Photo credit Welcome to Night Vale
By Claire Grant and Liam Jones
Long-running Welcome to Night Vale Podcast is a trip, like… a trippy trip. An untraceable journey to a small desert town that lies… somewhere. Here the glow cloud (all hail) controls the mind and also participates in the PTA, the faceless old woman who secretly lives in your house…lives in your house (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 (narrated as Cecil Palmer) guides us through traffic, strange lights over the Arbys, interviews with Night Vale citizens, the weather and sometimes even incidents with their “strange but menacing government agency.”
However, creators Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor have strayed off their beaten path with the live show Welcome to Night Vale, which is set to air in 56 cities worldwide from March to October. The Siskiyou were lucky enough to be offered tickets to their Portland show at Revolution Hall, an old high school converted into a performance venue tucked away in a beautiful flower-lined neighborhood in the Buckman District. This humble student newspaper was also given the opportunity to interview creator Jeffrey Cranor to rack his (mysterious) brains over this latest endeavor. We also found out where he gets his inspiration from and even got a little sneak peek at an upcoming project.
Cranor makes it clear that the heart of Night Vale is narrator Cecil Baldwin, with his larger than life presence and inviting tone. In the live show, the creators wanted to exaggerate that homeliness and make the theater feel a bit homey, like Night Vale is. During the live performance, Cecil does a great job of captivating and entertaining the audience and definitely creates a strong sense of community in the room. That focus on community, Jeffrey told us, stems from his childhood admiration for Steven King, whose notorious hometowns have been burying axes in readers’ hearts for decades. He loves the elements that create a small-town atmosphere where the intrigue comes not just from the geography, but from those who inhabit it.
Early in the tour, Cranor and Fink made small changes to the story here and there, but eventually took a step back and let it run its course. Cranor laughingly told The Siskiyou that he’ll watch one of the later shows and see how different the energy is on stage once the actors have found even funnier and more dramatic beats. One of the biggest changes they made early on was bringing in a choreographer to make the actors more comfortable with their moves. “I’m not suggesting that there’s a chorus line dance number in the middle,” he jokes, making it clear that the changes are only minor ones to make the actors’ physicality on stage clearer.
Cranor couldn’t tell us anything about the potential of a Welcome to Night Vale streaming series that has been teased for many years. However, he could tell us that they have “another project that isn’t TV related,” and he thinks they can announce more about it this summer.
Concluding the interview, Cranor told The Siskiyou that if he were stranded on a desert island with an episode of Welcome to Night Vale, he would have to pick an episode his co-creator wrote, citing the unbearable tingling sensation Listen to your episode Your own words will be read to you. Seeking an answer, Cranor chose Episode 33 with the title cassette: “It’s creepy and weird and there’s a lot of different textures and a lot of plot that doesn’t say it directly – there would be a lot to think about,” he said of the episode. The other option would be Episode 100, toastas they used all 27 voices seen on the show so far, adding that “on this desolate desert island it would be nice to hear more than one person’s voice”.
After the interview, these writers drove four hours north on a monotonous highway and ended up in the real Night Vale (which oddly resembled Portland a lot) to see Cecil’s radio show live and up close. Throughout the show, Cecil Palmer battles the haunting of his under construction home, his husband Carlos struggles with family finances, Tamika Flynn confronts her Excellency’s human limitations, and Michelle Nguyen…well, she’s more concerned with music as a concept than one Exercise. Nowadays she is much more interested in car noises.
It’s really easy for Cecil to build a house and they’re almost done! All you have to do is “lay the foundation, erect the walls, install the plumbing, the electrical, the windows, and put a roof on top of that.” Trouble brews as Carlos nags about costs and expenses, but Cecil is more interested in his closed floor plan than budgeting. What he can’t ignore are the strange occurrences that keep happening on the property; he worries the house will be haunted, but how can a house be haunted before it’s even built? That’s the theme of this spooky show – finding out what’s haunting this house, and if our intrepid narrator can save the day… with the help of book-slinger Tamika Flynn and Dark Owl Records owner Michelle Nguyen.
The show is brilliant, engaging and more than a little funny. From the lighting to the script, the show pays tribute to the classic elements of “Night Vale” while managing to create a whole new, endlessly entertaining performance. Backed by live music by Disparition, the show is otherworldly and unsettling, punctuated with well-timed choreography to create a mesmerizing stage effect. All visual elements aside, however, this proverbial “episode” beautifully captures the essence of “Night Vale,” the reason listeners have been tuning in for years. The realization that all those spooky happenings, all those disturbing auras and strange possessions are actually a manifestation of our own selves, an externalization of our own demons, our own fears and fantasies. Cecil ends the show with his unmistakable baritone, saying everything the audience should take away from this fantastic piece of theatre: We are, each of us, a huge and haunted house.
So from one haunted house to another, good night, Night Vale, good night.