intellectual property.” While common sense is always good, I think for most of us it goes too far. The digital age, and digital storytelling thrive on that cheesy acronym TEAM: “Together, Everyone Achieves More.” If you’re not willing to create together, you can’t achieve the “more” that’s waiting.

3. Detours are part of the journey.

As a showrunner, it’s tempting to want to get somewhere . . . fast. The story has to hurry. The actors have to hurry. Everything has to hurry, or we don’t think we’ll make our deadlines. If I learned anything, it was to slow down and let things unfold naturally. Often, in that time, the actors would invent whole new plot lines or take things in a completely different direction. And nine times out of ten, that direction was better than what I had in mind.

4. Characterization is exaggeration.

Aurelia’s best characters weren’t strictly “everyday people.” They were the people who evidenced a particularly exaggerated trait or two that colored their every appearance on stage. Now that I’m going back to my usual writerly “grind,” I’m taking that principle and filtering every character through it. Before, I understood characterization at an intellectual level; now, I’m beginning to understand it from an experiential level–having lived characters and watched them unfold through others.

5. Questions drive storytelling.

At the end of the day, human beings love mystery. The more mysteries you can spin, and foster, the better off your story will be. Not that showrunners (or writers) should invent things superfluously, but if the more you can build organic mystery into your story, the more invested your audience will be as the story unfolds. And as an added tip, I’ve found that questions involving people’s true loyalties (ie: political/social intrigue) are the juiciest, and most polarizing.

And with that, it’s time to wrap up Aurelia. I hardly know what to say at the end of the journey. Except that it’s been phenomenal. Our actors, audience, and partners at Theatrics have been more amazing than I could have ever hoped.

May the City of Aurelia live on, in many more stories, and in our imaginations.

Rise Above, Citizens of Light.

Hail Aurelia.

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What’s Next for Aurelia?

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The end of our show isn’t the end of Aurelia. Here’s a peek at what lies ahead for the City of Light and its darkly-minded inhabitants:

  • In November, the AURELIA BESTIARY will release. Watch for more information at my blog and at City Beast Studio.
  • In January 2014, I’ll announce brand-new branding for the world of AURELIA, encompassing all its stories, and reflecting the overall saga behind the stories.
  • Later in 2014, the first installment of an eight-part revised and expanded version of Rise of the Tiger will release for Kindle, featuring all-new plot lines and a deeper exploration of the city’s dark secrets.
  • Once all eight parts have released, I’ll introduce the next stage of King Jude’s journey, taking him into a faraway land on the other side of Aurelia’s mysterious continent.
  • AURELIA: Edge of Darkness, the show, may return for future seasons if interest and the creative time come together.
  • And who knows what else might come up? If the future of this world is anything like its past, amazing things are right around the corner.

Reflections on the Journey

kelly (resized)Part Three of Three by Aurelia Intern Kelly Cook

As a writer, the Aurelia experience has given me some new insights into writing which will benefit me in days to come. When the time presents itself, I will finally commit words to my long-overdue and heavily-researched first attempt at a novel.

I have learned that sometimes, the best of characters aren’t great and powerful heroes of renown  but the common person who rises to the occasion in the struggle for survival. We all know how a lot fantasy is driven by these great epic adventures, but I think what helps make it a story worth reading is not this person who can defeat armies with a flick of a wrist or slay dragons like strolling through a park on a Sunday afternoon.

No, truthfully, we long for those common every day people who stand with the world against them and reach harrowing low points only to pick themselves up and prevail. These people are us. It gives the reader hope that even they, the common person can be something of greatness with perseverance  and willpower.

In Aurelia, I watched a few characters have what we call the “god complex.” They fell short on their storylines. They’ve had a few interactions here and there with other performers, but the overall story fell flat and some of us breathed the sigh of relief when it was over. Our favorite characters were those of ordinary means, who for whatever reason rose to the occasion to do something out of the ordinary.

I have also come to realize that sometimes, life’s stupid mistakes, albeit fatal mistakes, often make for an enjoyable twist in a story. It’s nice to see our favorite characters survive great peril, but something about making it true to life makes a story resonate. For example, I played a character named Graccus who was a powerful Inquisitor for the Serpent’s Temple, tasked with tracking down heretics. Well, a “hot lead” led him to find another character who was drowning, and he offered to save that drowning man. But in the process, Graccus lost his footing and, while wearing heavy armor, ended up drowning. Harsh way to go, I’ll admit, but at the same time, very humorous and in its own way realistic in that sometimes stupid mistakes can be fatal.

Lastly, post-Aurelia, as I writer I have considered using a medium in which I could allow others to spin part of the story to make the randomness of life ring loudly in the story. It’s good to know small details of the character and to fall in love with each one of them. In this manner, the story takes on a life of its own and really pulls the reader in.

With the final curtain closing, I have to say, I’ll miss you, Aurelia.


Week 11 Performance Highlights

As the end nears, intrepid Aurelians gather around Horatio Moncrethe for a trip to the deepest parts of the city. Others, with less noble motives, scheme against their fellow citizens; meanwhile, others face the menace of strange powers from outside the city.


Reflections at the End of the Journey

Kelly_CookPart Two of Three, with AURELIA Intern Kelly Cook

I have learned a lot from this project. While there was a lot to take in, what advice I could offer to others planning a similar project is pretty straight forward.

1. Flexibility

First and foremost is stay flexible. The nature of this type of media makes being rigid more of an obstacle than a boon. Rigidity stifles the creative process in this medium because, as great as we’d like to think we are and how capable we are at covering all our bases, often times, another perspective can breathe fresh air into something that runs the risk of growing stale if we remain rigid. As we tried to maintain a modicum of realism, flexibility is much of how life is in that as much as we plan for things, sometimes it just doesn’t turn out how we expected.

2. Groundedness

Secondly, remember this is only your imagination. There is no need to get too attached to your imaginary persona and realize when someone slights your characters or NPCs it’s not a slight against you. This ties into the first point in that just because they don’t go along with what you laid out as a plot doesn’t mean they don’t respect you. Perhaps they simply see an opportunity to expand their storyline in the overall story arc.

3. Strength

Third, expect friction. With as many people as there are in the world, it is impossible to have all personalities of actors mesh together. Some may fall into the category of “Mary Sue” where they are simply good at everything and some even border on what is known as “godmodding,” which is playing a character with super powers who, for whatever reason, cannot be touched or hurt by others. Of course, there are many who simply go with the flow but for those who fall into the latter two cases, this leads to my fourth pointer.

4. Precedents

Establish precedence early and be sure to nip these things early. If you don’t, you can’t expect the individuals in question to change their roles without causing a lot of interruptions. Having said that, one should still stay more in the background instead of always in the forefront micromanaging the story. It takes away from the fun . . . which leads to my final point of advice.

5. Fun

Have fun. Sure things are crazy and out of hand, but in all due honesty, if they aren’t dominating the story, who cares? Just have fun and let the story go where it may. It may prove to be the most interesting story of all.


Aurelia Featured on Airship Ambassador

What an honor for AURELIA to be featured in a three-part series on popular Steampunk blog Airship Ambassador. Today’s inaugural installment features an interview between the Ambassador himself, Kevin Steil, and Lisa England, our creator and showrunner. Enjoy today’s installment and look forward to two more. And while you’re at it, check out the many other fantastic resources the Ambassador has to offer!

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Introducing . . . the AURELIA BESTIARY

Today I’m pleased to formally announce the development of an Aurelia Bestiary: a compendium of monsters, machines, mutants, and mythic creatures that inhabit the City of Aurelia and her surrounding plains.

This 32-page (comic-sized) volume features creatures from the original novel Rise of the Tiger, new additions from the show Aurelia: Edge of Darkness, and even a few never-before-seen horrors from Aurelia’s deepest, darkest mad science labs! Written as if by Aurelian scientist themselves, the Aurelia Bestiary will include original field notes, poetry, scientific analysis, and other fun tidbits in the style and tone of our infamous world-in-crisis.

Aurelia Bestiary will be released by City Beast Studio, the sequential art and multimedia development cooperative I helm, along with my co-conspirators Terry Reed and Cole Norton. The release date has been set for the end of Aurelia’s current season: October 17th.

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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

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.

Improv

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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AURELIA Week 4 Highlights!

It’s that time again. Time for a quick peek at what the Aurelians are up to! From damsels in distress to misunderstandings to devious and dangerous alliances — we’ve got it all.


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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Beta Week 2 Highlight Reel

Our intrepid actors have been busy building their stories, one post at a time. Take a peek behind the scenes—and get a taste of the alliances and rivalries, scandals and secrets already emerging inside AURELIA. This Wednesday, July 17th, you’ll finally be able to browse the show site yourself!

 


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Character Corner – Costuming

Hey folks! Check out this quick tip from Kelly on some costuming ideas for your videos. It’s easier than you think!


Beta Week 1 Performance Highlights

It’s that time! Time to show off our citizens—the crazy, the clever, and the creepy—who’ve already made Aurelia home. Meet them in this brief highlight reel, then take the plunge by joining them! Email aureliashow@gmail.com for your private invitation to participate in our beta episodes.


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AURELIA has launched! Be one of our pioneering actors.

A fantasy tale, told by an unlimited crowdsourced cast, with an uncertain ending? That’s exactly what we’ve launched in Aurelia: Edge of Darkness. Now, it’s up to some pioneering actors to give this groundbreaking show a try! Watch the intro video here, then get your link to the private show site by emailing Lisa England at aureliashow@gmail.com.


Aurelia’s Beta Show Launches in 9 Days

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This summer, visit a far-off world full of intrigue, adventure and friendship … in the fantasy city of AURELIA.  For a thousand years, Aurelia has survived in a desolate wasteland. Now, an energy shortage threatens to wipe the city of the map forever. It’s up to Aurelia’s courageous citizens to save their collective life (and live a little while they’re at it!). One of those citizens could be you.

People have started asking how they can be part of Aurelia. Whether you’re an experienced actor, a cosplayer or LARPer, or just dream of acting, now is your chance. Aurelia: Edge of Darkness invites adventurous actors to drive the story and determine how it ends. No auditions. No experience necessary. Share your character’s updates anywhere, from phone or laptop.

Our beta show launches in 9 days (June 28th). If you’d like to be one of Aurelia’s first citizens, here’s how it will work.

1)   Join the show portal at theatrics.com. (It’s free.)
       Get your exclusive preview invitation at aureliashow@gmail.com.

2)   Create a character who lives in Aurelia.
       A brand-new one, or one you previously created (such as for cosplay or LARP).

3)   Post your first video with your phone or laptop camera.
       Introduce your character so others can see and respond!

Each week, new calls to action (plot events) will release. As your character responds to those events in follow-up posts, s/he has a chance to spin their own story, too. 

Email aureliashow@gmail.com for your personal, exclusive invitation to be one of Aurelia’s first citizens.


Building a 12-Week Interactive Story Arc

A Theatrics interactive show is built on an eight- or twelve-week story arc. While the arc follows traditional story structure in many respects, there is one main difference: the protagonist is a “we” instead of a “he” or “she!” (I didn’t make that one up, either. Check out this great post from the Bob Gebert, creator of Theatrics’ original hit show Beckinfield.)

Telling this kind of story is a new challenge for me (Lisa). I’ve spent quite a few hours with Post-It notes in front of a wall, arranging and rearranging plot points for a cast of “main characters” the story revolves around. But the even greater challenge is turning each plot and subplot into a series of calls to action —or participation invitations—that the show’s crowdsourced cast will use as the foundation for their own individual stories.

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So what is an “interactive web show,” anyway?

A lot of people have been asking us this question lately! And it’s understandable, considering that this type of mass-participation storytelling has only been launched a couple of times. How does the audience participate? What does a typical video look like? And what makes the story truly “interactive?”

Because our site is still under construction, I can’t send you there quite yet to get a taste of how it works. But the good news is, you can check out the original mass-participation web show that we’re basing ours off: BeckinfieldThis paranormal drama about a small town with big secrets—some of which involve spooky happenings—began as a storytelling platform “by actors for actors.” Eventually it took the internet by storm as players from all walks of life jumped on board. With almost 4,000 actors, Beckinfield ran for two and a half years before terminating so that the Theatrics team could help other people (like us!) launch a show. 

So have fun cruising around Beckinfield. Through our show will have different concept art, look, and user experience design, the core interaction will be similar to Beckinfield’s—with many (if not most) players using short videos to develop their character. Oh yeah, and our show will take place in an alternative steampunk-fantasy universe. So what does THAT mean for the players?

Well, as the Beckinfield team would say, “You tell us!”

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A New Fantasy Steampunk Adventure — Starring You

Announcing an interactive show, based on the world of Rise of the Tiger, that allows anyone to create a character and help tell the story.