For a very long time, pinned to the desktop of my computer was a fan rendering of these words: “When life seems dangerous and unmanageable, just remember that it is, and that you can't survive forever.” It's a quote from the waggish writers of Welcome to Night Vale—a podcast that explores, through local radio dispatches, the strange goings-ons of a far flung desert town. In the 5 years since the podcast's first broadcast it has been downloaded over 170 million times and has spawned novels, a massive, devoted fandom, and a series of live shows. The most recent stage production by the Night Vale crew (which includes writers Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, narrator Cecil Baldwin and actress Meg Bashwiner as the beloved character of Meg as well as The Sentient Patch of Haze) hit the stage for the first time in the spring, and is now touring the westerly states—a short tour bookended by trips to Europe and New Zealand and Australia. The production, All Hail, comes to the KiMo Theatre on Thursday, Nov. 30.
“We do have a little bit of a homecoming when we come back to the desert,” Bashwiner told me over the phone from Brooklyn, the birthplace of Welcome to Night Vale and where the podcast is made today. “It feels like we're in the right place when we get there.” Cranor buzzed into the call from the road; he and Fink were cutting a path across Texas on their way to Houston, pulling out of the parking lot of a Buc-ee's truck stop east of Austin. The long hauls through the west on tour—desolate highways paved through empty plains and dust-colored foothills—is a wellspring of inspiration for Cranor and Fink both as they create the unusual tales and characters that haunt their fictional desert town. “The desert,” Cranor said “seems to be that type of place … where every conspiracy theory might be true—not just Area 51, but think of the number of Air Force bases in the Southwest and also how it is sort of the place where you can go off the grid and disappear. A lot of very odd things can happen in the desert that no one would ever know about.”
In the world of Night Vale very odd things do happen, and millions tune in for the twice monthly dispatches. Here, the dog park is forbidden, “mysterious lights pass overhead while we pretend to sleep,” and the mysterious, looming Glow Cloud is also the president of the school board. That character, the Glow Cloud—not human, but in possession of all sorts of character traits—is the central focus of All Hail. “With this show we have the Glow Cloud, who has been with us since the second episode. … We really wanted to explore the Glow Cloud as a character even though it’s not human. We wanted to explore it like a human being—what its wants and needs are and what its overall story is,” Cranor explained. “At the same time, it gives us a good excuse to, I don't know, make the audience chant 'All hail!'” Bashwiner followed up that thought, musing, “as a culture, I hope we shy away from blindly worshipping things. … But here we venture into that, and poke fun at that idea.” Jokingly adding, however that audiences can anticipate “being under total mind control, and being totally ok with it.”
Night Vale fans are a zealous bunch who don't seem to mind offering up a night of blind worship to the Glow Cloud and the ensemble cast of All Hail. At the live stagings, the collective energy creates an aura not so unlike that the hovering cloud—that, in part, is the reason that the crew wanted to take their show on the road. “It's a great coming together for people who enjoy a thing on the internet, which is a thing you tend to do solo,” Cranor said. “Not that you can't listen to a podcast with other people, but for the most part it is a thing you download and put in your earbuds and go about your day.” Bringing the fandom together in a theater has had positive resonance—Bashwiner and Cranor mentioned that fans have shared stories of making new friends, and even dating, people they met at Night Vale's live shows. Maybe that works because Night Vale fans are a particular type—“You can be at a show in Amsterdam or New Zealand or Albuquerque,” Bashwiner said, “and there is still that definite essence of the Night Vale audience.”
For the cast of All Hail, it’s refreshing to step away from the recording booth and onto the stage. “We're performers,” Bashwiner explained. “That's who we are. We crave that live audience experience.” The small cast of this particular outing all come from the “Off-Off-Broadway” world, and so have paired down the production to rely on a smart script and the strength of the actors. “We're used to doing more with less. We really believe that a room and an audience are more than what we need to tell a great story and have a great night of theater,” Bashwiner detailed. Though both say that All Hail makes use of more ambient and mic effects than past shows, as well as a healthy dose of physical humor. Cranor added that, “in crafting the voice of the Glow Cloud for the show, we relied on one of the most talented character actors we know in Cecil Baldwin to create that.” For those not in the know, Baldwin is, of course, the primary voice evoking the upside down world of Night Vale in the podcast.
The conversation was drawing to a close. Bashwiner needed to pack so she could meet up with the tour, and Cranor was still winding his way down desolate Texas highways. As a closing thought, I asked them their sincerest hopes for what audiences might get out of the show. Cranor reflected for a moment and said, “We hope that they love it as much as we love making it.” That care and joy with which the live show and the podcast are made underlines the long-running success of the entire series, and fans know—it’s contagious.
Catch the Welcome to Night Vale crew at the KiMo Theatre on Nov. 30 at 8pm. Tickets are $25 and can be snagged at kimotickets.com and welcometonightvale.com/