Driving through the Southwest one fall, my daughters and I spent at least 8 hours listening to tales of a small desert community on an iPod attached to my car stereo. As the red Arizona landscape gave way to gray and white sand dotted with yucca and Joshua Trees, the community radio host discussed topics including, but not limited to: The Faceless Old Woman who Secretly Lives in Your Home, a series of angels who all happen to be named Erika and The Man in the Tan Jacket (and how no one knows exactly what he's up to and no one remembers what he looks like or what he says to them—although they do remember his deerskin briefcase). Somewhere in those hours, there was also mention of lights that constantly hover over the town's local Arby's and a five-headed dragon named Hiram McDaniels.
The desert setting was perfect for being absorbed into the Welcome to Night Vale podcast, a grassroots serialized storytelling project which started in 2012. The fictional community of Night Vale has a mystery meets sci-fi meets comedy meets straight-up nerdy flavor to it; the town's stories are told through a community radio format, hosted by Cecil Gershwin Palmer (voiced by actor Cecil Baldwin). Night Vale has several criss-crossing story lines and revolving cast of characters and most fans listen alone in their rooms, while commuting to work or while driving across the desert with their family. However, fans will have an opportunity to schmooze with other fans at an upcoming Welcome to Night Vale Live event at Oakland's Fox Theater.
“I love playing Cecil Palmer. He's kind of a wide-eyed optimist about a lot of things and it's really nice,” says Baldwin. “I think one of the reasons people have gravitated to the show is that its not a very cynical look at life. It's a very realistic look at life and it has at its center this character who is so optimistic and so filled with heart that you can't help but love him. He's so eager to make his community work and its just refreshing.”
Baldwin, who met producers Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink while he was working with Neo-Futurists, a Chicago-based theater company, jumped at the opportunity to narrate the story of Night Vale.