PHOTOS: Mike Flanagan, Kate Siegel and The Nosleep Podcast Haunt The Stanley Hotel
It was Sunday night; his favorite night. Sunday nights were when he stayed up late. On Sundays, for him, there would be no sleep. While his parents slept, he was wide awake. That's because, on Sunday nights, he would turn out all the lights, get warm and snug under his covers as be pulled the blankets up over his head, and he would listen to old horror radio shows from the 40s, 50s and 60s. It was his absolute favorite thing. He watched monster movies and those were great, but there was just something about these radio shows that really stirred his imagination.
Sure, school was starting the next day but that's tomorrow. Tonight, it's a radio, it's blankets, it's a flashlight, and it's listening to old-timey horror shows until the wee hours of the morning.
That's how it was for David Cummings when he was a boy growing up in Toronto. Cummings, the creator of the hit NoSleep Podcast, developed his love for the dark at an early age, listening to those old-time radio shows from Lights Out, Inner Sanctum, Suspense, and more.
So naturally, as an adult, he would want to continue to tell "ghost stories, real stories" for a whole new audience and that's exactly what he's doing with The NoSleep Podcast.
It started as a Subreddit.
In 2011, the NoSleep Subreddit featured various spooky stories from a wide array of writers across the U.S. and Canada. Podcasts were in their infancy, but Cummings enjoyed being able to offer a space for people to post original scary stories.
"It was an online version of telling spooky stories around the campfire," the Nosleep website states.
"There were a couple people who said, 'Hey, we could do a podcast where we narrate some of the best stories,'" Cummings told K2 Radio News.
Cummings said he was trying to find work as a voice actor but it wasn't progressing as quickly as he'd hoped, so he decided to create his own opportunity.
"I said, 'Hey, I can slap together some stories,'" he said. "I had met some other people who promised to do the producing and the hosting and all this other kind of stuff. They said they'd take over. And they never did. So it was just me, starting with episode one and then I had to keep it going with episode two, and so on. It was really kind of stumbling through the backdoor, but it's worked out."
Indeed, it has. Cummings may have stumbled through the back door, but he also stumbled onto something that is really, truly special.
The NoSleep Podcast is a weekly podcast series that features various short stories being read aloud by voice actors, complete with sound effects, background music and more.
It's extremely reminiscent of the radio shows of old and, more than anything, it's an avenue that showcases incredible talent, from writers, to actors, to sound engineers, and more.
Every week, it brings in thousands of listeners. The NoSleep website states that "The podcast has been well-received from the very beginning. Through word-of-mouth advertising the number of regular listeners has grown steadily. Reviewers on iTunes consistently rate 5 stars and the podcast ranks quite high in its 'Arts' category."
It's even made fans out of Mike Flanagan and Kate Siegel.
Flanagan is the writer/director of a multitude of film and television projects, including The Haunting of Hill House, Midnight Mass, Gerald's Game, The Midnight Club, and much more. Siegel is an actress who has appeared in many of Flanagan's works, like Oculus, Hill House, Ouija: Origin of Evil, as well as television shows like The Time Traveler's Wife, Castle, Ghost Whisperer, and more. Siegel is also a screenwriter and, together, she and Flanagan wrote the hit Netflix film Hush.
The two are married and have become one of Hollywood's power couples, though you'd never know it by their demeanor and the way they interact with fans.
Which is exactly what they did over the weekend of November 4 and 5 at The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado.
It was called The Doctor Sleepless weekend, and it was a joint a fan convention-cum-live podcast recording-cum-film screening put on by the NoSleep Podcast. It featured multiple live recordings of the NoSleep Podcast, as well as a screening of the Director's Cut of Doctor Sleep, the 2019 sequel to The Shining. It featured an introduction and Q&A session with Mike Flanagan, who wrote and directed the film. There were also various meet and greets and cocktail parties throughout the weekend, giving horror fans ample opportunity to meet some of the greatest minds in horror.
But how did it even come about?
"The Stanley, of course - it's not just the connection to The Shining; there's just something about this place, something about its history, that really draws people in," Cummings said. "Any time you get an older building, it just has so much draw. From the very first tour we took, we were hooked. So when our booking agent said 'I can get you into The Stanley,' it was just immediately, like, 'Yes please.'"
When asked if, when he first started the podcast, he thought he would end up putting on events like Doctor Sleepless with stars like Mike Flanagan and Kate Siegel, he didn't hesitate to answer.
"Yes," he laughed.
And he said it with his tongue planted firmly in his cheek, but part of him was serious. David knows what he created is exceptional. He knows that people enjoy it. He knows that it's special.
"I often talk about the house where I originally started the podcast," he said. "I just worked out of my basement, this little corner office. And for a couple years, I had no idea how many people were listening. I mean, I saw download numbers and stuff but then, all of a sudden, I realized 'Oh my God, people actually listen to this and it's getting bigger and bigger.' So to get it to where it is today, to be here with folks like Mike and Kate and all of our friends; I never in a million years would've thought it would happen like this."
But, it did. And on that first weekend in November, close to 200 people packed the theater of The Stanley Hotel to watch the live podcast, and to see the Director's Cut of Doctor Sleep.
Cummings was thrilled to be able to share the stage with those two. He'd been a fan for years. But, as he would later find out, they were fans of his, too.
"It was interesting how I found out," Cummings shared. "Mike and Kate were listening to the podcast. They really liked it. This was back when they had just released Hush on Netflix. And I remember Mike tweeted something about how much he liked the NoSleep Podcast. And I knew he was a director, but I didn't know much about him. Then I saw Hush, and I was like, 'Oh my God, these people are super talented.' And so I just connected with him after that. We did a show in 2017; we went through LA and Mike and Kate came to the show and we just sort of hit it off. And then, he heard that CK Walker had done stories for us, and he said, 'Hey, I love CK's stories.' So I introduced them and now she's writing on his Netflix shows. So it was just this organic thing; we're just mutual fans of each other and we connected that way."
He said it in passing, but there's an aspect of the NoSleep Podcast that is pretty incredible. This little podcast, the one that he started out of a corner office in the basement, has given opportunities to countless artists throughout the years. CK Walker is one of the most notable "graduates" of NoSleep - she's written on Flanagan's The Haunting of Hill House, The Midnight Club, and the upcoming Fall of the House of Usher.
But she's not the only one. What Cummings has created not only entertains thousands upon thousands of people every week; he also allows various actors and writers to literally achieve their dreams.
"It's kind of mind-boggling," Cummings said. "It's just hard to fathom how all that worked out because everything I do, day-to-day, is so insular and I rarely get to see the big picture. But then I come to events like this and I see how many people there are. And it's like, these people listen. Those people listen. And I get to realize the scope of the show. And then to realize the connections that are being made, it's amazing."
Speaking of connections, Cummings even met his wife because of the podcast.
"Every time I come to one of these shows, I'm so proud of him," Cummings' wife, Kelly Bair stated. "I'm so proud of everything he's built, from the very beginning. I was a fan of the podcast for years before I even met him. We just kind of found each other on social media one day and I came to a show, we met, and the rest is history. I was just always this ultra fan, talking to all of my friends and telling them to buy season passes. So being able to be on the other side, and knowing the actors and the family behind the scenes is just really awesome."
And that's a good word for the NoSleep team: Family. It's a good word, especially, because Cummings acts as sort of a proud papa when he sees his team find the success that they truly deserve.
"I always say that the best thing I have ever done is foster this team and these writers and these producers and these actors, and this composer - to bring them all together to create this? That's where I'll pat myself on the back. To bring other peoples' talent to the forefront? That's the best thing I'll ever do," he beamed.
He's already done it. Countless artists have gotten their start on The NoSleep Podcast. And they will no doubt continue to create incredible work in the years to come.
"You know, 10 or 20 or 30 years from now when people like Brandon Boone or Jessica McEvoy or whomever else; if they carry on and somebody says to them, 'How'd you get started?' or 'How did your career begin?' - for them to say 'Oh, it was that David Cummings guy.' That would be an amazing legacy," Cummings shared.
Many talented artists may end up owing at least part of their career to Cummings, but that was never his goal. He never wanted to be a dream-maker. He just wanted to tell stories.
And those stories just happen to present themselves in the form of a podcast, which is a relatively new medium but, at its essence, it's really no different than those spooky radio shows of old.
"I always say, regarding audio horror, that we'll set the scene," Cummings said. "If someone's going down into a basement, we'll tell you that. But every individual listener pictures their own dark basement. What's their scariest basement? Or what's their scariest haunted house? Or what's their scariest monster? And by engaging their imagination, they're scaring themselves with their own imagination. I think our show and our audio board is so effective because the listener is inserting themselves into the story by using their own imagination. And that's where it can really hit home."
The NoSleep Podcast is currently on its 18th Season, with no signs of slowing down. As long as people are writing stories, as long as actors are willing to voice them, and as long as creatures go bump in the night, there will be NoSleep.
"I think about this every now and then," Cummings reflected. "A hundred years from now, with however audio is being listened to, I'd like to think that all of our stories would be imported to that new format. And I love the thought that a hundred years from now, some kid would be lying in his bed on a Sunday night, listening to our stories."
Photos from the Doctor Sleepless Weekend can be seen below: