Welcome to Night Vale, a small desert town populated with shapeshifting teenagers, angels that all insist on being called "Erika," and the "eldritch," tentacled horror that is "Station Management."
The creators of the popular podcast, presented as news broadcasts from the Night Vale Community Radio station, returns to the Tampa Theatre Saturday with their newest live show "All Hail.”
Meg Bashwiner, tour manager and the voice of Deb, said this year’s show focuses on a fan favorite character called the "Glow Cloud," an ancient God and the Night Vale School Board's president.
She said it’s much less somber than last year's "Ghost Stories" show.
"While the story is emotionally intense, it is a lot more funny,” Bashwiner said. “So it kind of lets us play with our comedy chops a little bit more.
She said there’s always at least one person in the audience dressed as the Glow Cloud, with an intricate lighting rig that stands out in a crowd.
Bashwiner said the show has the same kind of quirkiness fans have come to expect from the podcast and novels.
“It's got that weird Night Vale vibe to it. It's weird and dark.”
Tampa is the second Florida stop on the international tour.
Tickets start at $27.50 and can be bought online at TampaTheatre.org.
Below is a longer version of the interview with Welcome to Night Vale creator and writer Joseph Fink, edited for clarity:
Daylina Miller: So lets talk about Welcome to Night’ Vales’ newest live show, “All Hail.” What can you tell me about it?
Joseph Fink: We have toured it through the U.S. this spring and we're bringing it now to more of the U.S. this July. It brings the fan favorite character, the “Glow Cloud,” into the theater and allows people to get a sense of what it would be like to interact with that character. So it's really kind of a treat for fans in that way and it's really playing with a character that people have loved for a long time.
But it's also designed for people that have never heard of the show at all. It's a completely self-contained story about this strange, desert town and, in a larger sense, about what we owe each other as people. It's, in a lot of ways, a response to what's been going on in the world today. We took all of that in and put it together with this character. People loved him and came up with this new show that we're really excited about. So I think if people have listened to Night Vale and enjoyed it, they'll definitely enjoy this, but I also think that if people just like theater or comedy or weird storytelling, there's a lot here for them.
Miller: Speaking of the bi-weekly podcast, how’s the live show different?
Fink: Well, the live shows are written to be live shows. You know, the podcast is 20-minute serial storytelling. So a lot of times, there's storylines that go from week to week. Characters, stuff gets referenced from years back and things gradually grow and they're also written for a listening audience in mind and these live shows… everyone involved in the show has a background in theater. And so these live shows are really written as theater. They're written for a live audience. Cecil Baldwin, who is our narrator, he is a trained stage actor and so he really can hold his stage. Everything we're writing for this show is designed to be for a live audience. It plays with audience energy in a way that you can't with a podcast.
Miller: Something I want to talk about, too, is diversity. WTNV is well known for writing diverse characters and casting diverse actors, something mainstream media often struggles with. Was this intentional?
Fink: People are very happy about that, obviously, and they want to thank us for that. And it always feels very weird because it feels like that is just the bare minimum any writer should do. Because if you only write about one kind of person, you're lying about the world. You're taking a lazy shortcut. You're just regurgitating what you've seen in media, which is one kind of person. You see straight, white people on a screen or you read about them in a book, so you put that into your own work and you don't really think through what you're doing. But if you actually look at the world, that's not what the world looks like, and I think as writers we owe that to people to write about the world the way that it is. Spending years in downtown New York theater, I have so many people I'm close to who are not white, straight people and so it just wouldn't be honest to any of my experience of the world to write that. It's good that that has been helpful to people, the podcast having it visible and having that diversity, but it certainly doesn't feel like we did anything that should be special. It just feels like we did the bare minimum of what anyone should do.
Miller: So Night Vale is a pretty weird place. We’ve got government conspiracies, floating cats, giant glowing clouds that serve on the school board – these things are all pretty commonplace. So how do you make that sort of town so relatable to the world we live in?
Fink: In a lot of ways it's not that different from ours. It is a scary, confusing place and it's a place where you could die at any moment and not always for reasons that make sense. And it's a place where a lot of things happen that you'll never know the reason for and that is our world, too. We live in a world that is confusing and scary and where we could die at any moment and we'll never understand why something's happened. And you know, in the real world, that's cancer, and in Night Vale, that's an alien abduction. But I think the human emotion behind it is the same. It's struggling with a world that doesn't always make sense and I think anytime you write about that honestly, even if even if the details are intentionally silly or weird, I think people will just connect to that honest human emotion.
Miller: The Welcome to Night Vale fandom really got started in places like Tumblr with fan art and people creating these ideas of what characters look like based off what are sometimes pretty vague descriptions. And you guys have seen that translate at the live shows with people cosplaying?
Fink: We regularly get people dressing up as things. One of the reasons we wanted to do a show about the Glow Cloud is almost every life show we do someone comes dressed up as a Glow Cloud, like a big cloud with lights in their costume.
It's a fascinating thing for me. I'm not a visual person. I don't think visually. There's a reason why there's very little visual description put into my writing. It's sort of a philosophical stance against that being a way of defining characters. I think it's not a useful way to define a character, but it's mostly just I don't think in those terms. It doesn't occur to me to do that. So yeah, it's really fascinating to take this thing written by people who don't necessarily think in visual ways and then have this very visual community really run with it in these really amazing ways.
Miller: What should our listeners know about Welcome to Night Vale that we haven’t already talked about?
Fink: It’s a scripted fictional show that takes the form of community radio from a small desert town where every conspiracy theory is true. The radio show in this podcast is hosted by Cecil Palmer who is the host of the local radio community show and kind of the voice of the town. He's played by the great actor, Cecil Baldwin. The live show is just one story from that town and it's a self-contained one and it stars Cecil but it also has other guest stars. Meg Bashwiner, who is the voice of the credits on the podcast, plays a recurring character named Deb in all of our live shows and you always have a variety of guest stars come in and out of the live shows depending on who is available. We also have live music as part of the show in two different ways. The composer for the podcast, “Disparition,” comes on tour with us and plays a sound track live during Cecil's performance, which is just I think a really great dynamic to watch. John is a really incredible musician and watching him react live to Cecil’s acting with music is always a really special thing to see.
In the podcast, there's always a weather section and the weather section is always a song by a different artist and I don't have a good reason for why that is. It's just the way it is in Night Vale. So we bring a different guest musician on every tour who comes and plays music for the audience. So on this tour, we are bringing for the first half of the tour, Eliza Rickman, who's this incredibly talented singer songwriter from Southern California who just does these, I don't know, if like Tim Burton was a singer-songwriter and had a beautiful voice, it would be Eliza Rickman. And then for the second half of the tour we're bringing Jason Webley, who is this incredible songwriter from a little bit north of Seattle who, yeah, I've been listening to Jason's music since like the mid-90s. I don't know quite how to describe his stuff. He does this really incredible singalong stuff that really brings the audience into his world.