Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Julian Koster to bring ‘The Orbiting Human Circus (of the Air)’ to the Iron Horse next Monday


“The Orbiting Human Circus (of the Air),” a Night Vale Presents podcast that stars The Music Tapes frontman and Neutral Milk Hotel bassist Julian Koster, will be performed live at the Iron Horse Music Hall next Monday.

The podcast, which only premiered last month, is touring for the first time, with the Iron Horse show being just the fifth time the podcast has been performed live.

Like The Music Tapes, Koster’s main musical project, “The Orbiting Human Circus (of the Air)” is a wild amalgamation of vintage entertainment, powerful, fascinating stories and surrealism that eludes easy categorization. In addition to Koster, the live show will also feature regular cast members Thomas Hughes, Drew Callander and Robbie Cucchiaro.

The premise of “The Orbiting Human Circus (of the Air)” is intriguing enough; a lonely janitor with big dreams tries to discover the secrets that lie behind the fictional radio show that gives the podcast its name. Broadcast “from atop the Eiffel Tower,” where the janitor works, the fictional radio show is the dazzlingly bizarre heart of the podcast itself, mixing old-fashioned theatrics with a healthy dose of disconcerting, circus-like oddities.

The Janitor, played by Koster, is a painfully shy character who wants nothing more than to fulfill his dreams of being on the radio, specifically “The Orbiting Human Circus.” Through his clumsy efforts to do so, and through gradual revelations of his tragic backstory, the listener comes to learn more about the mysterious janitor, and comes to sympathize with him as the show’s main protagonist.

Equally as colorful are the omnipresent Narrator, voiced by Drew Callander, and Mr. Cameron, the fictional host of “The Orbiting Human Circus,” who is played by John Cameron Mitchell.

The Narrator is almost as fascinating a character as the Janitor, breaking the fourth wall frequently both to address the audience and to act as foil for the Janitor, whose wisdom he constantly questions. Mr. Cameron, on the other hand, is a towering figure—someone the Janitor idolizes, but typically manages to annoy, rather than impress.

Aside from these interesting characters, one may hear, on any given episode, a talking cricket, a decidedly unusual cantor, or a bird that can mimic the sound of every instrument in a full orchestra.

The fact that these creatures do not bare the slightest resemblance to anything you may find in reality probably won’t occur to you while engaged in the bizarre world of “The Orbiting Human Circus (of the Air).” It’s a podcast meant to take you to an alternate reality, a version of Paris at an unspecified point in the past, where things like talking crickets and orchestral birds suddenly seem plausible.

In this way, it shares quite a bit of DNA with the hallmark of the Night Vale Presents Podcast Network, “Welcome to Night Vale.” Like “Night Vale,” “The Orbiting Human Circus (of the Air)” blurs the line between reality and fiction, making the surreal and impossible all too vivid.

The show begins at 8:30 p.m. Tickets start at $14, and are available on, and, with cash only, at the door.

Jackson Maxwell can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter at @JMaxwell82.

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