‘Welcome to Night Vale’
The Lincoln Theatre
1215 U St., N.W.
Monday, April 18 at 7 p.m.
Tuesday, April 19 at 7 p.m.
A floating cat in the men’s room of a radio station, a glow cloud joining an elementary school’s PTA and radio interns dying or disappearing in mysterious ways all happen in just a typical day in desert town Night Vale.
The famed podcast “Welcome to Night Vale,” co-created by Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink, has been compared to the likes of NPR meets “Twin Peaks.” Mind control, the Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home and other surreal events made this the most downloaded podcast on iTunes in 2013. It consists of radio host Cecil giving strange announcements that occur in the town and his ongoing love for Carlos the Scientist who is investigating Night Vale.
The live show comes to the Lincoln Theatre on Monday, April 18 and Tuesday, April 19. It includes a live performance of the script with no prompts or sets. Musicians Danny Schmidt and Carrie Elkin will open the show. The live show will bring about all the shenanigans fans have come to know and love from the podcast. Actor Cecil Baldwin, who voices Night Vale Community Radio announcer Cecil, says even people who have only heard an episode or two will be able to follow along.
“It’s an Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds”-kind of mentality that this is what radio theater is,” Baldwin says.
Baldwin, a former D.C. resident who now lives in New York City, believes the simplicity of the show is what makes it so popular.
“No matter how young you are, how adept at technology and how quickly you Snapchat, there’s a part of us that really wants to be told stories that are well written around the camp fire,” Baldwin says.
“It’s a very simple format of, ‘I just want to sit down and have this person tell me a story every two weeks and it’s filled with people that I’ve come to know and love or hate,’” Baldwin says. “There’s nothing new about it except the form of the podcast. And we are so grateful because if this was on the radio it would be played once and then it would be out of the airwaves and that would be it. But because it is a podcast people can listen to it all over the world, as many times as they want.”
Baldwin came on board with “Night Vale” when he performed a monologue about having a radio announcer voice in his New York City theater company. Fink, who helped with workshops for the company, heard the monologue and told Baldwin he had an idea for a podcast about “a radio host in a town where every conspiracy theory you ever heard is true.” Fink lent Baldwin a microphone who recorded a part in his apartment and then returned it to Fink who gave Baldwin the part.
The podcast popularity has since grown and even spurned a novel “Welcome to Night Vale,” written by Cranor and Fink, that follows owner of Night Vale pawn shop Jackie Fiero and treasurer of Night Vale’s PTA Diane Crayton. The novel earned a spot on the Washington Post’s top science fiction and fantasy list in 2015.
A novel isn’t the only spin-off the podcast has created. Perhaps the greatest result has been an eager and imaginative fandom that has created everything from elaborate character fan art to detailed fan fiction stories. The social blogging website Tumblr has thousands of blogs dedicated to the podcast featuring people’s own interpretations of “Night Vale.” Baldwin says he’s amazed by the minds of the fans to create their own works, but says the nature of the show makes it easy to create their own “Night Vale” worlds.
“If it was a TV show, the actors playing the characters, that is what those characters would look like. People would have come up with many fan drawings, but because it’s a radio show and because the style of Joseph and Jeffrey’s writing is very broad, it does leave a lot to the imagination. It really does free people up because you can totally take ownership over what they think these characters look like,” Baldwin says.
“Because it allows people to do the heavy lifting with the imagination, people become more invested. We don’t give any easy answers but these people have really sat down and thought about it and daydreamed about what these characters look like and how they interact. They become that much invested.”
A fan favorite to draw and write about is the romantic relationship between Cecil and Carlos the Scientist. Carlos comes to “Night Vale” to examine the strange happenings of the town. Along the way Cecil and Carlos fall in love.
Having a same-sex relationship on the show was never planned, but Baldwin says it was a natural progression because he is a gay actor and that’s how he read Cecil’s affection for Carlos in the script.
“Early on Carlos the Scientist, his role on the show was to be the outsider. He was the guy from the outside world who said, ‘Oh my god your town is messed up.’ But it was through my interpretation of the script, I read a couple scenes and I thought, ‘Oh Cecil sounds really interested in this guy, I wonder why. Oh well obviously he has a crush on him,’” Baldwin says.
“So without saying that out loud, that’s just how I played the scene and Joseph and Jeffrey kind of picked up on that. And a year later we got to the First Date episode which was kind of the beginning of two characters in the middle of all this craziness and the least weird thing about them is the fact that they’re gay,” Baldwin says.
The town of Night Vale also has a diverse group of of queer and trans characters. The Sheriff’s Secret Police, the mysterious and creepy local law enforcement, also have an official spokesbeing that uses gender-neutral pronouns and delivers announcements to the town.
Although not the primary goal, the inclusion of queer and trans characters has earned “Welcome to Night Vale” a substantial LGBT fanbase. Queer Daily Xtra writer Michael Lyons says he never anticipated the show to go as far as it has with including LGBT characters.
“I started listening pretty early on, so even though I heard plenty about ‘perfect Carlos’ from the beginning and I — as I’m sure many others — wished Cecil and Carlos would end up together, I never dreamed the show would go so completely in that direction,” Lyons says. “I think that’s why the show resonates with so many queer and trans people. Cecil and Carlos’ relationship came about so organically, but also so unexpectedly, it felt really authentic and wonderful to those of us who don’t see ourselves represented in most entertainment.”
Gay “Night Vale” fan Aram Vartian also thinks Cecil and Carlos’ relationship is normal despite the strange world they live in.
“I think the relationship between Cecil and Carlos helps to ground the utter insanity of the town around them. It is nice that in 2016 a same-sex relationship is the one thing about a story that can be considered normal,” Vartian says.
Baldwin says there hasn’t been much backlash.
“We just received a couple of emails from people saying, ‘I can’t believe you did this’ and we just said, ‘Well believe it and if you don’t like it, don’t listen to the show;” Baldwin says.
Including so many diverse characters lets people relate to the show and is something Baldwin thinks people use to help them with their everyday lives, despite how wacky Night Vale can get.
“I know in a lot of ways it helps people relate to the world they live in by thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, well if I lived in Night Vale then there’d be dragons everywhere and giant sand chasms that lead to other places in times. That sounds so horrible but everyone in Night Vale handles it so well I can surely handle 2016 elections,’” Baldwin says.