For those who are unfamiliar with Welcome To Night Vale, it is a bimonthly podcast about a small desert town “where every conspiracy theory is true” and is narrated by Cecil Palmer, the town’s popular radio presenter. Full of bizarre characters and unbelievable stories, the show bursts with imagination and originality, managing at once to be both surreal and captivating. Soon the Night Vale cast will be coming to Europe with their new live show “The Librarian”, which they have already performed in the US.
A very independent production, Welcome to Night Vale was originally conceived and created by Joseph Fink and his friend Jeffrey Cranor. Joseph explains the show’s origins: “I wanted to make a podcast. I had some friends I liked working with and eventually I came up with the idea of this town where every conspiracy theory is true and we just go on with life from that. I wrote a script and I asked Cecil, who is a friend of mine, if he would try reading it. I put together a test episode and showed it to my friend Jeffrey and asked him if he would like to try co-writing it, and then we just kind of started doing it as a project and with the idea that we would do it as long as it seemed fun to do.”
The independence of their show’s production allows Fink and Cranor a lot of creative freedom and allows them room to experiment, to create what they want rather than what is expected of them. “All creative decisions are made entirely by Jeffrey and I and no-one else gets to really have input in. So there’s this certain sense of just being willing to try stuff because we don’t owe anything to anyone in terms of, you know, if an episode’s too weird and it puts people off that’s just kind of what’s going to happen and we don’t have to worry about any advertisers or network or anything else like that who’d get angry”.
The central character of the show is Cecil Palmer, voiced by Cecil Baldwin, the host of Night Vale Radio. As well as narration of the town’s bizarre current events, we are also treated to tales of Cecil’s family, his friends, and his boyfriend, Carlos. This method of storytelling comes with its own pros and cons, as Fink explains: “You kind of write to the format you’ve started. I mean, yes you can’t do some of the storytelling you can do with an omniscient voice but by having a limited narrator there’s other storytelling stuff you can do that’s just as fun with the sort of gap between what the narrator thinks is happening and what, perhaps from an outside observer, is actually happening. There’s a lot of fun to be had there”.
The format of the podcast, with its lack of visuals and minimal voices, also allows listeners freedom of imagination and interpretation. Each listener has their own ideas about the town and its residents and, according to Fink, there is really no right or wrong interpretation. “If it’s not in the script then whatever you think is a hundred percent true. Because it’s a fictional world, there’s no objective reality there, so if you don’t say it in the script then whatever you’re imagining is a hundred percent right”.
One would think that adapting the show to the stage would be difficult, but Fink and Cranor don’t seem to have had much of an issue with that, as they’ve had plenty of experience with theatre work. “We were very aware of the nature of the different energy between listening to something and having someone perform in front of you, and just the awareness of an audience there. We write it towards that. But we all come from a theatre background, all three of us: Cecil, Jeffrey, and I. I mean, Cecil is a trained stage actor with multiple national tours in the US. Jeffrey’s been a playwright, pretty much as long as he’s a writer. And I, I’ve done quite a bit of work in downtown New York theatre. So, theatre is actually kind of where we’re most comfortable. So, in a sense, it’s us doing the thing that we did before Night Vale again.”
As well as continuing the podcast and the live shows, Fink and Jeffrey will soon be releasing a novel. Planned for release in 2015, it will be released through Harper in the US and through Orbit in the UK. The story will take place in the town of Night Vale but, unlike the podcast, will not be centered around Cecil. Fink tells us about his literary aspirations and the plans for the novel’s release: “I have a lot of background in print writing. It’s kind of a thing I’ve always wanted to do most. So this, you know, writing a Night Vale novel… Writing a novel is kind of a thing I’ve wanted to do since I was very little. We got a lot of offers for a lot of different things at once and the offers we were most interested in were offers of publishing. So we took on a literary agent and we kind of looked around to those”.
As well as Cecil’s narration, Night Vale also features music, with each episode featuring a song by a different band or musician in the form of the “weather” segment. They carry this on in their stage shows with live music from various musicians. “We bring all our musicians with us and they perform an opening set, and they are the weather. It’s worked out quite well. It’s allowed us to tour with some very talented musicians in the US and we’re very much looking forward to touring with Mary Epworth in the UK and Europe.”
Welcome To Night Vale will be performed at the Olympia Theatre on the 16th of October and The Sugar Club on the 17th. Further information can be found on their website at commonplacebooks.com and the podcast can be downloaded for free through iTunes and Soundcloud.