Posts tagged “collaboration

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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Story Momentum In Aurelia: Who’s Pushing Whom?

TempleTragedy_AurelianGazetteToday, as Aurelia’s showrunner, I encountered yet another plot twist in this adventure of interactive storytelling.

The actors didn’t need me.

Don’t get me wrong: I have plenty to do to keep the show together. But right now, actors’ individual and collaboratively-conspired plots have taken center stage. The action is moving on its own. So much so, that I’ve purposely held off the next meta-story plot point, while actors continue to respond to what they developed themselves last week.

In case you haven’t figured it out yet . . . I’m not sad about this!

So how is it that actors work together to build momentum? Largely, it’s by nurturing “stories-within-the-story” that they initiate as their characters rub shoulders in the world of Aurelia. These interactions can take many forms:

1. Direct requests

Whether or not they’ve agreed ahead of time, Aurelians often make direct requests to one another in their videos. This is one of the easiest ways for a new actor to engage other actors and get plugged in. By targeting another character and asking them to join a cause or offer help, actors spark new mini-stories and run with them—with plenty of clever results.

2. Insults or challenges

Nothing sparks drama like a little old-fashioned rivalry. Of course, to maintain the fun, actors must be able to clearly separate character-to-character animosity from real-life disagreement. Often before posting an inter-character assault, the initiating actor will contact the recipient backstage to let them know the affront is of course entirely IC (in character).

3. Events

Some actors have begun experimenting with holding IC events. Currently, our playwright “Josus Thimblewick” is preparing to open his new play The Calamitous Siren, an entirely in-world enterprise. Another character, nobleman “Gervain Khorvanus,” posted an invitation to a social at his estate. The actor playing Gervain wants to experiment with holding this social as a mass roleplay via Google Hangout, a recording of which would be uploaded to the Theatrics site.

Story momentum in Aurelia has been gathering steam (pun intended!) quite nicely on its own. With all these deals, insults, and invitations flying around . . . the only question this showrunner now has is: “How do I keep it all straight in my head?”

Oh — and by the way, there’s PLENTY of room for YOU to come join the fun!

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Story Chess: Character Collaboration in Aurelia

Screen shot 2013-07-27 at 11.06.12 AMI’ve said before that Aurelia is more a co-created story than a game. The show will have no clear “winner,” and no one risks “losing” during the show, as they would in an traditional game.

Aurelia is, however, a lot like playing chess.

Given the cloak-and-dagger nature of Aurelia, individual plots tend to unfold like a carefully-plotted chess game. Characters  have competing—even hidden—motivations. Some actors plan their characters’ stories weeks in advance, while others work out the details  as they shoot. All strive to move across the board on their own terms. Yet they must work together and against each other.

In such a checkered landscape, how do Aurelians ever collaborate?

Here are a few of the most popular methods:

1) Video Tagging

The Theatrics platform allows actors to “tag” other actors in their video posts. Many actors use this feature regularly to notify another actor via email that s/he has been mentioned in a video. Often, this is the start to a more extensive series of back-and-forth videos that represent a kind of “subplot” for that actor’s story.

2) Out-Of-Character Dealing

Actors have two easy options to contact each other “back stage” as we call it around Aurelia. The first is through our closed actor Facebook group, which serves as a home for general announcements, out-of-character discussion, and a springboard where actors can find and friend each other for deeper conversations.

The other option is our Public Discussion forum on the Theatrics platform. This feature uses Disqus to power a similar type of interaction to Facebook.

3) Surprise Challenges

In this instance, a character challenges another character to take a particular action without prior notification. For example, in a recent video, noblewoman Eugenia Sphazomai begged scientists, Marius Menchevit and Nicodeamus Barzimon, to shelter her fugitive son. Will the actors behind these scientists choose to take Eugenia’s son into their storyline? Or will their characters refuse to help him? The actress playing Eugenia (and incidentally, her murderer too!) doesn’t know. She awaits her opponents’ next move, so she can plan her future story installments accordingly.

Starting to understand why I compare Aurelia to chess?

In Aurelia, I make a move. You make a move. We ponder our options and make a different move. And suddenly, somehow, we find ourselves moving across the board.

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