So mid-May a friend and I saw the Welcome to Night Vale live show, and it was fabulous. Like so much in fandom, the actual act/product/thing was/is wonderful, but there are always other parts of the evening that round it out, and those can go either way.
The venue was nice enough, though the staff left a lot to be desired. It felt like they wanted to be anywhere else, to the point where some of them had their personal effects in hand by time the show was over. Most didn’t smile or even make a huge amount of eye contact, except when they told us we had to leave. Keep in mind, the show had been over for maybe twenty minutes. I’ve spent half a lifetime doing theatre and I’ve never been kicked out of a lobby so fast. This was also after we’d been back in the merch line and choose to hang out in the lobby on the chance that there was a meet and greet (this is apparently typical with Night Vale, at the cast’s discretion).
Without going into it, we led to believe by one usher in the lobby that the meet and greet would be happening at the theatre side door and we had to leave the building. So we did, only to find by looking in said door that the meet and greet had been going on in the merch room (whose doors had been shut after we’d exited). A group of about ten, fifteen of us had gathered, not a mob by any means. Not thinking anything of it, we went to enter and were promptly told by the usher at the door that we couldn’t enter.
I should mention that most of those gathered were young women, some people had driven for hours to meet their heroes, and no matter how great a downtown area is billed as, it’s probably not the best idea to be hanging around outside at night when there’s no one else around and they won’t let you back in a building for any reason. A few of us produced our tickets and I tried to explain calmly that we’d been to the show, another usher (whom I tried to describe) had sent us here, we’d gladly go to the back of the line…I’d even buy more merch if that would smooth things over.
While I wasn’t physically grabbed, I was shouldered right back out the door, and the usher in question glowered at us for the rest of the evening.
I get some of us looked odd, dressed up as we were. I get the show probably wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea. I’ve worked shows that aren’t my favorite thing, but because I like working and money, I never really thought much about it. I even get that it looked like a group of teens or young women. I’m guessing I was the oldest there, but I could’ve been wrong. I look younger than I am, which can be a point of vanity, but it also helps me gauge a person’s true nature faster. And wow, despite our rational explanations, that staff wanted no part of us. It was obvious we weren’t liked or welcome.
The thing is, you can’t judge a book by its cover. You may think we’re geeks, but you never know who’s going to be the RN you run into at an urgent care center, or the waiter at the diner you go to next week. You don’t know who those dressed-up, cheering, chattering seemingly annoying people really are.
One of those people that night, it turns out, had worked in theatre and live event work for seventeen years. They’d worked onstage, backstage, had helped handle and coordinate live events, and turn-key operations like this type of show. Their first job entertainment job ever, actually, was day managing a box office and working with the front of house manager staff, which included ushers.
That someone would be me.
What disappoints me the most is there was no excuse for that behavior. I don’t know what their after show policies were (they weren’t posted), but I do know that little, minor tweaks and some re-training could fix all of that. That would have never happened any place where I’ve worked. In fact, there would be some big consequences if that had happened any place I’ve worked. When you go to any type of show or event, it’s an experience and every staff member interaction counts. It saddened me to hear people around me say that they were trying so hard not to be bitter because it wasn’t the cast’s fault. Things like that should never happen – you’re losing potential customers for other events that way, you’re influencing people in a negative way, which in turn hurts their view of other things, like the show in question. It’s a huge, vicious circle that benefits no one. The usher in question was three feet from the cast – it would have taken no time to ask “Excuse me, but here’s the situation. What’s your preference in how I handle this? Should I let them in or what would you like me to tell them?” That’s all. I think we all would have understood if we were given apologies and turned away if we’d felt like we’d actually been listened to and treated like we mattered.
I don’t know if this was simply because of the staff involved or if it was because we were “geeky” and “fandomy” and viewed as “nerds” who didn’t know what to do.
Here’s the thing: all of us were there, giving the theatre our money because of Night Vale. I get people may not understand fandom, they may not love all the people it attracts, they may not get the cosplay, the over-excitement, the audience participation, and on and on and on. However, at no point did any of us resort to violence, cursing, or untoward behavior. The only thing we really did was discuss the issue amongst ourselves and wait to see what happened. I’m incredibly proud of everyone who was there by that door that night, shut out as we were.
I saw a lot of awesome things that night from my perspective: a girl who held the door open for people who had their arms full as they exited the meet and greet, even though the usher routinely snapped at her to stop bothering people. Not once did she try to slip inside or act out. I saw people exiting commiserate with us, though they weren’t sure what to do and they were still high on meeting people they’d seen on stage minutes before. A homeless man who had overheard our situation stopped what he was doing, left his area where he panhandled from, and attempted to enter and talk to the usher into changing his mind. It didn’t work, but it was a moving gesture. In return, I watched all of us who’d been shut out reach into our pockets and give what they could to this man, as well as include him in conversation. A lot of us turned it around into something so disappointing, it was funny.
The long and short of it, though, was that through no fault of our own, we were missing out. Sometimes those things happen. Sometimes you’re the interloper. Even if the guy didn’t press his face on the window and hiss it at us, it’s obvious that’s how he felt. And I get that, that’s his opinion, and that’s going to happen. You’re not guaranteed every picture-perfect moment that you want, no matter how much you love something. It didn’t escape my sense of irony that in a fandom for a show that promoted inclusiveness so hard, we’d somehow managed to get ourselves excluded. Not because of the cast, not because of the fandom, but just because that’s how life works sometimes.
This lasted until Cecil Baldwin got word of what was going on, ducked out, signed for as many people as he could, then ducked back in. The entire cast took turns doing the same, and they didn’t have to. It was obvious they were exhausted (except Dylan Merron who was adorable and bubbly and I’m still not sure that he’s human…) and they still had other shows to do that week. Still, Cecil, Dylan, Mara Wilson, and Symphony Sanders all took a few minutes to talk to those of us who’d waited. It definitely gave me a smile to see the kids around me get so excited (I’m old and those emotions don’t work anymore). Truly, it moved me and reminded me that the Night Vale crowd is definitely something different, something special indeed. While sure, it’s just a smart move to keep people happy, I honestly believe they did what they did because they felt it was the good thing to do. And honestly, as snarky as I come off, yes, it was really, really cool. I’m extremely grateful to the cast for that gesture – not just for my own experience, but for all those around me who were losing their minds, whose evening had become a huge disappointment and then exploded into something awesome.
We were suddenly back in Night Vale’s city limits, so to speak, interlopers no more. It may seem like a small gesture, or time spent after an already ages-long day for them, but for a lot of reasons it meant something. All the little things that went on out there meant something and truly showed that no matter what’s thrown at you, no matter the “geek shaming” or whatever you want to call it (if it was actually that and not a badly trained staff or someone having a bad day), there are really good people in fandom circles, people who have each other’s backs, who look out for each other, who act classy even in the face of the not-so-classy. It all turned it into an evening that I won’t forget for a long time.