A podcasting staple for fans of weird fiction, Welcome to Night Vale has made an international name for itself since its debut in 2012. With its fourth live tour All Hail underway, we popped in to have a chat with performer and sentient patch of haze Meg Bashwiner to get her thoughts on the show, the state of the world, and her first time in Nottingham.
To start us off, would you mind telling us a bit about Welcome to Night Vale?
Night Vale is a podcast that started in 2012, and it is a fiction podcast that focuses on the world of Night Vale, this small US desert town where all conspiracy theories are true. In Night Vale, the outrageous is mundane and the mundane is outrageous – the show itself is like a spooky, cult-y, creepy version of NPR. The show is voiced by Cecil Baldwin who plays the character of Cecil Palmer, the host of Night Vale’s community radio, and he tends to narrate the happenings of this town that is very similar to a lot of small towns whilst also being very, very different, too.
The show you’re touring currently, All Hail, is a stand-alone story. Could you tell us a bit about that?
All Hail is our fourth touring live show that takes place in the world of Night Vale. It uses the characters and stories that have been established in the podcast, but is itself a self-contained story that anyone can enjoy, from the biggest WTNV fan to someone who has never even heard of the podcast before. It’s a lot of fun, touring these live shows – it allows listeners to put a face to our voices, and it gives us an opportunity to play around with some physical theatre.
How different is it performing on-stage compared to performing for what is essentially the radio?
There are definitely some similarities – you’re always looking for consistency, making choices, acting out the role – but it is a totally different world aside from that. When I record for the podcast I usually do so in my basement, often wearing my workout clothes or my pyjamas, and I have the script right there in front of me. On stage, however, we have to respond to a live audience, we have to respond to the other actors on-stage, and because we’ve now performed this show 47 times we get to establish these grooves, giving us a chance to really make the script our own. That happens in the podcast too, but we don’t usually perform them 47 times before we release the recording!
Do you perform on stage a lot outside of the WTNV live shows?
I do! I tend not to play characters too much – I’m more of a non-fiction performer than I am an actor. For the last nine years I’ve worked with a theatre company in New York called the Neo-Futurists, creating non-illusory theatre – personal storytelling, task-based theatre, that kind of thing. When I’m not doing that I also write non-fiction. Essays, life, people, mostly – I write a lot about feminism and social justice, and I like to try and take my experience of the world and make that a more global experience, challenging the things that we know and don’t know.
You mentioned that you don’t really play characters too often, but your character in All Hail is a pretty strange one. Could you tell us a bit about her?
I play Deb, who is a sentient patch of haze. She is a spokesperson for a variety of corporations with a love of capitalism and a curiosity for humans. I say curiosity – it’s more that she is interested in what she can gain from humans, whilst also expressing a lot of disdain and lack of thought for us as a species. She describes humans as her “squishy playthings”. I also play her sister Kaitlin, who is also a sentient patch of haze. They’re very different characters fundamentally, but they share several opinions about frail squishy humans. I have a personal belief that each sentient patch of haze has a distinct regional accent – Deb is very much a midwestern American, whereas Kaitlin has more of a Boston accent. It doesn’t necessarily translate well in Europe, where a lot of people just hear American accents as American accents, but trust me: In the US, this joke kills.
You also play WTNV’s resident ‘Proverb Lady’. Do you have any pearls of wisdom for our readers?
My favourite proverb is “All tattoos are temporary tattoos”, which says a lot about the show. My husband Joseph [Fink] has that tattooed on his arm.
How has the tour been so far?
It’s been great! We played at the Manchester Albert Hall last night and tonight we’re playing the Nottingham Albert Hall – we have a third Albert Hall on the tour too, but this wasn’t an intentional pattern. We’ve really enjoyed the tour so far – it’s wonderful to see so many people come out to see the show, and it’s great to see the kinds of connections that people make in the audience. Night Vale is kind of niche, so you hear a lot of people in the audience amazed that they’re not the only people here! Not only that but we love being in Nottingham - it’s so great that after four years of touring we still have opportunities for “first times”, you know?
So this is your first time in Nottingham? What do you think of the city so far?
It is our first time here, but I didn’t get to see too much of the city! I got to the hotel today and thought that I’ll go into town, walk around, see the sights, but in the end I just sank into my bed and that was the end of it. My plan is to see more of the city tomorrow morning before we leave. I will say the view from my room is gorgeous, and I loved your train station! And obviously the Nottingham Albert Hall is a great venue, we really like it here.
Do you have any new projects in the works?
I’m the tour director for Night Vale Presents as a whole, so a lot of my time is spent managing productions in New York and across the US, and I also do the bookings for the Neo-Futurists when I’m not performing with them. I’m looking to start writing more non-fiction and creation non-fiction, trying to get that work out there. Honestly, the last few years have been a bit like being in a washing machine. It’s a great washing machine, but it’s been pretty frantic at the same time – we’re always working on project after project after project! Once we finish touring we’ll be at PodCon, the first ever podcast convention, and then at the end of January we’ll be heading to Australia and New Zealand. Aside from that we have a tonne of new podcasts out – It Makes a Sound, I Only Listen to the Mountain Goats, The Orbiting Human Circus are all being released now, and season three of Alice Isn’t Dead will be out around April. Oh, and the Night Vale book! Our new novel It Devours is coming out soon – in the US it comes out in around ten days!
Could you tell us about It Devours?
It’s hilarious! The first Night Vale Novel really sets the scene, tries to create an understanding of this world for people who aren’t familiar with the podcast, whereas It Devours is this incredible stand-alone story that takes place in the world. It’s uplifting, and it speaks a lot to things that are going on in the world right now. It’s about a scientist who finds herself having to save the town from this thing that is steadily devouring it. That’s the main plot, but the book is really about a lot of different things. The scientist ends up in a relationship with someone who is very different from her, and the novel looks at how a person can have a meaningful, impactful relationship with someone who comes from such different places. There are some great scenes and it’s a real page-turner – When Joseph and Jeffrey [Cranor] handed the finished draft to me I honestly could not put it down. You should definitely check it out!
Who would you say your main influences are when it comes to your own writing and performing?
It’s a post-modern world, so I guess I’m channelling everybody that’s come before me. There are so many Neo-Futurists that influenced me, and I consume a lot of creative non-fiction and memoirs. I recently read The Wrong Way to Save Your Life by Megan Stielstra, which is this really beautiful memoir. On top of that I love Roxanne Gay, I love Samantha Irby – honestly, every week I’ll read through another book of essays. In terms of podcasts I listen to My Favourite Murderer, Pod Save America, Bon Appetit FoodCast – quite a broad range! I love hearing about other people and their experiences, and I believe that the best way to learn is to surround yourself with the experiences of others.
Do you have any advice for our readers who want to get involved with the creative arts?
I suppose you just need to do it, and if you can find a group of people to do it with it makes it a lot easier. A bit part of what makes Night Vale and the Neo-Futurists great is our sense of ensemble, so if you can find a group of people – a writing group, a theatre collective, a podcast company, anything – you’ll be able to share your work much more easily. Finding a sense of ensemble is so useful because it allows you to learn from the people around you – I learn so much from Cecil and from Symphony [Sanders], and it’s fascinating watching people like Erin McKeown, who is our musical guest for this tour. It’s a double-edged sword, but because we live in a world that is so connected at all times you can always find like-minded people who might share the same interests and ideas as you. Find other artists, collaborate, and create!
Meg can be found on Twitter as @LadyBash. The Welcome to Night Vale Live Show All Hail will be touring until early February 2018, and the Night Vale Presents podcasts can be found on their website at www.nightvalepresents.com.
“This is weird” - Welcome to Night Vale Live: All Hail Show Review
[Warning: Mild spoilers ahead]
Cecil Baldwin, narrator of the WTNV live show All Hail and confessed “voice of Night Vale”, said it best as he was being assimilated by a sentient patch of haze with a Brooklyn accent:
“This is weird”.
Framed by the grand operatic organ of the Albert Hall’s main stage, WTNV’s All Hail is an exploration of oddity through the lens of suburban normality. Characters discuss sentient clouds that rain dead animals onto unsuspecting townsfolk with the same candour that one might talk about late buses or trips to the Post Office. Horoscopes give cryptic advice about collecting organs and sudden, inexplicable deaths. Community calendars list independent jazz festivals alongside the literal burning down of days of the week. This is the world of Night Vale.
Strange, then, that a show so heavily rooted in the macabre and unsettling has such a heart behind it. Musical guest Erin McKeown takes to the stage up-front and wows the crowd with queer rockabilly anthems centred around community spirit and “smashing the patriarchy”, encouraging audience participation and sharing candid monologues about her creative journey. Whole segments of the show are dedicated to chanting in unison, a goofy and at times uncanny prayer complete hand-gestures, and frequent gags are made about the strangeness that occurs when multiple people assemble a crowd. Indeed, the show’s central thesis of “love and action” is announced in a charming and stirring section of dialogue towards the end, with Cecil’s soothing baritone imploring audience members to do good in addition to merely being good.
As a whole, All Hail is a great example of what makes Welcome to Night Vale an enjoyable experience. Whacky jokes, extraordinary characters and a taste for the grisly are used to cement a real moral message that resonates far beyond the initial buzzing bus-ride home.
And now, readers… The weather.