Welcome back to part two of our chat with Lisa England about the world of Aurelia: Edge of Darkness
Read Part One here
Airship Ambassador: So there’s Marcus Aurelius, education, swordplay, science, and John Milton’s Paradise Lost as noted inspirations. Are there others now, and have the actors talked about their own inspirations for what they are bringing to the story and their performances?
Lisa England: Hmmmm. Well, I can’t think of anything off-hand, but I know that our actors are wide-ranging in their influences, and no doubt, if they were answering this question would have plenty to offer. People tend to share a lot of photos of cool Steampunk gear or garb that they’ve found online, and discuss ways to bring it into their Aurelia stories—so for sure the wealth of visual Steampunk inspiration online has played a big role.
AA: Inspiration aside, are there elements from your own life which have become part of Aurelia?
LE: Actually, there are. I lived in Nepal for awhile, in a very stratified caste-based society. This has influenced all my stories since, and Aurelia especially, because the tiered city is literally a Victorian version of a caste system. The highest levels house the highest social classes, and the lowest levels, as you might expect, house the lowest. Going back to the web serial for a moment, the hero Jude exhibits a lot of the behaviors and frustrations I experience as a person with Asperger’s Syndrome—probably more than I intended him to!
AA: While Aurelia-the-show unfolds day to day with each new post, what kind of back story is there for Aurelia-the-story/world which isn’t part of the current season?
LE: Well, the show takes place, in story world chronology, immediately following the end of the Rise of the Tiger serial. So you could say that the serial is the backstory for the show, although it’s not necessary to know that back-to-front in order to join. Not at all. At this point in the saga, the city has lost its King Jude and is floundering while its squabbling council struggles to name a successor amongst themselves. Eventually, Aurelia will meet that successor—and make serious progress on their quest to find a new energy source. I hope the actors will go that far with me, and help make those plot developments happen!
AA: While you are still early in this first season, are there any plans for a second season yet?
LE: The actors are already referring to this as “Season One,” even though I have not committed to that verbiage! J We’ll see what happens at the end of this version of the show, which is set to end October 17th. In order to continue, I’d have to get some help in place—because by then it will be time for me to return to my “writing hole” and craft the next serial in the saga. But many actors have already stepped up to help keep things running smoothly, so it’s entirely possible we could continue with an actor-led story model and some help from me.
AA: Beckinfield ran for three years and had 4,000 actors by the end. Even though Aurelia is running as essentially a 14 week season with 30 or so actors, is there still time for new actors to join in?
LE: Absolutely! We’ve had new actors join almost every week so far! If you’re willing to dive into the action and figure things out as you go—with our friendly backstage actor forum always at your disposal—you’re good to go. You can sign up instantly on the site, create a profile, and just start.
AA: Aside from going to those resources on the website, what should an aspiring actor know or ask themselves before committing to this project?
LE: Two things: 1) You don’t need to watch everything that’s already there before you jump in. Check out the “Getting Started” tab, read the back story synopsis and the latest plot update, and then share your own introductory video or blog post. 2) Aurelia is not per se a LARP (live action role play). It is very LARP-like in that it invites actors to create characters, flesh them out through live action portrayal, and interact with other actors. But we do not have a game structure, and storytelling is very free-form with some basic parameters. NOTE: Some of our hard-core LARPers have asked for a LARP version that runs on traditional game mechanics, and that’s something I’d love to develop in the future. But it’s not my area of expertise; it would take some more learning and more collaboration!
AA: What can you share with us about the current group of actors? What backgrounds, experiences and skill sets do they have? (experienced professionals or total newbie with a passion?)
LE: Aurelia actors fall into two basic categories: LARPers and non-LARPers. The LARPers usually have several years’ experience with multiple role play systems, both table top and live action. Some have even run their own LARPs or paper role plays before. The non-LARPers have all kinds of backgrounds, from community theater actors to those who’ve never acted before at all. Pretty diverse! We do have one professional actor who has participated—but he played a limited role early in the show, which allowed him to contribute while not infringing on his many professional commitments. Other Theatrics shows (like Beckinfield) had many professionals who contributed.
AA: What can and cannot happen to and among the actors and their characters? As creator and show runner, what kind of guidelines, limits, and direct interaction do you put forth?
LE: Guidelines are mostly common sense for group interaction. We have recently faced the question of “Do we go more LARP-like with the way we handle choice and consequence?” (As in, should I as the showrunner dictate consequences to people, force them to go to “jail”, etc.?) Ultimately, I decided based on a spectrum of community perspectives that Aurelia’s strength is the self-autonomy it allows each actor. Collaboration is fully their choice, and their storylines are their own to direct. From that perspective shifting to full-boar LARP midway through might not serve the actors and story well.
However, we did establish two rules as a nod to LARP: 1) If your story impacts someone else’s, consult with that actor before proceeding, to ensure you make the incident impactful for both of your narratives. 2) Consider the consequences that follow each action, and exploit them for your story. (ie: if your character is a thief who steals a priceless treasure—even if you succeed, you should face an injury, a complication, or some other kind of “obstacle” that makes your story more believable and interesting). I don’t patrol the site enforcing these; quite the opposite. Actors take things to heart (we have a really good group!) and usually work with one another if there’s a concern.
AA: Any surprises or changes in the story, the actors, or the process which were totally unexpected?
LE: First, I was surprised how deep the actors have gone into their personal stories. I mentioned earlier that B- and C-level plots have virtually usurped the A-level plot in a good way. Originally I had expected people to be very dependent on me to drop new calls to action and keep things moving. That has not been the case.
Also, actors have innovated a lot of new machines, places, and things in the world that I did not expect. All of that has been awesome. For example, one of our actors created Aurelia’s first genetically-engineered soldiers. (An experiment which, according to his story, failed miserably but left a few “remnants” around town.) That actor is now working with me and my collaborators to include his creature concept in an upcoming AURELIA bestiary, due to be released at the end of the show.
AA: Let’s talk about Aurelia the city. There’s a great map of the city on the website. How did the design come about, as well as all the various locations? Were some places ‘must haves’ in the design? Any locations get cut during the creation process?
LE: Originally Aurelia’s city design was based on the Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel—a painting I’ve loved since childhood. Once the show came about, and we needed a map, no locations got cut. But some of them got rearranged a bit from where they appear in the novel. (Mostly because, once I saw the visual map, I realized that I needed them to be somewhere else. I created a drawing of the map and my fabulous artist Allison Westbrook IV took that chicken scratch and turned it into the beautiful map we have today. I didn’t have to make too many comments on it!
AA: Would you give us the nickel tour of the city – what are some of the key locations used so far in the story? Any place that people aspire to be in, or avoid at all costs?
LE: As I mentioned earlier, Aurelia’s strata descend in order from wealthiest to poorest. At the very top of the city is the Vertex, the king’s home and seat of government, which stands suspended above the city by a series of buttresses. The upper strata, where the nobility and wealthier middle class live, is clean and aesthetically pleasing, with wide streets, sprawling mountainside estates, marble architecture and styles reminiscent of Rome. A wide Middle Strata, jutting out from the mountain and supported by two lower peaks, houses the halls of public address, theaters, and a big “Central Park” called the Promenade on the banks of the Grand Canal—basically any venue where the upper and lower classes might mingle. Below that, the strata become more like gritty industrial New York City, with cramped tenements, winding streets, and smoggy factories. At the very base of the City is the Great Gate, the one exit portal into the toxic Wasteland. Most Aurelians have never seen the world outside the gate, because it’s too dangerous. Those who do never return.
In our story, a variety of locations have risen to prominence, many of them of the actors’ own making. The Temple and the Promenade are common locations; otherwise much of the action takes place in back streets, markets, and inside characters’ homes (both upper-strata estates and lower-strata tenements). Among actor-created locations, the Thimblewick Playhouse (a middle strata entertainment hall) has become a popular landmark, as well as the Shakna Garden, another entertainment venue. Of course, this is not on the original map but certainly fits within the areas defined there.
AA: Despite the appearance of the usual city layout with the elite and rulers at the top and the least valued citizens at the bottom, is it really that simple in Aurelian society?
LE: Like I said, Aurelia is influenced by the Nepalese caste system – and that was a pretty strict system with obvious distinctions. That’s how I modeled Aurelia. So in one sense, it is a simple (or clearly-delineated) system. In another sense it’s not—because characters from either end of the city may find it necessary (or desirable) to infiltrate the other end, or some place in between.
For example, there’s a group of “Freedom Fighters” in the lower city who are led by a mysterious figure called “Julia Ettaine,” whom no one is quite sure actually exists. But it’s been insinuated that some of those fighters might actually be upper-class sympathizers in disguise, who have taken up the cause of their less-fortunate fellow Aurelians. And plenty of lower-class citizens are finding ways to infiltrate the upper class, whether to benefit from their resources, prove a point, settle a score, or accomplish some other goal. Also, because of the city layout, travel between strata is quite difficult and requires passes, checkpoints, etc. Movement requires either laborious walking up- or downhill, an expensive lift ride, or a slow boat journey through the numerous canal locks. Which are also great points for conflict and story development for individual character stories.
We’ll break here in talking with Lisa about the world of Aurelia: Edge of Darkness
Next time, Lisa talks about feedback, advice, and taking action.
Keep up with the stories until then!