If you want to hear something scary that’s not on CNN or NPR, tune in to Welcome to Night Vale, a podcast that has sent shivers down listeners’ spines since 2012. Written by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, Night Vale is about a fictional town of the same name, where all is not what it seems. The community’s bizarro happenings are reported by a radio host named Cecil Gershwin Palmer, played by actor Cecil Baldwin.
“Cecil reports on the normal things that community radio would report on—the weather, the traffic, the local high school football team, things like that. Except in Night Vale, every conspiracy theory you’ve ever heard is true and treated just like an everyday occurrence,” Baldwin says. “So in the midst of the PTA meetings, there are also incidents of supernatural occurrences and shadowy government figures that are monitoring the citizens’ every move. It’s a little bit of dark comedy, I would say.”
Now Night Vale is coming to Las Vegas live in Ghost Stories, a theatrical staging of the podcast. But whether you’ve heard all the episodes—100-plus and counting—or none, Ghost Stories is meant to be a stand-alone event of chills and thrills.
“It exists in the world of Night Vale, but it doesn’t exist within any one episode,” Baldwin says. “The live show is modeled after the golden age of radio performances, with multiple actors onstage performing with scripts in hand. We have live music and an opening band. We wanted to make the live event a theatrical experience that everyone can enjoy.”
Baldwin, a classically trained actor, has found that his years of doing Shakespeare have been excellent preparation for the podcasting medium, where there are no visuals attached to the performance. “I use a lot of the acting tricks that I’ve learned. The reverence of language that comes with Shakespeare has now come into play doing this podcast,” he says. “Even though it’s not classical language, you have to treat it like that because you have to build these images in the listener’s mind. And also, the poetry and prose that Joseph and Jeffrey have written is really captivating and a joy to perform.”
Fans of Night Vale—whose closest precursor is probably Twin Peaks, David Lynch’s ’90s series that redefined conventional storytelling and ushered in an era of “watercooler TV”—are legion. In addition to the live shows, the podcast has spawned an eponymous novel, published in 2015.
“I think the reason why Night Vale has had such popularity is its underlying message of a community looking around at the world and saying, ‘Yeah, there are creepy things happening every single day, but somehow we’ll make it through,’’’ Baldwin says.
That’s a message we all can use these days.
Feb. 12, 7–10 p.m., $25, Nicholas J. Horn Theater, College of Southern Nevada, 3200 E. Cheyenne Ave., North Las Vegas, welcometonightvale.com/live