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‘Night Vale’ goes live

Minimalist stage version of hit podcast comes to Lincoln

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Welcome to Night Vale, gay news, Washington Blade
Welcome to Night Vale, gay news, Washington Blade

Cecil Baldwin in the stage version of ‘Welcome to Night Vale.’ (Photo by Whitney Browne; courtesy Blake Zidell & Associates)

‘Welcome to Night Vale’
 
The Lincoln Theatre
 
1215 U St., N.W.
 
$32.50
 
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.

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Rodriquez scores historic win at otherwise irrelevant Golden Globes

Award represents a major milestone for trans visibility

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Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, on right, and Billy Porter in 'Pose.' (Photo courtesy of FX)

HOLLYWOOD – Despite its continuing status as something of a pariah organization in Hollywood, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has managed to cling to relevance in the wake of last night’s behind-closed-doors presentation of its 79th Annual Golden Globe Awards by sole virtue of having bestowed the prize for “Best Leading Actress in a Television Series – Drama” on Michaela Jaé Rodriguez for her work in the final season of “Pose” – making her the first transgender performer to win a Golden Globe.

The ceremony took place as a private, no-press-or-audience event in which winners were revealed via a series of tweets from the Golden Globes Twitter account. No celebrities were present (not even the nominees or winners), although actress Jamie Lee Curtis participated by appearing in a video in which she pronounced her continuing loyalty to the HFPA – without mention of the  longstanding issues around diversity and ethical practices, revealed early in 2021 by a bombshell Los Angeles Times report, that have led to an nearly industry-wide boycott of the organization and its awards as well as the cancellation of the annual Golden Globes broadcast by NBC for the foreseeable future.

While the Golden Globes may have lost their luster for the time being, the award for Rodriquez represents a major milestone for trans visibility and inclusion in the traditionally transphobic entertainment industry, and for her part, the actress responded to news of her win with characteristic grace and good will.

Posting on her Instagram account, the 31-year old actress said: 

“OMG OMGGG!!!! @goldenglobes Wow! You talking about sickening birthday present! Thank you!

“This is the door that is going to Open the door for many more young talented individuals. They will see that it is more than possible. They will see that a young Black Latina girl from Newark New Jersey who had a dream, to change the minds others would WITH LOVE. LOVE WINS.

“To my young LGBTQAI babies WE ARE HERE the door is now open now reach the stars!!!!!”

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As You Are Bar and the importance of queer gathering spaces

New bar/restaurant poised to open in 2022

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As You Are Bar had a pop-up venue at Capital Pride's "Colorful Fest" block party in October. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

More than just a watering hole: As You Are Bar is set to be the city’s newest queer gathering place where patrons can spill tea over late-morning cappuccinos as easily as they can over late-night vodka-sodas.

Co-owners and founders Jo McDaniel and Rachel Pike built on their extensive experience in the hospitality industry – including stints at several gay bars – to sign a lease for their new concept in Barracks Row, replacing what was previously District Soul Food and Banana Café. In a prime corner spot, they are seeking to bring together the disparate colors of the LGBTQ rainbow – but first must navigate the approval process (more on that later).

The duo decided on this Southeast neighborhood locale to increase accessibility for “the marginalized parts of our community,” they say, “bringing out the intersectionality inherent in the queer space.”

Northwest D.C., they explain, not only already has many gay bar options, but is also more difficult to get to for those who don’t live within walking distance. The Barracks Row location is right by a Metro stop, “reducing pay walls.” Plus, there, “we are able to find a neighborhood to bring in a queer presence that doesn’t exist today.”

McDaniel points out that the area has a deep queer bar history. Western bar Remington’s was once located in the area, and it’s a mere block from the former Phase 1, the longest-running lesbian bar, which was open from 1971-2015.

McDaniel and Pike hope that As You Are Bar will be an inclusive space that “welcomes anyone of any walk of life that will support, love, and celebrate the mission of queer culture. We want people of all ages, gender, sexual identity, as well as drinkers and non-drinkers, to have space.”

McDaniel (she/her) began her career at Apex in 2005 and was most recently the opening manager of ALOHO. Pike (she/they) was behind the bar and worked as security at ALOHO, where the two met.

Since leaving ALOHO earlier this year, they have pursued the As You Are Bar project, first by hosting virtual events during the pandemic, and now in this brick-and-mortar space. They expressed concern that receiving the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) liquor license approval and the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, or ANC, approval will be a long and expensive process.

They have already received notice that some neighbors intend to protest As You Are Bar’s application for the “tavern” liquor license that ABRA grants to serve alcohol and allow for live entertainment (e.g. drag shows). They applied for the license on Nov. 12, and have no anticipated opening date, estimating at least six months. If ABRA and the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board give final approval, the local ANC 6B and nearby residents can no longer protest the license until the license comes up for renewal.

Until approval is given, they continue physical buildout (including soundproofing) and planning their offerings. If the license is approved, ABRA and the ABC Board can take action against As You Are Bar, like any bar, at any time if they violate the terms of the license or create a neighborhood disturbance that violates city laws such as the local noise ordinance.  In the kitchen, the duo snagged Chef Nina Love to develop the menu. Love will oversee café-style fare; look out for breakfast sandwiches making an appearance all the way until close. They will also have baked goods during the day.

McDaniel and Pike themselves will craft the bar menu. Importantly, they note, the coffee bar will also serve until close. There will be a full bar as well as a list of zero-proof cocktails. As with their sourcing, they hope to work with queer-, minority-, and women-owned businesses for everything not made in-house.

Flexible conceptually, they seek to grow with their customer base, allowing patrons to create the culture that they seek.

Their goal is to move the queer space away from a focus on alcohol consumption. From book clubs, to letter-writing, to shared workspaces, to dance parties, they seek an all-day, morning-to-night rhythm of youth, families, and adults to find a niche. “We want to shift the narrative of a furtive, secretive, dark gay space and hold it up to the light,” they say. “It’s a little like The Planet from the original L Word show,” they joke.

Pike notes that they plan on working closely with SMYAL, for example, to promote programming for youth. Weekend potential activities include lunch-and-learn sessions on Saturdays and festive Sunday brunches.

The café space, to be located on the first floor, will have coffeehouse-style sofas as well as workstations. A slim patio on 8th Street will hold about six tables.

Even as other queer bars have closed, they reinforce that the need is still present. “Yes, we can visit a café or bar, but we always need to have a place where we are 100 percent certain that we are safe, and that our security is paramount. Even as queer acceptance continues to grow, a dedicated queer space will always be necessary,” they say.

To get there, they continue to rally support of friends, neighbors, and leaders in ANC6B district; the ANC6B officials butted heads with District Soul Food, the previous restaurant in the space, over late-night noise and other complaints. McDaniel and Pike hope that once nearby residents and businesses understand the important contribution that As You Are Bar can make to the neighborhood, they will extend their support and allow the bar to open.

AYA, gay news, Washington Blade
Rachel Pike and Jo McDaniel signed a lease for their new concept in Barracks Row. (Photo courtesy Pike and McDaniel)
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Need a list-minute gift idea?

Books, non-profit donations make thoughtful choices

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‘Yes, Daddy’ by Jonathan Parks-Ramage is the story of a young man with dying dreams of fame and fortune, who schemes to meet an older man.

You knew this was coming.

You knew that you were going to have to finish your holiday shopping soon but it snuck up on you, didn’t it? And even if you’re close to being done, there are always those three or five people who are impossible to buy for, right? Remember this, though: books are easy to wrap and easy to give, and they last a while, too. So why not head to the bookstore with your Christmas List and look for these gifts.

And if you still have people to shop for, why not make a donation to a local non-profit in their name? A list of D.C.-area suggestions follows.

BOOKS: NONFICTION

If there’s about to be a new addition to your family, wrapping up “Queer Stepfamilies: The path to Social and Legal Recognition” by Katie L. Acosta would be a good thing. In this book, the author followed forty LGBTQ families to understand the joys, pitfalls, and legalities of forming a new union together. It can’t replace a lawyer, but it’s a good overview.

For the parent who wants to ensure that their child grows up with a lack of bias, “Raising LGBTQ Allies” by Chris Tompkins is a great book to give. It’s filled with methods to stop bullying in its tracks, to be proactive in having That Conversation, and how to be sure that the next generation you’re responsible for becomes responsible in turn. Wrap it up with “The Healing Otherness Handbook” by Stacee L. Reicherzer, Ph.D., a book that helps readers to deal with bullying by finding confidence and empowerment.

If there’s someone on your gift list who’s determined to get “fit” in the coming year, then give “The Secret to Superhuman Strength” by Alison Bechdel this holiday. Told in graphic-novel format (comics, basically), it’s the story of searching for self-improvement and finding it in a surprising place.

So why not give a little nostalgia this year by wrapping up “A Night at the Sweet Gum Head” by Martin Padgett? It’s the tale of disco, drag, and drugs in the 1970s (of course!) in Atlanta, with appearances by activists, politics, and people who were there at that fabulous time. Wrap it up with “After Francesco” by Brian Malloy, a novel set a little later – in the mid-1980s in New York City and Minneapolis at the beginning of the AIDS crisis.

The LGBTQ activist on your gift list will want to read “The Case for Gay Reparations” by Omar G. Encarnacion. It’s a book about acknowledgment, obligation on the part of cis citizens, and fixing the pain that homophobia and violence has caused. Wrap it up with “Trans Medicine: The Emergence and Practice of Treating Gender” by Stef M. Shuster, a look at trans history that may also make your giftee growl.

FICTION

Young readers who have recently transitioned will enjoy reading “Both Sides Now” by Peyton Thomas. It’s a novel about a high school boy with gigantic dreams and the means to accomplish them all. Can he overcome the barriers that life gives him? It’s debatable… Pair it with “Can’t Take That Away” by Steven Salvatore, a book about two nonbinary students and the troubles they face as they fall in love.

The thriller fan on your list will be overjoyed to unwrap “Yes, Daddy” by Jonathan Parks-Ramage. It’s the story of a young man with dying dreams of fame and fortune, who schemes to meet an older, more accomplished man with the hopes of sparking his failing career. But the older man isn’t who the younger thinks he is, and that’s not good. Wrap it up with “Lies with Man” by Michael Nava, a book about a lawyer who agrees to be counsel for a group of activists. Good so far, right? Until one of them is accused of being involved in a deadly bombing.

For the fan of Southern fiction, you can’t go wrong when you wrap up “The Tender Grave” by Sheri Reynolds. It’s the tale of two sisters, one homophobic, the other lesbian, and how they learn to forgive and re-connect.

NON-PROFIT GIVING

Like nonprofit organizations throughout the country, D.C.-area LGBTQ supportive nonprofit groups have told the Blade they continue to rebuild amid the coronavirus pandemic, which disrupted their fundraising efforts while increasing expenses, at least in part by prompting more people to come to them for help.

This holiday season, if you’re looking for a thoughtful gift, consider making a donation to one of our local LGBTQ non-profit organizations in someone else’s name. This list is by no means exhaustive, but a good place to start your research.

Contributions to the LGBTQ supportive nonprofit organizations can be made via the websites of these local organizations:

• Blade Foundation, which funds local scholarships and fellowships for queer student journalists, bladefoundation.org

• DC Center, our local community center that operates a wide range of programming,  thedccenter.org/donate

Food & Friends, which delivers meals to homebound patients, foodandfriends.org

HIPS, which advances the health rights and dignity of those impacted by sex work and drugs, hips.org

• SMYAL, which advocates for queer youth, smyal.org

Wanda Alston Foundation, which offers shelter and support for LGBTQ youth, wandaalstonfoundation.org

• Whitman-Walker Health, the city’s longtime LGBTQ-inclusive health care provider, whitmanwalkerimpact.org

Casa Ruby, which provides shelter and services to youth in need, casaruby.org

• Us Helping Us, which helps improve the health of communities of color and works to reduce the impact of HIV/AIDS on the Black community, ushelpingus.org/donate

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