A strange, glowing cloud has formed over Night Vale, and it’s heading toward Detroit.
“Welcome to Night Vale,” a hugely successful podcast about supernatural goings-on in a fictional Southwest town, that is best described as “A Prairie Home Companion” meets “Twin Peaks.” Twice a month, narrator Cecil Baldwin broadcasts an eerie news and weather report that would make Garrison Keillor have to sleep with the lights on.
This Sunday, Baldwin will bring a new dispatch from America’s weirdest town to the Fillmore Detroit. Baldwin spoke with The Detroit News about the origins of the show and the surprise return of the traditional radio serial:
Q: “Night Vale’s” mythology is very complicated now that there are nearly 70 episodes. Can you sum the show up for people who aren’t familiar with it?
A: “Welcome to Night Vale” is a podcast that is free and comes out twice a month. It is a fictional scripted podcast about a community radio station in a small town in the American Southwest where every conspiracy theory you’ve ever heard is not only true, but it’s just an everyday part of life. And so very bizarre things are commonplace and normal, like angels and small civilizations living under bowling alleys waging war on the people above. And then everyday things, such as mountains and orange juice and writing utensils, become unexpectedly weird.
Q: What inspired the setting and the tone of the show?
A: It’s definitely got influences from David Lynch, like “Twin Peaks” and “Blue Velvet,” certainly in its tone, because it is darkly humorous. It is kind of looking at the American small town and what communities are like in America, and how, once you start peeling back the layers, you see the horror that lies beneath that.
Q: What do you think about the resurgence of the classic radio serial format in the podcast era?
A: I think Joseph Fink, the guy who created “Night Vale,” who listens to pretty much every podcast he can get his hands on, he realized that not many people were making scripted fiction (podcasts), essentially short stories. “Night Vale” is, in its essence, a 20- to 30-minute short story twice a month. It’s ongoing, it has a single narrator, sometimes multiple narrators, but it’s like a radio play. It’s very much what I imagine working on “War of the Worlds” with Orson Welles was like. It’s very traditional in its format. I think it’s the voice and the content that make it new and interesting.
Maybe young people are craving new types of media that haven’t been sanitized for their protection by corporate America. We don’t have sponsors. We produce the show ourselves. We are a true independent operation, and that allows us to take risks and make choices that, if we had sponsors, there would be more constraint on the art.
Q: How does the live touring show differ from the podcast?
A: When it comes to the live performance you can use your body in ways that are really exciting and fun. Not to mention that the audience brings an energy to that theater that you acknowledge and take in and send back out to them. It’s like a dance that you do with the audience.
We tour with one script a year that is made to be performed live. It’s not just taking an old episode off the shelf and dusting it off. This is an episode that is made to be seen by people in a live theater, maybe people who have not listened to the podcast as much, as well as being entertaining for people who do listen to the podcast all the time. It’s a very special event on stage as opposed to being a radio show. It’s a very interesting, but really fun experience to do both.
Steven Sonoras is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.
Welcome to Night Vale
7 p.m. Sunday
2115 Woodward, Detroit