“Welcome to Night Vale” live show impresses Portland audience

Cecil Baldwin stands on stage with purple lighting. He speaks into a microphone.
Venus Edlin / The Log

“Welcome to Night Vale,” a popular fiction podcast, translates to an engaging and unique event experience with its touring live show “The Haunting of Night Vale.” 

“Night Vale” has been shaping the genre of the fictional podcast for nearly a decade since its first episode in 2012. Written by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, the show follows the events of the strange fictional town of Night Vale through the lens of a community radio presenter, voiced by Cecil Baldwin. The podcast embodies an air of surreal oddity, satirical social commentary and a mild spattering of horror. 

The creators seek to carry these unique ideas and voices into their live show, which came to Portland on April 30. The show features Baldwin alongside other regulars on the show, Symphony Sanders and Kate Jones. Though the actors read from scripts in a nearly identical style to that of the podcast, they hoped to transcend the traditional boundaries of the podcast that they are usually confined to. 

“We don’t want to just sit and read like this is a podcast,” Cranor said via email. “In this one we wanted to dive into movement with the actors, getting Cecil and Symphony up on stage moving about.” 

The show brings a sense of life and energy that can sometimes be missing from the format of the podcast. In this live show, the actors’ movements on stage contributed to the story in a way that would be entirely missed in the audio-only format. Baldwin and Sanders’ jerky movements across the stage as they acted out ghostly possession were a funny addition to the show that bridged the gap between audio and physical performance.

The live show is also full of music that invigorates the performance. Disparition, the artist responsible for the background music in the podcast, accompanied the actors live on stage to facilitate the “Night Vale” characteristic sound of funky electronic instrumental music. 

Additionally, the live show featured musician Erin McKeown, who played a short set of songs to open the show. McKeown’s genre-bending songs, from those previously on the podcast to ones from her newest album “Kiss Off Kiss,” were equal parts moody and hilarious.

Fans of the podcast, as well as people who have never listened to the show, could enjoy losing themselves in the fictional world for an evening. 

“We definitely write all of these live shows to be accessible to people who haven’t seen them before,” Cranor said. 

The live show is appealing to listeners new and old, but was especially enjoyable for fans who were familiar with the podcast, as the performance involves many characters, mantras, jokes and callbacks that are long-standing elements within the show. 

At its heart, the show was a touching portrait of family and community, told through the characteristically wacky, bizarre and at times hilarious context of “Night Vale.” Though the themes and ideas are applicable to a wide audience, they felt especially applicable to college-aged young adults. 

“Night Vale is addressing what it means to be a citizen of any place,” Cranor said. “That’s the thing we come back to: what it means to care for other people, what it means to have empathy and what it means to find your own place in that community.” 

This important message shone through in the show, expressed in equal parts as heartfelt, creepy and hilariously absurd. “Welcome to Night Vale” is a show for anyone, and the themes of community are highly relevant and timely for all ages. Cranor and Fink plan to continue making the podcast and touring live shows around the world as long as audiences remain excited and engaged with their performances. “Night Vale” live is a one-of-a-kind performance that is unlike most other live entertainment, but is still widely accessible and enjoyable for audiences. 

“Some of it could be disturbing but generally speaking, it’s a pretty fun and uplifting show for all of its weird dark humor,” Cranor said.

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