If you’ve heard of Cecil Baldwin, then you’ve probably actually heard him too. He’s most famous for playing the narrator of the wildly popular fiction podcast “Welcome to Night Vale,” which celebrates its 10th anniversary in June. Baldwin will be in Atlanta at the Variety Playhouse on March 30 for “Night Vale’s” latest live show, “The Haunting of Night Vale.” I’ve joined “City Lights” senior producer Kim Drobes via Zoom to give his behind-the-scenes insights on the weird world of some of podcasting’s most creative audio fiction.
The upside-down town of Night Vale:
“Okay is a podcast about a character named Cecil … [who] lives in this small town in the American Southwest,” Baldwin said. “He has a radio show in which he talks about normal community radio kind of stuff. The local high school football team, the goings-on at city council, the traffic report, the weather report, things like that; except in the town of Night Vale, every conspiracy theory you’ve ever heard is not only true, but everybody in Night Vale just treats it as completely normal and just tries to move on with their day.”
He continued, “So the local football team is a local high school football team, except they have a player that has two heads and only one of them speaks English, and one of them speaks Spanish. Or the city council is some sort of multi-headed Eldritch abomination that, as soon as anything goes wrong in Night Vale, they pack a bag and they go to Bermuda and hope that whatever disaster is attacking, Night Vale just completely works itself out. ”
How “Night Vale” came to life:
“I think it came from Joseph Fink’s short stories, but more so… he grew up in Southern California, and I think it was, he said, that drive from southern LA to Las Vegas, and just the little weird towns that you hit upon. the way,” recalled Baldwin. “He was just wondering, like, ‘I wonder how weird these little two-stoplight towns get.’”
“These two writers [Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor] got together. They really both loved podcasts, but at the time, I don’t think they saw any podcast that did fiction that was not, kind of, ‘ye olde radio hour,’ because there’s tons of those … They were like, ‘Well, what if we use podcasting more as a chance to make something that’s more off-Broadway, like a play, as opposed to, like a retro feel; and I happened to be in this theater company, and I was an actor in New York City trying to get my voiceover career off the ground, and … I was like, ‘Great, let’s do this and see what happens.’ And it’s now 10 years later.”
What Wednesday’s live audience can expect:
“We really embraced the idea of radio theater for the live shows. So it’s very simple; we have a musician on stage, Disappearance; he does all of our backing music. It’s myself, we have guest artists, guest actors who come in that are fan favorites. So like Tamika Flynn and other characters that are favorites from the podcast,” said Baldwin.
“But we don’t put on costumes. We don’t have a set. We don’t really try to transport the audience magically into the town of Night Vale, because it’s a radio show. So we really let people live in the sound of it, the feel of it. And we understand that you get it. We’re just people behind microphones, performing a script. So it kind of lives somewhere in between theater, stand-up comedy and radio drama.”
The “Welcome to Night Vale” podcast’s live recording of “The Haunting of Night Vale” will take place at Variety Playhouse on March 30. Tickets and more information are available here.