Five 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.
Back 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 . . .