Image Credit Welcome to Night Vale
By Claire Grant and Liam Jones
Long-running podcast “Welcome to Night Vale” is a trip, like… a trippy trip. An untraceable trip into a small desert town located… somewhere. Here, the Glow Cloud (all hail) controls minds and also takes part in the PTA, the faceless old woman who secretly lives in your home… lives in your home (but secretly), and the librarians have an unnerving taste for blood. In this town, television is a thing of the past, and community radio reigns supreme as our narrator Cecil Baldwin (narrating as Cecil Palmer) talks us through traffic, strange lights above the Arbys, interviews with Night Vale citizens, the weather, and sometimes even occurrences with their ‘Strange Yet Menacing Government Agency’.
However, creators Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor have strayed from their beaten path with the “Welcome to Night Vale”’ live show, which plans to visit 56 cities worldwide from March to October. The Siskiyou was lucky enough to be offered tickets to their show in Portland at Revolution Hall, an old highschool-turned-venue tucked away in a beautiful, flowerlined neighborhood in the Buckman District. This humble student paper was also offered an opportunity to interview creator Jeffrey Cranor, in order to pick his (mysterious) brain about this newest endeavor. We also found out where he gets inspiration, and even got a sneak peek into an upcoming project.
Cranor makes it clear that the heart of Night Vale is narrator Cecil Baldwin, with his larger-than-life presence and welcoming tone. In the live show, the creators wanted to hyper-realize that homeiness, making the theater a little bit of home in the way Night Vale is. During the live performance, Cecil does a great job of engaging and entertaining an audience, and definitely creates a strong feeling of community in the room. This focus on community, Jeffrey told us, comes from his childhood admiration of Steven King, whose infamous hometowns have buried hatchets in the hearts of readers for decades. He loves the elements that create a small town atmosphere, where the intrigue doesn’t just come from the geography, but those that inhabit it.
Throughout the beginning of the tour, Cranor and Fink made small tweaks to the story here and there, but eventually took a step back and let it run its course. Cranor, laughing, told The Siskiyou that he’ll see one of the later shows and notice how different the energy is on stage when the actors have found even more funny and dramatic beats. One of the biggest changes they made early on was bringing a choreographer in to get the actors more comfortable with their movements. “I don’t want to imply there’s a chorus line dance number halfway through,” he jokes, clarifying it’s just small changes to make the physicality of the actors clearer on stage.
Cranor couldn’t tell us about anything related to the potential of a “Welcome to Night Vale” streaming series, which has been teased for many years now. However, he could tell us they “have another project which is not television related,” and he thinks this summer they’ll be able to announce more about it.
To conclude the interview, Cranor told The Siskiyou that if he was stranded on a desert island with one episode of “Welcome to Night Vale”, he’d have to pick an episode his fellow creator wrote, citing the unbearable cringe of listening to your own words read back to you. Hard pressed for an answer, Cranor chose Episode 33, titled Cassette: “It’s creepy and weird and there’s a bunch of different textures, and a lot of plot that isn’t directly stated- there’d be a lot to think about,” he said of the episode. The other option would be Episode 100, Toast, since they used all 27 voices that have been on the show so far, adding that “hearing more than one person’s voice would be nice on this lonely desert island.”
Post-interview, these writers drove four hours north on a monotonous highway and ended up in real-life Night Vale (which looked a lot like Portland, strangely enough) to see Cecil’s radio show live and up close. During the show, Cecil Palmer battles the haunting of his house-in-progress, his husband Carlos struggles with family financing, Tamika Flynn confronts the human limitations of her excellence, and Michelle Nguyen… well, she’s concerned with music as a concept rather than a practice. She’s way more into car sounds these days.
For Cecil, building a house is really easy, and they’re almost done! They just have to “lay the foundation, erect the walls, put in the plumbing, electric, windows, and slap a roof on there”. Trouble brews as Carlos nags about costs and expenditures, but Cecil is more concerned with his closed-concept floor plan than budgeting. What he can’t ignore are the strange occurrences that keep happening on the property; he’s is worried the house is haunted, but how can a house be haunted before it’s even built? That’s the theme for this spooky show – discovering what is haunting this house, and whether our intrepid narrator can save the day… with the help of book-flinging Tamika Flynn and owner of Dark Owl Records, Michelle Nguyen.
The show is brilliant, engaging, and more than a little funny. From lighting to script, the show pays tribute to the classic elements of “Night Vale” while managing to create an entirely new, endlessly entertaining performance. With the assistance of live music by Disparition, the show is unearthly and unsettling, punctuated by well-timed choreography to create a mesmerizing stage effect. However, all visual elements aside, this proverbial ‘episode’ beautifully captures the essence of “Night Vale,” the reason listeners have been tuning in for years now. The realization that all these spooky occurrences, all these unsettling auras and strange possessions, are in fact a manifestation of our own selves, an externalization of our own demons, of our own fears and fantasies. Cecil, ending the show in that baritone that is unmistakably his, says everything the audience should take away from this fantastic piece of theater: we are, each of us, a vast and haunted house.
So from one haunted house to another, goodnight Night Vale, goodnight.