One of the most popular podcasts in the world, “Welcome to Night Vale,” will be performed live on stage at The Fargo Theatre on April 30.
The live show will feature the latest and most exclusive news, police, weather and cultural reports from the tiny, fictional desert town of Night Vale. It’s a place where all conspiracy theories exist and mysterious hooded figures, among other arcane obscurities, rouse the curious nature of the listener.
HPR interviewed co-creator and co-writer Jeffrey Cranor. He gave us some great insights on the live show and the podcast.
HPR: Can you talk about the specialness of the live show? Obviously most of us know “Welcome to Night Vale” as a podcast and are more familiar with it as something we listen to intimately and unaccompanied.
Jeffrey Cranor: The structure of the live show is similar to the podcast in a sense that it’s Cecil (the narrator) talking. We do tend to have more guests so we have at least three, I believe, other guests along with the show. Also we’ll have live music by Disparition. He’ll be traveling with us and performing on stage during the show with Cecil. So some of the bells and whistles are a little bit different.
I think the main thing is that it’s live. We don’t write the show with the same things in mind as when we do the podcast, because we know we’re up on stage in front of an audience. We’re not fans of theater that pretends the audience isn’t there. So it’s a chance for us to write a script that allows Cecil and the other actors to see the audience there, to work with the audience. We are not doing improv theatre and shouting out for suggestions or anything like that. It’s totally scripted, but it’s a way to view the talents that people have as performers, to use the audience’s energy to kind of cultivate it and kind of bring a crescendo of a room full (of several hundred people).
HPR: Can you talk about the adjustments, specifically, that you’ve had to make for the live show?
JC: I think some of it is meta. Some of it is you want to do a knowing nod to the audience in the room. You want them to know that you are aware that they are there … Cecil, as always on the podcast, is aware that his listenership is listening to him. You know, he’s a radio host; he knows people are listening to his show. And for the live show we kind of referenced a moment where the librarian is on the loose in town and (Cecil) got breaking news that he had broken into the theatre and was attacking people in the audience in the theatre and we kind of play around with that idea of like now people in the audience were looking under their chairs and whatever else …
Also I think the other thing too is having that kind of balance of saying, well, we are telling a story that there will definitely be people in the audience that don’t know who we are or what we do based on ads or newspapers, or they read a story about it online or heard about it from their friend. And we want to make sure that the show tells a story that is easily accessible for anybody who hasn’t been.
But I think another way we build energy too, we know we have our fans there. We definitely want to write a story that is new to them as well. So we want to give them more information for the world of Night Vale, more depth of the characters and more information about people that they are familiar with and kind of further the plot along in certain ways for them or at least to flesh out the world more. So I think that is another way too, is to kind of have those familiar moments for the fans.
And the other way too is just to try and write in ways that actually calls out a member of the audience, maybe as a section or maybe as individuals or something like that. It’s not always the easiest thing in the world and we want to do it gracefully and without putting people in an awkward position.
HPR: People who have never listened to the podcast can enjoy the live show. Does that mean listeners can start from wherever if they want to get into the podcast after becoming a fan from the live show?
JC: We generally try not to dictate for people how they should or shouldn’t listen to it. But we definitely write the ongoing episodes of the podcast in a way that is linear. Things that happen in current episodes are part of a progression that goes all the way back to the first episode. So I think if you want to be fully immersed and be a completist and get everything, definitely start at the beginning and go all the way through.
And there are some episodes of the podcast that I think if you make that your first episode it would not be reflective of the entire show. Or some that might have a similar structure but just might be a little bit hard to get your head fully wrapped around. But we do, in writing any episode, try to always reset. So if you have Carlos, the scientist, you don’t have to go through the whole backstory of how he and Cecil got together, even though that was kind of the narrative of the first year of writing the podcast. That was kind of the undercurrent of the story line. You don’t have to recap all of that, because the old fans would be bored by that. However, it’s not too hard to reset to be like, Carlos, he is a scientist; he is also Cecil’s boyfriend. Using words like scientist and boyfriend are an easy way to kind of leak that relationship there. We try to find a clearance with language to reset the information that is necessary for today’s story.
Some of it will just be like, I don’t get that joke and I didn’t even know a joke was there, if you are unfamiliar with the show, whereas people who are big fans might (get it).
HPR: What makes podcasts special as a storytelling medium?
I think it’s two things. First is the lack of the visual element … Sometimes when you want to be really scary or really funny, it’s almost more scary or more funny if you suggest enough of a picture to where there is enough for people to draw in the rest in their minds. You don’t want to suggest too little because then it’s just broad … OK. I get the idea, blood. Ha, blood’s scary. But if you have an implication of where the blood is out of place, if it doesn’t seem right to be there, then that can be a really horrifying image. So I think doing things like that and giving people enough information to form images in their mind so it becomes a really active medium.
I think the other thing too, and what we hear a lot from people, is the intimacy of radio … But I think we live in a world too where radio is a very personal, solo experience. And I think the idea of people listening to radio as they go to sleep and we get a lot of people who say, I listen to Night Vale and it puts me to sleep and they mean that in the most positive way. They re-listen to it over and over, and they love the comfort of that voice. There’s something very embracing about a good voice that kind of carries you off.
I think a lot of people are discovering that with podcasts you find personality. I say this all the time: Personality goes a long way. People like Cecil. People like the voices that they hear. I listen to podcasts that talk about stuff that I am not interested in at all, but I keep listening because I find the host of the show really delightful and really wonderful, and because we’re sort of like friends even though they don’t know me and I don’t know them personally.
HPR: I discovered an incredible band, Hella, by listening to a recent episode of the podcast. Why “report the weather” by playing music by unrelated artists?
JC: Josef (Fink, co-creator), when he was first putting together the pilot episode, he wanted to have different sections of the show. So he’d have a community calendar and a traffic report, but he wanted the weather for each episode to be something completely different. And he wanted it to be not an actual weather report, and we could play with the strangeness of the world. And we talked about each weather would be a different type of recording each week. One time we might get a performance poet or we might have a musician or we might have some other voice or texture. It was mostly just to kind of have different things in the middle of the show that was different, and it would expose people to different art forms or something. We probably decided that having other non-musical verbal stuff, like if you suddenly had a poet on there or some other storyteller telling a different thing, it might get too confusing as to what was going on. So we settled on just songs. And ultimately just the heart of it was, there’s just a lot of music we like. And it’s just a really cool way to say, “Hey, here’s a song that we like.” And that was really all it came down to. We have had some popular bands on there, but they are people we’ve developed a relationship with.
We mostly are just like it’s in the spirit of exposing people to music they may not have heard. And it’s great because we do hear from musicians that we’ve featured. Because early on we would write them and say, “Hey can we use your song? It’s for a podcast.” And they’d say, “Yeah fine, whatever.” And then five months later they’d say, “Oh my god. Who are you? My Bandcamp blew up.”
Welcome To Night Vale
Thu, April 30, 8 p.m.
The Fargo Theatre, 314 Broadway
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