Welcome to ‘Welcome to Night Vale!’
Podcasts slipped so smoothly into our lives that it’s hard to pinpoint when they started. Harder than to just accept that since whenever-that-was they’ve matured into a fascinating new form of expression. Podcasts are both of the moment and, at the same time, quaint in their DIY, hustling, carnival barker properties. Serial became the crossover juggernaut that replaced the weather as a topic of conversation (that everyone had an opinion on), but Welcome To Night Vale has taken the opposite path, cultivating a community of listeners who range from the dedicated to the obsessive.
Welcome To Night Vale is celebrating its fourth birthday with a touring show that played Brooklyn’s Bell House last week. Live shows have been part of Night Vale‘s appeal since its second year, shortly after it became the most downloaded podcast on iTunes. While waiting in line to get inside I heard two young women, dressed in Night Vale t-shirts of different designs, strike up a friendship over their experiences at other live Night Vale shows.
I asked a few folks what drew them to Night Vale, literally and fictionally. Everyone agreed that it was the unique tone, described as “gleefully bleak” and having a “benign creepiness.” I was surprised that most were not really podcast enthusiasts but instead identified particularly as Night Vale fans. One woman, a Night Vale partisan who had recently converted her husband, made a point of emphasizing that there was an important message underlying the show’s strangeness, which she boiled down to the importance of acceptance.
The evening’s MC was Meg Bashwiner, the voice of the proverbs that end each episode. She introduced the show’s two co-writers, Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, who in turn introduced live performances of two new podcasts being released under the Night Vale Presents banner: Alice Isn’t Dead, written by Fink, is about a trucker on the road looking for a wife she thought was long dead, and Within The Wires, written by Cranor and Janina Matthewson, is a story told through a series of relaxation cassettes.
Throughout the evening, we heard a lot from the show’s writers, both of whom were humble and gracious toward the fans. Despite a large amount of spookiness and blood spilled in their work, both were really upbeat, positive, guys. They emphasized and encouraged the collaborative ethos and experimental nature which led to the show’s creation and took the time to lament the now-defunct Incubator Arts Project, which had been an experimental performance company in the East Village.
The last part of the show was, of course, a new episode of Welcome to Night Vale. The cast included voices of Night Vale Cecil Baldwin, Dylan Marron as his scientist boyfriend Carlos, and Mara Wilson as the Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives In Your Home. The story was about Cecil and Carlos going on vacation, having different ideas of what they want to do, but ultimately finding that “home” is a more abstract idea that was present whenever they were together. The theme seemed to resonate both with the big group on stage, lifting up glasses to toast Night Vale‘s birthday, and the smiling fans on the floor.
*All Photos by the Author