Welcome to Night Vale returns to Glasgow

As the creepy and comedic Welcome to Night Vale podcast returns to Glasgow for its latest live show, we meet co-creator Joseph Fink and lead voice actors Cecil Baldwin and Meg Bashwiner

Feature by Sarah Galletly | 13 Sep 2017
  • Welcome To The Night Vale

Welcome to Night Vale is a fictional community radio show set in a small town in the Southwest American desert, where weird and paranormal occurrences are so frequent that they have become mundane to local residents. Guided through these bizarre incidents by their endearing local radio host Cecil Palmer, listeners are invited into a world of three-headed dragons, faceless old women who secretly live in your home, and sinister hooded figures who lurk near the forbidden dog park.

The podcast was co-created in 2012 by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, who have been writing partners for almost a decade. Welcome to Night Vale has exploded in popularity over these five years, with the podcast’s ensemble cast embarking on several international touring productions. This success has also led to the publication of podcast script books and original novels set in the Night Vale universe, the second of which will be published this October under the title It Devours!

Their fourth live touring show, All Hail, places the spotlight on the mysterious Glow Cloud, a fan favourite character who compels members of the community to chant their fealty to it while leaving a trail of dead animals in its wake. After its seemingly failed attempt to control the minds of the entire town early in the podcast’s run, the Glow Cloud remains in this desert community, eventually taking on the role of president of the Night Vale School Board.

As co-creator Joseph Fink explains: “The basic rule we live by with Night Vale is that we try to make the weird mundane, and we try to make the mundane weird. So if you’re going to describe something really weird or horrifying you try and write it in a way that is as mundane as possible, and if you’re describing something simple that we have all experienced, you try to use language that alienates it from the listener and makes it seem strange even though it’s something they’ve actually experienced.”

For Cecil Baldwin, who provides the voice of lead character Cecil Palmer, “at its heart Welcome to Night Vale is a force for good in a lot of ways. This character, Cecil, at the end of every podcast episode he finds his love for the town and for the people that share this community with him, and no matter what insane crazy monster has appeared that week, at the end of the day it’s the people in the town that keep the community going. And I think that really resonates with a lot of people who feel disenfranchised by the government or that are not part of socially recognised norms. That sort of sense of belonging and community really resonates with them.”

When asked about the difference between the podcast and the live shows Baldwin explains that the show’s format as a staged reading with no sets and costumes actually aids his live performances. “It’s really basic, good old fashioned storytelling, and because of that it frees us up to let the audience use their own imagination and build the world for themselves... The humour is even better [in the live shows] and then the heartbreaking, human element of it is even better as well, because you’re able to actually connect with people face to face rather than through an earbud or online. And that’s really to me where Welcome to Night Vale shines.”

When asked about his comedic influences, Fink admits that “I’m not super interested in comedy where it comes before anything else… where the story and characters are all just in service of getting in as many punchlines as possible. That just doesn’t do a lot for me. I really love comedy like Parks and Recreation, where it’s a very, very funny show, but it never loses sight of the fact that it needs to be true to its characters and tell stories that are honest to them.”

Fink also loves Peep Show where “almost everyone in that show is a truly terrible human being and not likeable at all, but there is still a very deep honesty to those characters. Those characters feel real and consistent, and they never cheat in order to get a joke in. They always go for what the character is first, and that’s really what interests me, and what we try to do with ...Night Vale.”

“I’m always shocked that Americans don’t know The League of Gentlemen as well as they should,” Baldwin adds, before acknowledging the influence of Twin Peaks on his performance choices in WTNV. “In creating the character of Cecil Palmer I kept thinking of Dale Cooper on Twin Peaks. Kyle MacLachlan plays this sort of eternal optimist in a way that is funny, and at the same time can also be deadly serious, and can have a love affair, and is a fully realised character. There’s something about that David Lynch quality of humour that really appealed to me. It is a dark humour, to be sure, but it’s honest and real and there was something [in the WTNV scripts] that really resonated with that.”

Meg Bashwiner, WTNV’s resident proverb lady, live show emcee, and voice for the recurring character of Deb the sentient patch of haze, freely admits that when they first started touring they didn’t know what they were doing and that they “definitely learned a lot of things the hard way, but we’ve had a lot of fun along the way.” These live productions of WTNV rely upon a rotating stable of guest stars which vary depending on where the shows are touring, with the scripted reading usually accompanied by a musical guest serving as the radio show’s 'weather' and a live soundtrack from podcast composer Jon Bernstein (aka Disparition).

While the live shows are scripted, Fink asserts that he and Cranor intentionally don’t direct their actors very much. “For the most part we try to cast people that are right for the roles and then just let them make the choices they make.” Even with their first touring show, The Librarian, which Bashwiner believes they toured close to a hundred times, “towards the end [of that run] we were still discovering things, every time we’d walk into a new audience, especially a new audience in a different culture… we happen upon different jokes and different rhythms that match to the response of our audience.”

Listeners have responded positively to the diversity of characters that the podcast showcases, something that is reflected in the female-driven line-up for their upcoming European tour. “Because the show is written by two men and stars a man, we definitely want to try to be including the voices of non-binary people and women in the show,” Bashwiner explains. “We’re lucky to know so many talented female performers that Joseph and Jeffrey really do enjoy writing for them and fleshing that story out. We’re trying to have as much representation as possible on stage, while still being able to tour.”

Bashwiner believes the current touring show is the funniest they’ve produced thus far. “I think we’ve hit a lot of different notes with our previous live shows, and I think this one is definitely a show for its time concerning the political climate of the world as well as one that is funny. So it’s kind of a humorous and uplifting take on where Night Vale is right now and maybe where the world is right now.” Fink affirms that this new script, “was very consciously written in response to the current political climate. It was hard not to… At the same time it’s not like an allegory, it’s not a sermon, it’s a comedy show in a lot of ways, and so it is very big and funny.”

In balancing needs of diehard podcast fans without risking alienating newcomers Fink feels they’ve managed to hit the right note. “Our goal was for long time listeners to finally deliver this story about the Glow Cloud that is this huge fan favourite character… and then for newcomers we wanted to tell a story that was funny but also that I think lands in a place that will feel very urgent given where we are right now.”

Welcome to Night Vale – All Hail. Tramway Glasgow, 26 Sep, 7.30pm, £28
It Devours! by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, published 19 Oct by Little, Brown Book Group, £16.99