CREATING CAMP REDBLOOD PART IV – THE STAFF
Wacky counselors are a staple of summer camp stories, and Camp Redblood’s staff is no exception. When I started writing this thing I knew I had my work cut out for me in this area. Pop culture is littered with memorable staffs, from the professors of Hogwarts to the paper-pushers at Dunder Mifflin. The insane counselors of Wet Hot American Summer’s Camp Firewood cast the biggest shadow in the summer camp subgenre, and to a lesser extent, the crew from Meatballs.
The rule I set for Camp Redblood’s employees was that they had to be equal parts funny, badass, and strange. There’s a few pricks thrown in there too; Redblood’s rival, Camp Eagle, couldn’t get all the jerks. Redblood’s camp structure offered a lot of room for variation. The basic camp counselors who dutifully drag their campers from activity to activity are only the tip of the iceberg. Aside from the normal specialist positions like Nature and Ropes instructors, Redblood keeps a full time loremaster on staff, a demolition/sabotage expert, paranormal affairs consultant, gossip coordinator, and more.
Maintaining a certain tone can be a tightrope act, especially when it comes to creating larger than life characters. On one hand you don’t want the usual bland teenagers that populate summer camp horror, but go too big with the characters and you suddenly find yourself in a cartoon or a Wes Anderson movie. Camp Redblood exists in a reality just slightly removed from our own, so I think it’s important to set tonal boundaries here and there. With that in mind, I tried to draw from real people as much as possible rather than make up the characters entirely.
At any job I’ve ever worked at there’s always been at least one coworker who has an interesting background, is a flat-out badass, or is just exceedingly strange. For example, I once had a security supervisor who claimed he’d done some training for Muhammad Ali in the 1970s. I thought the guy was full of shit until he produced an old Sports Illustrated with an article about him and a photo with him and the champ. A member of the Wompanoag Tribe, this gentleman also regaled me with stories of the haunted Hockomock Swamp in southeastern Massachusetts. One such tale found him camping in those eerie wetlands when all of a sudden he had an overwhelming premonition that he needed to get out of there. As it turned out, the premonition wasn’t warning him of danger within the woods, but of the attempted theft of his car that he discovered upon reaching the parking lot. This lead to one of the single greatest pieces of advice that’s ever been given to me: “Never go into a haunted place like that without some type of spiritual protection. That, or a good side-arm.” These were the type of characters I thought belonged at Camp Redblood.
Anyone who has worked as a camp counselor knows that counselors in training, otherwise known as CITs, are among the most useless lifeforms on the planet, so I thought it would be funny if they all had derogatory nicknames. I find little details like that make the writing process more enjoyable, if a bit time consuming.
Camp Redblood’s staff goes through many iterations between its opening in 1946 and the present day. One of the things I’m most looking forward to in writing future Redblood stories is creating new and unusual counselors for all of the different eras of camp.