In the small desert town of Night Vale, the extraordinary is everyday. PTA meetings are interrupted by pteranodons spilling forth from mysterious portals, packs of feral dogs square off against the Sheriff's Secret Police, and the forest whispers — do not heed its call — do not fall prey to its siren song or you may never escape the woods. Keeping residents up to date on all the latest goings-on in the town is radio show host Cecil Baldwin, who delivers the news in an even, measured tone regardless of how many hatchet attacks took place that day.
Created by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor in 2012, Welcome to Night Vale, the popular podcast which mimics a community radio program, has grown in popularity as a novel and touring live show that allows its writers to tell larger stories incorporating guest actors and live music. Beginning as live readings at small bars and cabarets in New York, the live performances allow all those involved in the production to play on their experience in theater. Baldwin remains the center of each performance, but by expanding the show into a live performance, the creators are able to fully immerse the audience in the strange tales of Night Vale.
"We try to write stories that interact with the audience in a certain way. We try and play with that relationship between Cecil and the live audience that you can't do with a podcast, obviously. With the podcast, you can't be in the room with them when they're listening. That's illegal," jokes Cranor. "There's nothing fun about going to see theater where all of the actors just pretend they're on television and don't acknowledge that we're all in a room telling stories."
Those experiencing a live performance of Welcome to Night Vale can expect a similar format to the podcast, but don't think that just because you're in the audience you are safe from the creatures of Night Vale. For the show's first tour, Cranor says he and his writing partner drew inspiration from the works of William Castle, a mid-century producer and director best known for his horror film gimmicks. Castle is famous — or infamous, depending on how you look at it — for attaching vibrating motors underneath the seats in movie theaters screening his film The Tingler. Near the movie's conclusion, the audience is warned that one of the film's creatures has escaped into the theater around which time they'd receive a scare from the buzzers. While the creators of Welcome to Night Vale aren't likely to retrofit every theater on their tour, they do hope to provide a few more scares than their fans may expect.
"With this live show tour, one of the things that Joseph and I tried to challenge ourselves with in writing it was we wanted it to be a little spookier than our normal touring live shows. They've all been super-hilarious and ridiculous, and this one has those elements too, but we wanted to hit more serious notes with this," says Cranor. "It's the trick of knowing how much you can get away with. Night Vale is ostensibly a comedy, so you don't want to push it too far. It's sort of like being at a fun party with friends. You don't want to bring it all down with a real bummer of a story. You try and balance those things out."
Featuring musical guests Danny Schmidt and Carrie Elkin, Welcome to Night Vale's current U.S. tour delves into the ghost stories of the troubled fictional town that is as relatable as it is bizarre. Like any other suburban community, there are football games on Friday, events at the library, fundraisers, and traffic. But on top off all that, there is mystery, intrigue, and the occasional worm attack.
"It's sort of interesting because in terms of research and looking into things, a lot of Night Vale storytelling is playing off of basic tropes of storytelling and maybe subverting them in some way," says Cranor. "With the current tour, we decided we wanted to do the world of ghost stories, taking the old trope of the spooky story that 'It was 10 years ago on a night just like tonight,' and then you take that and you move from there. It was a lot of fun looking up urban legends and ghost stories and storytelling in that realm of how to tell a spooky story to kind of build out this live show to see how it all works."