Thursday, 16 October 2014

Day 16: 'Welcome to Nightvale'

'Welcome to Night Vale' is a podcast from COMMONPLACE BOOKS which takes place in the fictional town of Night Vale, a town steeped in Lovecraftian lore, Twin Peaks-ian mystery, conspiracy and absurdity. It's a wonderful podcast which can be funny and sinister in equal measures, and is an easy recommendation to all.
Tonight a live performance will be taking place in The Olympia, in preparation for which I haven't given myself time to watch a movie for today - sorry if you were expecting one, but congratulations if you were hoping to not have skim over and forgive my typos and dropped sentences - but I have written this post in preparation for what you can probably expect from the show:

You are in a theatre enjoying a show, before you the crafted pageantry plays out in its scripted fashion, the audience gasps when it should, laughs when appropriate, and holds its breathe on cue.

All in all things are going pretty well for the production. You've always enjoyed the theatre, losing yourself in the characters on stage and becoming one with the crowd as you experience these dramatised events together. You look at the backs of the heads of the people in front of you and you wonder how wide their mouths go when they smile, and how close to tears they get when they are scared. Sometimes you like to glance behind you, gazing upon the faces of those lost in the scripted wonder before them. You decide, what the heck!, and turn to do so.

Looking behind you, as before you, you see the backs of people heads and have that same thought about what they'd look like from the front - only the thought strikes you with a little more anxiety now, as you had expected to see their faces looking towards the stage.
Looking beyond their heads you see another stage, the scenery and performers look like crude copies of the ones you were watching. The balcony that the hero climbed to profess his love to the female character was a beautifully painted stone-like feature in the play that you were watching. The same set-up behind you looks like a step-ladder beside some cinder blocks, the hero like a man who would have trouble scaling a steady set of stairs let alone a lop-sided step-ladder.

You try not to think about it too much, maybe it's a trick of the stage-lights and the rear wall of the theatre and refraction or some other scientific construct which has no place in the theatre.

Looking at the stage in front of you, the hero is betrayed by his friend, stabbed, and left for dead, the woman grabs that same knife and turns it upon the newly realized villain. The crowd gasps in astonishment!
Things are really heating up!

The tension is broken by a snickering, you look behind you, it appears that the same scene has been playing out, albeit with a significantly lower budget and with a much more unsure performance from the cast, while the audience reaction is completely contrary to the play's tone. The performers look visibly unnerved, the tension they were trying to build undermined by the laughter.
Who would laugh at that moment in... what was this play again? You can't recall. Looking for some sort of reassurance you turn to your companion only to see an empty seat.
You had arrived with a companion, right?

You check your pockets to find two ripped ticket stubs, the name of the play cut off by the torn paper, but there are definitely two separate stubs. There is definitely an empty seat beside you, and you would never go to the theatre alone, who would you discuss the play with on the way home from... where are you?

You scan the faces of the performers, do you know one of them? Had you come to support an actor friend only for their performance to be so intolerable that your companion had left, not being able to make eye-contact with your friend to strain a "You were really good up there! I knew you were an actor, but I didn't know you could act, you know? Wow!" which you had rehearsed better than any performance most of your actor friends are capable of.

You even scan the faces on the stage behind you. Between the bobbing heads of an audience overcome with laughter you pick out some faces, but none are familiar.
One thing is for certain, there is an empty seat beside you. And two people had arrived when you did, and you were most certainly one of them.

Maybe your companion had left to use the bathroom? Yes, that seems likely! It might not be a long play but it might have seemed long to him/ her and his/ her bladder. Maybe the usher wouldn't let your companion back in without proof of entry, you do have both tickets!
Maybe you should get up and check the entrance. You look around the the theatre walls for a door, in front of you, behind you, and - it turns out - even to the side of you there is no point of entry, only the backs of various people's heads.

The only possible door is the one which the actors are using to enter and leave through. It's generally considered poor form to interrupt a performance of such a calibre - even to so much as cough - but to go on stage and walk past them in search of a way out would be unforgivable; but your companion had to leave somehow, and if she/ he intended to return a ticket would be needed.
If he/ she didn't intend to return maybe you should leave too. Your memory doesn't seem to be too reliable right now, could a play be so bad as to cause retrograde amnesia?
Usually only one-person shows can achieve that feat, but it's probably best to not take any chances right now.

Maybe you could leave by the backstage door of the less-than-well-received play behind you? Yes, that idea is perfect! Just wait for the end of a scene when the lights dim then run on to the stage and out through a door. This can work.

You check the walls one last time before committing yourself to the stage invasion. Nope, no doors.

You do, however, notice some figures standing at irregular intervals by the wall. They appear to be wearing usher-type uniforms, but their lengthy beards seem at odds with the otherwise clean theatre, knotted and ill-kept, not quite up to the standards you’d expect. Even so, you decide to approach one to ask about the exit.
Which one is closest? you wonder. It is while wondering this that you realize, in contrast to the entire audience facing away from you, the ushers all appear to be facing towards you. You are at an aisle seat so easily make your way to him.

He says nothing, but if he did he would say: “Can I help you?

You don’t know how you would know what he would say but you respond: “Which way is to the exit?

He looks at you like he doesn’t know, like he’s spent years standing in this one spot, his uniform accumulating dust, his beard growing in length, everything that he once was is now lost, his existence defined only by that uniform, that beard.

“I need to go to the bathroom.” You give try not to sound too harried but still urgent, not like your need for a toilet is verging on desperation. “I think my friend went out there.”

The usher looks at you and smiles the saddest smile, like he wants to tell you something but at the same time doesn’t wish to spoil the surprise. “You’ll have a lot of time to figure this out for yourself.” He seems to want to say.
But he doesn’t say anything, and you say nothing in return. You stare at him and he stares at you for a time, before glancing off towards the crowd, his eyes seeming to well up with tears. You try to look closer, just then the lights dim, the crowd applauses.

You decide to go with your initial plan – storm the stage, find an exit, find your companion, leave!

You run on to the stage, pushing past two of the actors, who - even under the dim light - look as tired and ill at ease as the usher. You push the last actor out of your way, reaching the wall, but there is no exit. There’s just a door to a storage closet filled with cleaning equipment and poorly stacked supplies. You back out, desperately looking for any other door, even a window, but there is none. You step out on to the stage once more looking for any sign of an exit off to the other side. As you reach centre stage the stage lights come on, you freeze.

From your vantage point you can see the stage on the other side of the room, the glaring lights obscure the faces in the audience, but you can tell that they expect you to say something; something more substantial than “Does anybody know where the toilet is?

You panic, your fight or flight instinct stifled, instead you fall back on that seldom mentioned third option, 'blend perfectly into the background and hope for this all to pass by'.

“John, I thought you were dead!” A woman’s voice calls out, confident but quiet, a voice from that well adorned stage far away.

You look to the side of the stage, the cast has gathered at the fringes leaving you with no path to escape through. One of them waves to you, points to his ear, points to the far stage, then waves both of his hands away from his mouth. He does seem familiar and, therefore, trustworthy.

From that same side a woman emerges.

“John” she manages to say looking right at you, her voice shaking. “I... I thought you were... were dead.”

The audience titters. Just above their noise you hear a man’s voice.

“Death is a door I do not knock upon, it is one I shall kick through when I am good and ready!” He raises his sword high. 

You know what you must do.

“Death... is, um, a door I don’t knock on....” You repeat, the audience laughs. You clutch the paintbrush nervously.

“Knock knock!” A voice calls out.

“Who’s there?” someone yells.

“Not this guy!” The first voice cries.

The audience is in hysterics, they hardly notice that you don’t finish the whole line before the woman is speaking her next one.

Soon the scene shall end, soon you shall leave the stage – these are things you tell yourself. These are the things that must happen.

How did you get here? You ask yourself once more.

When can I leave? You think.

The man speaks again, and you ready yourself for what you must do.

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