A dark night. Shrieks of savage joy. Blood-stained pockets and flower-crowned boy scouts. Welcome to the Night Vale live show.
I have been a fan of Night Vale for a few years now. More than that, I’ve been a geeky fangirl engaging in fandoms for most of my life. I’ve never been to an event quite like a Welcome to Night Vale live performance before. There aren’t many fandoms where fans will delight in saying things like “Beware the dog park,” “I will write the nature of your death inside your walls,” and “Our god is not a smiling one.” Yes, even by the general standards of geekdom, Welcome to Night Vale looks weird from the outside.
So, I can only imagine what the staff of Northampton’s Academy of Music Theater thought as the crowds started to pour in. There were lots of people in official Night Vale merchandise, of course, but even better were the people who showed up in costumes. The amazing thing about Night Vale is that officially it’s an entirely auditory experience. We have no idea what anyone on the show really looks like. Incredibly, that hasn’t stopped the fans from coming up with endless interpretations and even a general consensus on how certain characters look. For every costume I saw, I was surprised and delighted to realize I recognized who everyone was supposed to be.
There were boy scouts and girl scouts, all sporting appropriate patches. There were hooded figures, John Peterses (you know, the farmers), and countless versions of Cecil and Carlos. There was even an absolutely amazing costume of the glow cloud (all hail) with multi-colored lights inside it. I’ve been to conventions before and seen all the amazing costumes people make and wear to those. Night Vale costumes are in a different kind of league. You can’t help being thrilled to see them because they aren’t just costumes someone put together; they’re ones someone had to imagine into existence first.
The show itself began with a few songs from their musical guest Mary Epworth. The music was great, but unfortunately the sound set-up wasn’t quite right. Maybe it was because we were in a small theater, but at times the microphones were too loud or picked up sound too sharply and the music hurt to listen to. This was sadly also a problem a few times during the main performance. Luckily, that’s my biggest complaint about an otherwise wonderful show.
At the performance I attended the Night Vale crew was near the end of their long, cross-country tour and it was obvious they were well-practiced in their roles. The emcee, Meg Bashwiner, had a definite ease to the way she explained the rules that suggested she had made the speech many times before. She deserves credit for still making it fun, energetic, and just a bit macabre. It was the perfect tone for the rest of the night.
I couldn’t wait to see all the amazing actors in person. One of the best parts of seeing Welcome to Night Vale live is finally getting the chance to see the faces behind the captivating voices. Many fans know what Cecil Baldwin looks like at this point, but most of the other actors are less well-known. Throughout the show there was a thrill in the air every time a new actor took the stage. Who was this? What character were they? Was it someone we knew? I attended the show with a friend who didn’t know who a certain actor was when he took the stage. It was the highlight of my night to see my friend’s eyes light up with delight as soon as the man started speaking.
I don’t want to give too much away, but the tour did feature a lot of fan favorites there. We have Cecil, of course, as well Dylan Marron playing everyone’s beloved, perfect scientist, Carlos. I was also happy to see that Night Vale’s creators, Joseph Fink and Jeffery Cranor, gave themselves some small parts and a well-earned bit of the lime-light. Besides them, there were a number of other well-established characters that made an appearance.
But the most important part of all this is the show itself. Was it any good? How does a live show compare to a usual episode of Welcome to Night Vale?
In tone, the live show was largely the same as a recorded episode. There was the same delightful mix of creepy and hilarious in everything that Cecil said. There were elements of the ridiculous, straight-up horror, and the usual engaging bits of philosophy that go on a bit too long. The live show was also different in important ways. The performance was more interactive. Cecil sometimes prompted the audience to participate in the plot at certain points. The story was also one that was largely about “you” (Though not to the extent that the episode “A Story About You” is). In this case, there was murderer on the loose in Night Vale… and only YOU could stop him!
The interactivity really added to the show. It was much more than the stars of Night Vale getting in front of an audience and doing exactly what they would while recording an episode. It was obvious that everyone in the show knew how much their fans love them. The actors were playful and engaged, clearly happy to be giving the audience a wonderful, energetic performance. Dylan Marron as Carlos seemed to be having a particularly fun time, constantly smiling and putting lots of emotion into his character. His acting and the new insights he gave about Carlos’ personality were some of the highlights of the show.
By the end of the evening the whole audience was filled with smiles. Many of us hadn’t known what we were getting into when we arrived, but we knew we’d gotten exactly what we’d wanted when the show was done. It was weird, it was funny, and it was just a bit creepy.
The Night Vale live shows are courteous in that they can stand alone well. They’ll bring up bits of the show’s current continuity, but aren’t necessary viewing for the overall story. That also makes them delightful in another way: when I left the theater I felt like I had gotten a little insight into the down-time of my favorite characters, a look at what happens between the major storylines of the show. It’s almost like a fun little secret. And, of course, all secrets have a place in Night Vale.
Their spring 2015 tour has ended, but there are sure to be more in the future. If you have a chance to see one of their live shows, I highly recommend them. If you missed this one. don’t worry about it too much. Like all of their other live shows, the Night Vale crew will likely have a recording of this performance available for pay what you can on Bandcamp pretty soon. Be sure to lock yourself in a dark, spider-infested room to get the best out of it. After all, spiders always enjoy a good story too.
And good night, fellow Night Valeians. Good night.
Alex Townsend is a freelance writer, a cool person, and really into gender studies and superheroes. It’s a magical day when all these things come together. You can follow her on her Tumblr and see her comments on silver age comics. Happy reading!
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