Welcome to Variable Stage!

Published on 2018-10-01

Hello! This post, and the launch of Variable Stage on Drip, marks the beginning of our third season. In our first two, we put together two themed attractions, for Halloween 2016 and Halloween 2017, respectively. These were walkthroughs, similar in experience to a haunted house but without jump scares (#spookynotscary) or live actors of any kind.

The first one was called Graveyard Swing: The Last Gig is a Long One. It told the story of a forgotten graveyard in New York City's East Village, with a glimpse at the final burial there nearly 100 years ago, and then a tour in modern day. There was a (rather long) backstory about how, generations ago, the graveyard was closed to the public, and after so long in obscurity, its permanent residents felt bold enough to stretch their bones. Thus: skeletons frolicing aboveground; ghosts playing a jazz routine in the crypts. A year after that, there was the reboot: the same story, but built again from scratch, conceptually simpler and logistically more elaborate. That one was just called Graveyard Swing.

This story worked well in its 2016 and 2017 incarnations, I think! I was planning to continue that show each Halloween, tweaking it as I went along but ultimately staying in line with the theme: funny things happen in this New York City cemetery when mortals aren’t looking. As I started thinking about the third version, I was developing strategies to improve the issues I’ve had with the concept up to this point.

One of the biggest problems is the physical reality of the settings: a cemetery is mostly open and flat, and a subterranean crypt is mostly repeated architecture (low stone arches). Dark rides—the genre of theme park ride I'm most interested in designing—thrive when they can depict small and varied spaces, with plenty of obstructions and distractions in the audience’s sightline. (Foxx, an excellent blogger and leading voice in themed entertainment theory, calls this design strategy stratification.)

This past winter, during my post-spooky phase, I started thinking about ways I could modify the structure of Graveyard Swing for a more successful design. Maybe the aboveground cemetery part is just a small prelude, and the real attraction happens underground in the crypt? Maybe the crypt is more of an abstract representation of these ghosts’ reality than a literal stroll through a series of stone chambers? Maybe this isn’t even where these souls are interred, but just where they choose to be? Maybe this is a secret space, and one of the only places these folks can do their thing?

This thinking continued to roll for months, and now we’re here. Graveyard Swing has run its course, but it’s evolved into a new story, one with its own lore and many new possibilities. We still have the hidden-in-plain-sight, early-NYC-history thing that I find so fascinating; we still have difficult-to-explain supernatural goings-on; but we also have lots of room, conceptually, to execute more strange and immersive scenes. You’ll hear more about it as the month goes on; for now, I’m calling it The Third Avenue Chamber.

There was a big leap in quality and complexity in the sets of Graveyard Swing from 2016 to 2017. With this new thing, I plan to take it even further. The biggest difference is that this year, rather than a full-size attraction, I'm creating a 1/5 scale model. My big goal here, in contrast to previous designs, will be more props and set pieces that interrupt the guest’s journey, rather than merely surrounding them.

As we go along I plan to slow down and focus in on various details of what it takes to make this happen. Since you're here, why not tell me what parts of this process you find most interesting, or most confusing, or what you're most excited to see?

Cheers to Season 3! Talk soon!