The Pop-up Magazine Edition

On live performance, journalism, and new models

Colin here. If you told me a magazine would do a “live” show with their stories presented in front of an audience, I would tell you you’re delusional. But this is exactly what Pop Up Magazine has been doing to much acclaim for a few years now. I attended a recent event in California, and they got a lot of things right. First, the theatres and venues they choose are epic. The first one they did in New York was at the amazing Kings Theatre, my last pre-COVID show of theirs was at Lincoln Center in New York, and this tour features the Ace Hotel Theatre in LA, Paramount Theater in Oakland, and more. The stories bring the writers front and center: they come out and narrate but it really comes to life through reference visuals, hand-made animations, and a live soundtrack provided by musicians on stage. There’s depth and engagement, and I didn’t see anyone glancing down at their smartphones. 

The inherent magic is it translates what might be a 5,000-word piece of reportage into something immersive, personal, and interesting. For example, Ian Urbina presented a piece on Libyan migrants being captured in boats and held in a hellish prison upon their capture by Libyan authorities. The article (performance?) touched upon the politics of migration, the EU’s complicity in exacerbating the problem from a human rights standpoint (driving migrants back into the hands of abusers), as well as a personal narrative of when Urbina was captured and held prisoner in the camp. The whole thing was wonderful and I engaged with it much more deeply than if I was reading it on the printed page. Cord Jefferson, of Watchmen fame, had a personal narrative about his father’s service in Vietnam that also touched on the tropes in popular culture of the “disturbed veteran.” Once again, it was poignant, moving, and brought the whole topic to life.

Why is this interesting? 

For one: there was a line spanning a few city blocks to get into the show. Something they are doing is resonating. Also, I think that too often when magazines and publications try to transfer their work to events, they do it in the form of a panel conversation or a series of talks where the author is reading a piece. This is old and stale. Many conferences seem like a bunch of talks that could have been blog posts, padded with prepped panelists spewing approved talking points and taking care not to offend. Pop Up Magazine does what it says on the tin: it really brings the magazine stories to life in a way that is incredible to watch. 

According to CJR’s review:

As news media experiment with new digital content and platforms in attempts to build audience engagement around their brands and products, journalistic live shows such as Pop-Up offer a different lesson, one that seemingly has real potential. This expanding genre, which might be called “performed journalism,” uses the old and decidedly non-digital methods of the theater to draw people in. In some ways, these live shows fill the newspaper’s historic role as a focal point for its community, a role that has faded as information sources have grown more diffuse.

The show was worked on a lot of levels. It was my first time back in a live venue for a long time. But I also deeply appreciated the craft of how they put together the whole event. There was thought, context, intent, and joy. And it didn’t hurt that the reported stories, ranging from a funny mime mishap to a story about female soccer fans in Iran, were superb. If you get the chance to see a show (there’s one left on this tour in DC on 11/18), do it! (CJN)

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Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)

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