Podcast live show brings conspiracy theories to Bijou Theater

The Bijou Theater in Knoxville, Tennessee allowed conspiracy to run rampant for a one night performance by “Welcome to Nightvale” cast.

Photo by Ainsley Kelso

Have you heard? Lizard people control the world. The moon landing did not happen. Aliens are being studied in Area 51.

What is the common thread among these ideas? Each falls into the category of a “conspiracy theory.”

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a conspiracy theory as an idea that explains events as results of secret plots of a powerful organization or government.

Imagine a town where conspiracy runs rampant. A place where the unthinkable becomes reality.

Welcome to Nightvale.

The Podcast

Welcome to Nightvale” is a twice-monthly podcast created by Joseph Fink and Jeffery Cranor. The podcast, first airing in 2012, created the fictional town of Nightvale. Each episode tells a new story of a conspiracy that surrounds the town such as the “Sheriff’s Secret Police,” a mysterious dog park and the all-knowing city council.

“It is a town where all conspiracy theories are true, where the mundane is extraordinary and the extraordinary is mundane,” tour manager and performer Meg Bashwiner said.

The podcast, set up in the format of a radio broadcast, highlights the bizarre happenings of Nightvale and its residents. The show stars host Cecil Palmer, voiced by Knoxville native Cecil Baldwin, along with various guests and a musical performance for the segment, “The Weather.”

The Live Show

“A Spy in the Desert” is the sixth traveling live show by the creators of “Welcome to Nightvale.” One stop included the Bijou Theater in Knoxville, Tennessee on Monday, Oct. 1. at 8 p.m.

“The story is about dealing with secrets within the town of Nightvale and a larger discussion about what secrets mean to people and to communities,” Bashwiner said.

The cast along with musical guests took the stage for the final scene in “A Spy in the Desert” on Monday, Oct. 1 at the Bijou Theater in Knoxville, Tennessee. Photo/Ainsley Kelso

The live show included a musical performance by Mal Blum, musical accompaniment during the show by Disparition and a live performance of the podcast performed by Baldwin, Bashwiner and fellow performer Symphony Sanders.

“Welcome to Nightvale” first began live performances in 2013.

“Each year we do a new full length live show that is expanded for the stage,” Bashwiner said. “[The live show] is a self contained story, so if you’ve never listened to the podcast, you’ll still have a fun and interested time. It is a theater piece devised for the general audience and not just Nightvale fans.”

 

 

The Fans

“When we first started the podcast, we didn’t know anyone was going to listen to it,” Bashwiner said. “We figured maybe our friends would listen to it, maybe some people from the internet. We did not think it would have the audience that it has.”

The live shows have now toured for five years with “A Spy in the Desert” as the sixth touring show. They have performed the show in 17 countries and 35 states.

“When we first started doing live shows it was for 100 people, and we were upstairs at a bar. We were super excited to do that,” Bashwiner said. “Because of the popularity and also the consistency of the live shows we built up an audience. We were able to play different rooms for a lot more people.”

The audience watched in surprise as an audience member was grabbed during “A Spy in the Desert” live show performed at the Bijou Theater in Knoxville, Tennessee on Monday, Oct. 1. Photo/Ainsley Kelso

The show was even able to reach fans in Australia in February when they performed at the Sydney Opera House.

Audience participation was integrated throughout the show as well. One fan was brought up onto the stage to perform with the cast.

“My first thought was ‘excuse me what?'” student at Cocke County High School Lily Asbury said. She imagined as she entered the theater that the show would be interactive with the audience, but she never assumed it would include her. “They grabbed me, and I just thought of my thought process.”

The Takeaway

According to the website for International Podcast Day, podcasting has grown and changed in the last 14 years. Adam Curry and Dave Winer invented the idea of podcasting in 2004, and by 2005, former President George W. Bush delivered his weekly address in podcast form.

Edison Research and Triton Digital released “The 2018 Infinite Dial Study” in March. The study stated that in 2018, 26 percent, or 73 million, Americans ages 12 and up listen to podcasts monthly, with the numbers growing from year to year.

As podcasting grew, so did “Welcome to Nightvale.”

“It started in 2012, but in the summer of 2013 we noticed we were getting a lot more downloads than we had before,” Bashwiner said.

Starting as a single podcast, the team grew in 2015 into a company called Nightvale Presents. Currently, Nightvale Presents includes two published novels, 12 podcasts and multiple traveling live shows.

“I really love Nightvale and how inclusive it is to everybody,” Asbury said. “It is a really good thing, and I’m glad somebody is doing it.”

“A Spy in the Desert” will continue to travel across North America and Europe for the rest of 2018 and into early 2019. Visit the “Welcome to Nightvale” website for more information.

Featured Photo by Ainsley Kelso

Edited by Vanessa Rodriguez