A genial yet sonorous voice echoes over the radio in a quiet desert community as we all casually avert our gaze from the shadowy horrors lurking just beyond our peripheral vision. Welcome to Night Vale.
So begins one of many episodes of the widely acclaimed podcast, provoking the internet generation to reconsider the value of the radio star and his unfortunate demise.
Cecil Gershwin Palmer, host of the local Night Vale Community Radio Station, is a normal (probably) human resident in a small community in an unspecified desert region of the U.S. His audience consists of you “the listener”, and as his fellow ordinary citizens, including John Peters (you know, the farmer?), the faceless old woman who secretly lives in your home, Angels (who definitely “don’t exist”, according to the sheriff’s Secret Police), and the ominous glowing cloud to whom we must all hail.
Welcome to Night Vale is one of the most imaginative projects that has slithered into the internet’s collective consciousness, and suckered firmly to the minds and hearts of its devoted listeners, myself included. It is hilarious, insightful, and smart in a subtle way. Listeners savour its genius as one might savour a glass of vintage Pinot Noir, swishing it around the mouth, slowly and with great satisfaction as you note all the flavours.
Due to an extraordinary rise to internet stardom over the last two years, the Night Vale team has begun touring all over the world. They have just completed their North American trek, which wrapped up this past weekend at the Eden of all Nerd-dom: San Diego Comic Con.
I was lucky enough to obtain tickets to their sold out show in Calgary, which turned out to be much more than a man reading a script alone on a dimly lit stage. I was excited to hear the yet unreleased episode, and to see the mysterious face behind the audio clips, but I hadn’t expected the incredible amount of thought that had gone into making the live show an entirely unique and interactive experience.
The stage was simple: just two mics set up a few feet away from each other. The opening musical act was folk singer and performance artist Eliza Rickman, who was tall, slender and dressed like a woodland fairy. With the air of a practiced traveling bard, she cycled through a series of hauntingly beautiful songs accompanied by unconventional instruments, from a toy piano to her own rhythmic clapping. Her most popular song to date, “Pretty Little Head”, is a wonderfully eerie and delicate tune that was featured as the “Weather” of Night Vale episode 45, a regular segment on the show often populated by strange little songs.
As Cecil stepped out onto that tiny stage, the small but enthusiastic crowd burst into uproarious applause. Without spoiling the plot too much, this special episode allows us to get personal with one of Night Vale’s own librarians. Unlike the friendly, bespectacled humans that usually populate places of public book lending, Night Vale librarians are said to be much more deadly, with lots of eyes where you may not expect eyes, although no one is entirely certain whether any of this is true.
While Cecil’s voice alone is extremely dramatic and versatile, he made full use of his gestures and facial expressions, which only enhanced his comedic timing. The live setting was also ingeniously integrated into the show. Cecil suggested a “hypothetical” situation in a darkened theatre that sent shivers down the spines of audience members in the room, drawing out peals of both earnest and nervous giggling as we all repeatedly checked under our seats. There were also many jokes made with raised eyebrows about how no one would ever actually be silly enough attend live theatre.
Night Vale is a masterpiece that deserves all the praise that it has received and more. It is a celebration of the strange and the mysterious. It is a keen observation about our world and the worlds that are similar to, but not our world. The passionate creative team behind the show is incredibly talented and generous, dedicated to keeping their work free for the public to enjoy and to supporting other artists and musicians.
-contributed by Amy Wang
*Welcome to Night Vale is a production of Commonplace Books. It is written by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor. The voice of Night Vale is Cecil Baldwin.