Interview with Lisa England / Aurelia – Part 3

Welcome back to the conclusion of our chat with Lisa England about the world of Aurelia: Edge of Darkness

Read Part One here

Read Part Two here


Airship Ambassador: Aurelia has been out a few weeks now, what reactions and feedback are you getting?

Lisa England: The feedback has been very positive, both from actors and from observers interested in the progress of the show. People think the concept is original and engaging, and they love the aspect that anyone anywhere can get involved.


[blog link – Non-Euclidean Æthercast #20: The Aurelia Experience]


AA: What advice would you have for someone pondering the idea of creating their own co-operative story?

LE: Decide first if it’s going to be a LARP (game-driven system) with many rules and clear winners, or if it’s going to be a more free-form collaborative story. That decision will influence many others. After that, be sure you’re creating a world where actors have lots room to play and many possibilities to follow. Finally, be flexible! It probably won’t go like you expect at all. Take whatever challenge comes next, and you’ll be able to maximize the experience for everyone.


AA: With all the background you’ve talked about, the project itself sounds amazing, and a ton of work. How did you actually wind up “here”? Was this journey even partially planned?

LE: Ha! The notion of a “planned” artistic journey seems strange to me now, although for some reason I used to think it was possible. I suppose it happens that way for some, but the majority of artists and storytellers I know have followed a winding path. I’m no exception.

In 2009, I withdrew from a fully-funded PhD program to pursue my passion for storytelling. That led me to screenwriting (combining my strong visual thinking with my passion for words. Later I was blessed to attend the rigorous Act One program in Los Angeles, taught by some of today’s top writers and producers. I did get hired as a screenwriter on a decently-budgeted indie film, but realized quickly that trying to salvage an already-struggling production wasn’t what I had in mind for a career.

After that, I floundered for awhile, writing the story that eventually became Rise of the Tiger all the while, along with lots of other unfinished ones. I studied more with industry mentors, too. But finally, I got so fed up with being told “no” or “you’re not good enough yet” or “make it more marketable” that I lost my joy in creating. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to improve. My ideas were considered so bizarre or unique or “unusual” that people trying to “mainstream” them got frustrated. And so did I. Thankfully I got the courage to say, “Enough already!” in 2012. I decided that, from then on, I would be the one to decide when to publish, produce or otherwise share something publicly. And if that meant I was anonymous forever, doing what I loved for a niche audience, that was fine by me. It was the most liberating decision I ever made.

Two months later I began serializing Rise of the Tiger, and through that process I met the amazing artists who illustrated almost every episode—something I never imagined at the beginning. I got braver about sharing my work online through that process, too. Right about that time, Seth Godin also published his book Icarus Deception that basically argues for what I’m doing right now—taking ownership of my career, and not waiting to be “found” by an arbitrary creative gatekeeper. It gave me a lot of courage to continue this path.

A year ago, I could have never done a Theatrics show. If you had known me then, I was a different artist. But by doing Rise, I was ready when Theatrics called. It’s been a really hard step-by-step journey, and I am both excited (and a little freaked out) to see what challenge I might have to take up next! Nothing I’ve done is perfect; in fact, I’m not satisfied with any of it! But I AM satisfied that I learned and grew a ton. I hope to go away from every project saying that.


AA: You have a day job at a marketing agency and Aurelia is that “other job/passion/hobby”. How has the day job been to help/hinder the work with Aurelia?

LE: It’s been a big help and hindrance. A help, in that my bosses are hugely supportive and are very lenient time-wise with me while I explore this new medium, which they’re excited about. They see cross-over with our client work. But like any day job, there are responsibilities I must take care of. I’m not always able to respond to actors as fast as I’d like, and I certainly don’t post my character videos as fast! It’s a daily balancing act, and I try not to beat myself up if I don’t strike it quite right. Tomorrow is a new day!


AA: What do you do to keep a balance between job, Aurelia, and the rest of your life?

LE: Hmmmm. Balance? J Storytelling is my life, and I’d go nuts without it. My husband and I are both blessed (or cursed) with extreme focusing abilities; we each love what we do and are pretty happy to let the other obsess over their latest passion project. So I don’t think I have a life like most people. I have friends and hang out with them sometimes, but most of the time I’m working on work or Aurelia or a new creative project or my collaboration with City Beast Studio. Mastery demands that I say “no” to a lot of other things in life in order to get good at my craft. Fortunately, I love doing it—so I don’t mind having a lot less “free time” than most people would think sane. J


AA: If you weren’t a writer and working on Aurelia, what else would you be doing now?

LE: Backpacking through the Middle East, from Morocco to Dhubai, and filming some kind of web series along the way.


AA: How have you and your work grown and changed over time?

LE: Well, the first novel I ever wrote (which was my first big creative attempt of any kind) was a 400 page beast called Blade & Bow—which became the seed of the story Rise of the Tiger ultimately told. I guess the reference to weaponry gives the genre away. Total high fantasy! I hadn’t discovered steampunk at that time, and the story would go through a jillion iterations to arrive at the current form. So I’ve shifted from writing pretty stock high fantasy to (attempting!) to blend genres like fantasy and steampunk and exploring alternate forms.

Also in the early days I wrote screenplays, so I’ve always enjoyed more visual storytelling forms, and I think that has influenced my move to try new storytelling platforms and experiment with transmedia. My old motto was, “Make it perfect and get it published by a respectable publishing house!” My new motto is, “Maximize the potential of anonymity by experimenting wildly with new forms and self-publishing!” Not that I wouldn’t enjoy telling stories through more traditional means, but there is great joy and fascination to be had in these new realms, for storytellers willing to “go there.”

Aurelia gritty street FINAL

AA: Looking beyond Aurelia, what other interests and topics fill your time?

LE: Writing. Film. My blog about storytelling at Learning languages and exploring random historical topics like water clocks, Renaissance fashion and mechanics. Basically, I try to learn and explore as much as possible in many different fields, because it fuels my creativity for writing and storytelling. I’m especially excited about “Steam School,” which I’m attending in September. Sponsored by the Wisconsin Historical Steam Society, this class is really for people who own antique steam vehicles (like tractors) and want to learn to drive and care for them properly to display them at fairs, conventions, etc. I said, “Hey, what a great event for a writer to learn more about how steam engines really work in order to write better about steam-powered societies!” So I’m going to steam school with lots of farmers and antique vehicle enthusiasts. Ha!


AA: What other fandoms are you part of in some way?

LE:  Hmmm. Being a creator, I dabble and consume a lot of different types of stories, so I can’t say that I’m part of any one fandom. I really love Miyazaki’s anime films and the TV show Firefly … so (in addition to Steampunk) if I were to be a “fangirl” it would be for those!


AA: How do those interests influence your work?

LE: Well, Miyazaki inspires me to pull really random elements together. (Of course, from a Japanese perspective the elements of his films make great sense—but from an untrained Western perspective, sometimes the associations can seem “random,” and he definitely pulls from literary traditions all over the world.) Firefly does this too by pulling together space opera, the old west and Asian elements. I’m trying to do more of this in my work. The wilder the association, the greater the challenge for my brain to pull it all together into a cohesive singularity. This is why I tend to resist absolute adherence to genre conventions. I’m a mad story scientist. I want to innovate—and innovation usually means putting together things that nobody else would think to connect.


AA: Totally random questions as we wrap up – what is your favorite texture, time of day, and weather?

LE: My favorite texture is tooled leather; favorite time of day is early morning (if I’ve had enough sleep!); favorite weather is drizzly and gray—the kind of weather that makes me want to curl up with a good novel, a flickering candle and chocolate chip cookies!


AA: Any final thoughts to share with our readers?

LE: First off, I would love to have you join our crazy awesome cast in Aurelia! Lots of room to play, freedom to create, and there’s plenty of space for new actors. Second off, don’t wait until you’ve read or watched everything. Seriously, just visit the “Getting Started” page, look over what’s there, and then dive in. And finally, if you’re inspired to create something yourself and share it—whether it involves audience participation or not—DO IT. “I can’t” is a total lie (don’t tell yourself lies!) and “but I’m not good enough” is also a lie. Amazing things don’t happen until you take the first step. Every invention starts with an idea—and an inventor who acted on it.  And as we all know, Steampunk celebrates inventors!  🙂


Thank you so much, Lisa, for spending time with us and sharing the world of Aurelia!

Keep up to date on the latest activities, and get involved, in the city of Aurelia: Edge of Darkness


Published in: on September 8, 2013 at 8:19 am  Comments (1)  
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Interview with Lisa England / Aurelia – Part 2

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.

Getting Started tab




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.

Aurelia gritty street FINAL

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!


Published in: on September 3, 2013 at 10:12 am  Comments (1)  
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Interview with Lisa England / Aurelia

This week we are talking with Lisa England, the creator of Aurelia: Edge of Darkness.


Airship Ambassador: Hi Lisa, thanks for time out of your busy schedule for Aurelia to talk with us about this great project.

Lisa England: No, thank you! I really appreciate the chance to share this fun collaborative story.


AA: There are a few articles about Aurelia out there, even the Huffington Post reposted one of them for an added boost.  There’s also the show’s official blog to follow. I came away from those with many terms to describe Aurelia, but how do you describe it, both the story and the storytelling platform, for other people?

LE: Thanks for making a distinction between the story and the show! The story, in my mind, is the overarching “thing.” The show is a subset of that story—one part of it.


I describe the story as “a steampunk fantasy that follows an inventor-king who must abandon his culture’s failing technology in search of a greater power—one that can save their whole world from collapse.” (I call it a steampunk fantasy to distinguish our story from a scientifically-driven “pure” steampunk tale that probably shares more in common with science fiction than fantasy.) The first installment of that story is Rise of the Tiger, my 48-episode web serial that’s available online. Future serials (or books) will continue that story to its conclusion.


The show is an “interactive web drama that follows the citizens of a self-sustaining, steam-powered city, as they battle an energy crisis that could wipe their civilization out forever.” That city is Aurelia, the home of the saga’s inventor-king hero, Jude. At the time of the show, Jude has been cast out of the city after failing to solve the energy crisis, and the citizens are on their own to save themselves. So the show falls between the end of Book 1 and the beginning of Book 2.


AA: You’ve called this ‘co-created storytelling,’ and it’s like a web series, but without a script, and actors who are both audience and participants, and live action role play (LARP) with a bit of delayed response. How did you even come across and get involved in this new type of storytelling, which was described in one article as a crowd-sourced fantasy story? How can one even crowd-source a single story?

LE: Well, every story is composed of main plots and subplots. I write the main plot for Aurelia and drive that plot forward through weekly calls to action. The actors’ stories serve as the subplots—although lately the subplots have taken preeminence in the story, and I’m excited about that, too!

I first had contact with this type of storytelling when a friend joined the long-running Beckinfield web show run by the tech start-up Theatrics. My friend’s enthusiasm made an impression on me, but it wasn’t until Theatrics opened up their public platform for beta testers that I really got involved. A friend in Los Angeles thought my web serial Rise of the Tiger (the origin of Aurelia) was a perfect match and suggested I sign up for updates.


To my surprise, a month later, the Theatrics team reached out and asked me if I were interested in running a show based on Rise as part of the beta test group. I said yes—and from there they began to coach me into how this type of story works. It took awhile to wrap my head around it all, though!


AA: What was the appeal of Beckinfield that attracted you, drew you in, and inspired you to use the Theatrics video storytelling platform for Aurelia?

LE: In my day job, I’m a storyteller and strategist for a digital marketing agency. Through my work there, I realized that today’s audience member loves a chance to be involved. Brands all over the world successfully engage their audiences with fascinating and fun interactive experiences—and I began to think about my web serial as a brand, and what might happen if an audience could get involved in the story world and become a character. This bothered me for several months while I was finishing the serial. Of course the dedicated readers (most of whom prefer text-based stories, naturally) looked forward to the twice-weekly installments, but I knew I was only engaging them one way. I began searching for that two-way experience. Theatrics was literally an answer to prayer in that regard.


AA: How does the Theatrics platform actually work for creating and telling a story?

LE:  Theatrics provides a “shell” that showrunners like me must fill. Each show runner creates a story that casts the actors as a group protagonist, so any kind of group environment (a sanitarium, a cruise ship, a research team, a town, etc.) is the perfect start for a story. Showrunners then fill the platform with info about the story world and calls to action (plot points that ask the actors to get involved). Then, they invite actors to sign up for a free account. That account allows each actor to post photos, blog-style written entries, and videos as often as they would like. Each week, actors react to the week’s call to action and/or update their individual character’s story using those three tools. Of course, video is the most popular.


Here are several particularly clever actor videos:

An Artifact Down Below

A True Introduction

Unexpected Gift

Another Shadow in the Making


AA: Back to Aurelia, what was your motivation in creating the whole project?

LE:  The original web serial had been a passion project of mine for five years, and it has gone through many different forms. Taking it into the digital space for AURELIA, my primary motivation was connection. I wanted to connect with serial readers and a brand new audience by offering them a role in the story development process. I guess you could say I was looking for relationship.


AA: With Rise of the Tiger, still available to online readers, as the creative origin, what was the process of Aurelia essentially spinning off and becoming a world and a story in its own right?

LE: Well, if truth be told, I was planning to spend my summer revising Rise of the Tiger and then releasing an interactive digital edition, which would be a lead-up to the launch of the next serial in the saga. But life had other plans!

Instead, I treated the spin-off process as part of my serial revisions; one thing I knew from my serial version of Rise was that I wanted to take readers even more in-depth into the unique world of Aurelia, the city. So all the things I had to go deeper into, for the show, will greatly help me when I finally get back to revising the serial. Things like actual culinary items, details of government, what parts of the city look like that weren’t featured prominently in the serial, how much money is worth, etc.


Theatrics required me to produce some in-depth documents that pitched a show concept, developed the world more deeply, and outlined a plan for creating artistic assets (backdrops, character designs, etc.) that would bring Aurelia to life. All that has helped me immensely with my creative process. Then I had to decide how to distribute that information on the show site, who was going to create all the artistic assets, etc.


AA: What steampunk elements have you, and now the other audience-actors, brought into the story to create this world and make it engaging to the steampunk community?

LE: Well, Aurelia is a weird mash-up of Steampunk and fantasy, set entirely inside a Babel-like city that’s trapped in a toxic wasteland. So . . . you won’t find an alternate British empire or locomotives or airships or anything like that. Steam powers the world, and there’s a lot of industrial-era technology or futuristic technology (like borgs and fully-functional mechanical animals) that, in the steampunk tradition, work on Victorian mechanics and steam. Fashion is also influenced by steampunk, as are weaponry. Actors of course have brought in their own ideas and in some case have invented new types of machines or creatures that their storylines require. Those who steampunk cosplay also have a great outlet for showing off their outfits and accessories through video. Other actors who LARP or cosplay in more fantasy settings have found the world flexible enough for their costuming, too. Which is exactly how I hoped it would be: fantastical enough for the medieval crowd but steamy enough for the steampunks. J I’m always trying to find ways to bring different genres together.



We’ll break here in talking with Lisa about the world of Aurelia: Edge of Darkness

Next time, Lisa talks about inspiration, maps, and getting involved.

Keep up with the stories until then!


Published in: on August 25, 2013 at 10:00 am  Comments (1)  
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