“It’s for kids, right?”
This was my first question to The Vaults producer Kieron Vanstone when he approached me for a project based on the Goosebumps book series, by R.L. Stine. I don't have kids. I've known a couple; conversation is typically strained. Point is, I’m not your guy for a kids show.
I got my good friend (and ultimate co-writer) Gabriel Greene on the phone, asking him if he wanted to tackle the project with me.
“It’s for kids?”
“They want it scary, funny, adult,” I told him. Give a few books a read and let’s see what we can come up with. Update it. Modernise it. Subvert it.”
We pitched a treatment that was loosely based on the material, but grown-up, bloody, and darkly comic. “Not your grandmother’s Goosebumps,” is what we said. It was a show we’d want to see.
Kieron loved it.
We began by compiling a list of stories that appealed to us. For an immersive production, we wanted to give the show some build in its structure, so we chose intimate tales, which would allow for smaller dramatic scenes at the top, and big monster ones for huge, epic set pieces as the show progressed.
Stine’s M.O., he has said, was to just get children to read. And read they did, 400 million copies later. At his most prolific, he was also turning out two books a month. An incredible output.
Stine has also stated that he just wanted to entertain, for his books to simply be fun. As such, he concerns himself more with plot than subtext.
Gabe and I did not want to simply recreate these stories for the stage. For starters, this was going to be for adults, and therefore we wanted to add some layers that weren’t there in the source material. We wanted our audience to be nostalgic and remember the iconic components of their childhood books, but also surprise them with a re-imagination for adult characters. We’d start with the bare bones structure—scary, funny, with a twist—and reimagine them using their unforgettable elements as a launching pad for a new interpretation.
One concept that Stine returns to again and again is of magical items entering people’s lives (The Blob That Ate Everyone, The Haunted Mask, The Cuckoo Clock of Doom, Say Cheese And Die Screaming!). This was intriguing to us because it would allow us to explore human desire. What might one do, someone like you or me, if we suddenly found ourselves with an extraordinary power?
Blob is the story about a boy who gets a typewriter that makes anything he types happen. We extrapolated some ideas from that. First, we thought, everyone would have fun and get crazy. Get themselves everything they ever wanted. Then, that would quickly become unsatisfying. And that’s when it gets dark, because sometimes revenge is more appealing than hedonism. You won’t find spoilers here, but believe me: it gets dark.
Say Cheese And Die Screaming!, about a camera that makes bad things happen to anything it photographs, is a bit of an opposite of that: you have an instrument of power, but it’s unpredictable. We wanted to modernise these tales, so where we started with Cheese was to make it about a techno geek, who always has to be the first kid on the block with the latest gadget. It’s this need that ultimately gets him into trouble, because he buys a bootleg iPhone—with a kick-ass camera update—that’s not quite ready for market. As you can imagine, things go horribly wrong.
The source material of Mask (Stine’s personal favourite) has some nice depth to it, in which a picked-on, bullied girl is able to seek some level of revenge on her tormentors when she puts on a gruesome Halloween mask. In the book, it’s the mask that’s controlling her, but our read on it was that this mask allowed her to explore her dark side, and she’s giddy with evil delight about it. The revenge in the book is quite gentle, but we made it more maniacal.
Another Stine classic from which we’ve taken inspiration is Stay Out Of The Basement, about a mad scientist doing secret experiments on plants, of which his children become suspicious. Our adaptation became about a new couple moving in together, with the girlfriend becoming unsure about her scientist boyfriend. “How well do we know our partners?” is our subtext here. Everyone has secrets. What happens when you suspect that your partner is harboring something deep and dark?
Of course no Goosebumps production could exist without some huge monsters. What we wanted to stay away from, in regards to an immersive production, was a bunch of loosely referenced creatures, with no context, running around scaring people. That’s basically a haunted house. We decided to approach these on a grander scale—longer stories, bigger sets—and put the audience right in the middle of them.
We wanted to honour our source material and also give it a ‘refresh and reboot' treatment. We’ve taken a lot of liberties with Stine’s iconic tales and tried to add new ideas to them, celebrating them whilst sending them into new, surprising territory.
We hope he’s cool with it. We hope you’ll laugh and scream.
Director and Co-Writer, Goosebumps Alive
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