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LARPs: The Series interview

One of the most expected new projects in the English-speaking larp world has been the recently announced webseries, called simply "LARPs: The Series". It's not hard to understand why - the "Episode 0" they released has shown a pretty good portrayal of several fantasy larping elements.

If you're wondering at the release date of the series, the answer is... today! Episodes 1 and 2 have been released a couple of hours ago, and you'll find them below in the article (and also on the project's website and youtube channel - the entire first season will be released in the next couple of weeks). However, I had the opportunity to interview several cast and crew members of LARPs: The Series about their project - Jon Verrall, the series writer (who also plays Evan, the GM in the series), and the actors Scott Humphrey (Will), Elizabeth Neale (Shane), Jonathan Silver (Arthur) and Charlotte Rogers (Brittany). This is their story, of how this series came to be...

1) First of all, tell us a few things about yourselves. Who are you? When did you start larping? Do you have previous filmmaking experience? The majority of our readers know very little about your local larping scene. Which larps do you typically play?

Jon Verrall: I'm Jon Verrall; I wrote the series, and I play Evan, the GM of the group. I've been LARPing for the better part of my adult life—I've been running games here in Montreal for over a decade, mostly White Wolf games.

I'm a trained actor—it was my major in university—but most of my performing has been either on stage or as an improvisational comic.

Montreal has a substantial LARPing community that spans both major languages here (French and English). My usual LARP experience are social games from White Wolf: Changeling: the Dreaming, Mage: the Ascension, Werewolf: the Apocalypse, Vampire: the Masquerade, and the like. I'm not unfamiliar with combative LARP, either.

There's also a large LARPing community surrounding a weekly Montreal event, the Tam-Tams, on Mount Royal. It's become famous enough that it's now a tourist attraction: people come by to watch the LARPers fight.

Scott Humphrey: My name is Scott Humphrey, a Montreal-based actor in film, television, voice, and theatre. I graduated from Concordia University's Theatre Performance program in 2010, and have been working ever since. Outside of acting, I have LARPed in a couple of different games run/GM'd by Jon Verrall (the writer/Evan). None of the games were medieval-fantasy, like the game in LARPs: The Series, though. There was a long-running Changeling: The Dreaming game, and a couple one-off Paranoia LARPs too. In terms of Montreal's scene, there are a large contingent of people who, during the spring & summer, take to fighting with boffer weapons in one of our most beloved parks on the mountain. I have not participated in the form of LARPing before, although perhaps I will in the future!

Elizabeth Neale: I am an actor who grew up in Ottawa and moved to Montreal to study theatre at Concordia University. That's where I met most of the people involved in the project. I had no experience larping prior to filming this series but had done some tabletop roleplaying in the past ("Exalted", from White Wolf). I had some film acting experience before shooting larps but most of my training has been in theatre. This is certainly the biggest film project I've ever been a part of.

I do not larp outside of the series but when I participated in tabletop roleplaying it was "Exalted", a mythic fantasy game published by White Wolf.

Jonathan Silver: I'm Jonathan Silver. I play Arthur/ Noctus. I'm a beginner LARPer. My first LARP was led by our actual in-show GM and writer of the series, Jon Verrall. I'm an actor by profession. Most of experience has been on stage, but I've also acted for television and film as well as lending my voice to various projects, most recently the videogame "Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag".

Charlotte Rogers: My name is Charlotte Rogers, I am a graduate of the Concordia University Theatre performance program and have been living and working in Montreal since. This project was my first time larping. I had never really known about it before I became involved so this was really an introduction to the hobby for me. Prior to this web series, I had been involved in theatre, student films, background work and ACTRA member initiated projects, so not a lot of filmmaking, or I guess I should say film acting experience. This is by far this biggest project I have had the opportunity to be included in.

2) How did you end up working on the LARPs: The Series? What made you get involved in the project?

JV: Julian Stamboulieh, the director, came up with the original concept quite a few years ago, and originally consulted with me as a LARPer. I was interested in the project due to the subject matter—LARPing is quite close to my heart, and the idea of a series that celebrates the hobby intrigued me. In the late spring of 2013, he offered me the chance to work with him on LARPs and write the script. We fleshed out the characters together, brought our producer Benjamin Warner on board, and I started writing.

SH: I came onboard to LARPs: The Series when I was asked to audition for Will and Evan. Having seen the sides for all the characters, I also asked to read for Arthur at that session, as I felt pretty close to him in terms of how seriously I take my LARPing. During the audition, though, I clicked with Will's over-the-top jester-like nature and was hooked!

EN: I was friends with Jon, Ben and Julian before being cast in the series, so I knew they were developing something very special and told them I'd love to be a part of it. They invited a few people in to audition for various roles. I ended up reading for Brittany and Shane and landed the part of Shane.

JS: I have been friends with the producers Julian Stamboulieh and Ben Warner since high school, so they were familiar with my work. I heard they were planning on shooting this series and I was thrilled when they asked me to audition. The rest is history I guess!

CR: I ended up working on this project because I had received an invite to audition for it. Naturally, I wanted to work with friends and be involved in a web series, so I went and tried out. They called me that day and asked me to join the team. I was thrilled!

3) You're releasing the series for free on Youtube. Is it a purely fan project, or do you have some way of making some money for it, e.g. sponsorships?

JV: Everyone who worked on the project is a professional—this is a series produced under the auspices of Canada's actor's union, and our crew are equally trained in their fields, many from Concordia University's film and theatre departments. While we self-financed for Season One, we're hoping that fan response will help us secure the funding we'd need to let us continue the series as our jobs.

SH: The LARPs: The Series team is composed of professional actors and filmmakers, so this is a professional project, rather than something we did just for fun (although it was a blast!). We are interested in going bigger and better with future seasons, either through crowd-sourcing, sponsorships, or an official partnership with an entertainment company.

4) Is the larp presented in LARPs: The Series based on any specific larp that you played? Was it filmed on one of the existing larp terrains, or on its' own?

JV: We made a conscious decision early on to not focus too heavily on the mechanics of LARPing in Season One—we wanted the audience to focus on the characters, rather than the rules of LARPs. The story the characters experience in the first season is an original universe heavily rooted in medieval fantasy, and we're looking at ways to showcase that story if there's enough of a demand (perhaps in another medium).

We filmed in the woods of St. Donat, which is a short distance north of Montreal; to my knowledge, it isn't really used for LARPs. The logistics of filming make it difficult to use existing LARP terrains, especially in Montreal, where it exists on public property and we wouldn't be able to control the space.

EN: We filmed a few hours North of Montreal. It was not a pre-existing larp location.

5) What makes LARPs: The Series different from previous attempts to portray larp on film?

JV: I'll answer while admitting that, for the most part, I've avoided portrayals of LARPing on film.

Whenever I speak with people who don't know about LARPing, they have assumptions they've gleaned from television, movies, and the Internet. They assume that it's only about fighting with foam weapons, that it's a hobby only for the dorkiest of dorks, or that it's a sad, niche affair. Having LARPed for so long, I knew this wasn't the case, and that's part of the reason why I wanted to work on this project.

LARPs: The Series isn't about LARPing. It's about people, who happen to engage in an amazing, immersive hobby. The reasons why players LARP are many, but I like to think it comes down to our need to tell stories. LARPing is a way in which we actively participate in creating intensely personal tales. These stories are inevitably affected by the outside experiences players bring to the game, and in turn they change the way we look at the real world. I'd rather look at how LARPing affects people, instead of using it as a backdrop (or worse, to establish its players as socially maladjusted geeks).

SH: With LARPs: The Series, we're attempting to create a character drama about people who LARP as a hobby, in contrast to a lot of popular media that often use LARPers as the butt of jokes. Our hope is to have people engage with our characters as human beings who have a sweet hobby, while still being able to use LARPing as an awesome storytelling device.

EN: LARPing is often portrayed in a negative or comical light in films and television. We wanted to create something that wouldn't parody this hobby or the people who participate in it. We would like our audience to laugh "with" LARPers, not "at" them.

JS: A lot of the stuff out there is either high integrity, but low production values, or low integrity with high production values. I think we've found the sweet spot of high integrity and high production values. Essentially, we set out to portray the lives of LARPers without judging them, but while still acknowledging the beautiful eccentricity of the hobby. I'm glad we took that route, but I think people have seen enough of the other kind of stuff. ie. Mocking, or overly serious takes on LARPing. That kind of approach is overdone and honestly just isn't as interesting to me.

CR: I think what makes our web series different from others is that we are exploring the characters and their relationships, and these characters happen to larp as well. We wanted to showcase larping but also focus on who these people were and how gaming with each other affected their daily lives. We wanted to show the hobby for what is was, for how fun it is.

6) Episode 0 gave us a few hints about the out-of-character story portrayed by the series. Can you tell us more about it?

JV: Each of our characters plays for different reasons: from the hardcore min/maxer to the casual, "I-play-because-my-friends-do" player. Trouble starts to brew when the players' outside interests start to interfere with gameplay—and that just fuels more strife out-of-game.

SH: Without spoiling anything, the "out-of-game" story in LARPs: The Series Season 1 is about how the LARP affects our characters' relationships in real life. People who take the LARP too seriously find it affecting them away from the game, and people who become attracted to each other's characters in-game may find themselves trying to make sense of that in the real world too!

EN: Without giving too much away, season 1 focuses primarily on how people's in-game activities and personas affect their lives out-of-game and vice versa. Brittany (Charlotte's character), for example, plays somebody much more confident than she is. It's interesting to see how this boldness in-game contrasts with her more timid nature when she's not in character.

JS: I can't say too much, but you get to learn about how and why these characters LARP and how their in-game personas compliment or differ from their real life selves.

CR: The out-of character story line is just as strong and visited as the in character story line. Julian and Ben and Jon wanted the focus to be on both. I think what is fun is that you will really see how the characters are affected by their larping characters. How the lines between in character and out of character get fuzzy, and inevitably, how that affects their relationships to one another.

7) What are your expectations of this series?

JV: Oh, man. I have hopes and dreams — I want to be able to keep doing this for as long as we have interesting stories to tell—but expectations? I don't know if I can be so bold as to expect things. I plan to work hard and hope that work translates into something that people can enjoy—LARPers or not.

SH: I hope to see the series do well internationally. We've had lots of positive feedback on Episode 0 from both Montrealers and LARPers the world over, but I'm hoping that as the series unfolds, people who maybe have never even heard of LARPing before will tune in to become invested in these characters' stories.

EN: I hope that it can be enjoyed by LARPers and non-LARPers alike. I hope that people recognize themselves in the characters and see that the issues they're dealing with are pretty universal.

JS: Honestly, I just hope people enjoy it and invest themselves in it. There's so much great content out there to compete with, on the web in particular. I think the greatest compliment to our work would simply be if people liked it enough to talk about it with their friends or to speculate on forums or in blogs about where the series will go next. That kind of engagement can't be bought and only comes with trust and respect for your audience. That to me would be the ultimate reward.

CR: My expectations for this series are high. I am very proud and excited about what we have put together and we are looking forward to doing more. Season 2, here we come!

8) Season 1 is planned to last for 10 episodes. Do you plan to film season 2 as well? Season 3?

JV: We do have many more ideas, and Season 2 is in its first stages of development. It's going to depend on the funding we can secure, but we're hoping to extend the runtime of the episodes so that we can get to know our characters better. As long as people want to watch, I want to keep going.

EN: We certainly plan on filming season 2. We're already in talks about potential plot points.

CR: I can't speak for everyone, but I myself am ready for a season 2, 3 and more. We are so lucky to have the team we have and we all are enjoying this project so much, that I'm pretty sure we are all on board for more!

9) Any last thoughts and messages to our readers you'd wish to share? :)

JV: Find a friend who has never LARPed before and put a sword in their hands. Don't tell them about LARPing; don't show them LARPing; give them a taste. Let them see how amazing it is to have the freedom to be someone else, if only for a little while. Give them the gift of being a hero, or villain. When we were children, we played for countless hours; it would be an awful shame to give that up as an adult. We crave stories: go out and make your own.

SH: To me, LARPs: The Series is about maturity and playing, and how those two things are often at odds with each other as we "grow up". I hope that, with this series, we can show people around the world that just because we're all human beings with jobs, responsibilities, hopes, and dreams, we don't need to stop having fun playing make-believe!

EN: I hope you enjoy the series as much as I enjoyed acting in it! If you want to stay up-to-date with our exploits feel free to follow me on twitter @elizabethaneale or check out my blog dedicated to the series. Thanks!

JS: I truly hope you enjoy it as much as we enjoyed creating it. It was a true labor of love. Keep it in Character!


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