Pop-Up Magazine Comes to New York City

Pop-Up Magazine Comes to New York City Pop-Up Magazine, A Live Event, is coming to New York City on May 11, at 7.30pm at the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts. Co-produced with ESPN the Magazine, it's going to be "stories, documentary films, interviews, photography, facts, and radio live on stage," and will feature a stellar array of writers, editors, filmmakers, and artists, including contributors to The New Yorker, This American Life, The New York Times Magazine, All Things Considered, Mother Jones, Studio 360 and much more. Produced by a non-profit group of journalists, they've put on four Pop-Up magazine events in San Francisco over the past couple years, all of which have sold out.

The events are not documented, so we don't have any photographs or images that we can show here. We did interview Pop-Up Magazine editor Douglas McGray to get a sense of what the event is all about and what you can expect to see and hear.

Tickets for Pop-Up Magazine, A Live Event will go on sale Thursday, April 28 at noon here.

What is Pop-Up Magazine?
Douglas McGray: We're a group of old friends who decided, as an experiment, to launch a magazine that would exist only on stage. We're independent. (We're grateful to the Foundation for National Progress, publisher of Mother Jones, who help us with the legal stuff to be a nonprofit.) I'm the editor-in-chief. Derek Fagerstrom and Lauren Smith are creative directors. Even Ratliff is story editor. Maili Holiman is design director. Dave Cerf is techical director. Pop-Up Magazine is a side project for all of us.
Why did you decide to not document any of the Pop-Up Magazine events? That's so un-magazine in this day of multiple platforms and deep archives.
I love to see imaginative stuff on new platforms, and those deep archives are great. But it's also nice to unplug for a night, and enjoy something that will happen once, and never again. You can't rewatch your favorite Pop-Up Magazine story, or send a link to your friends. You have to remember it, and retell it. I think it helps make each issue feel rare, and special. Sure, we could film an issue, and throw it online, but is it going to be as satisfying an experience for someone sitting at their desk at work, eating lunch alone, watching in a browser window, as it was for someone who went to the theater with their friends, as part of a great night out? Of course not. So why do it? We don't have to. Instead, we fully embrace the live medium, and devote all our energy to the people in the room, and try our best to make something memorable for them.
What makes this a magazine and not just a performance or a reading?
It's funny, I've heard some version of this from a lot of people: "I was wondering, what's a live magazine? And then I came to the show, and i was like, Oh... it's a live magazine!" Our program looks just like a table of contents and a contributor page. Our front of the book has service stuff, data, opinion, how-to columns, short Q&As. ... we've even done letters. And the stories in our feature well, they're a lot like tiny magazine features, in a variety of media. We draw a lot of inspiration from magazine pacing, too.

What are the components of the event?
You can get a bit of an idea from the Table of Contents for each issue we have on our web site. The evening opens with a very quick Editor's Note, by me, followed by our front of the book, Shorts. These pieces, by writers, documentary filmmakers, photographers, and radio producers, are very short. Just 30 seconds to a couple minutes long. That's followed by Features. Still very short!  Roughly three to six minutes. Again, work by writers, documentary filmmakers, photographers, and radio producers. Everything is nonfiction. Pop-Up Magazine is kind of a love letter to true stories and ideas, across media.

What are the visuals for the event? Is this just going to be a bunch of writers and editors standing around reading their stories?
No. We try to have a eclectic mix.  In general, writers talk or read, photographers show images, filmmakers show film, radio producers play sound. But we mix it up. We've had a radio producer and an illustrator work together, and writers do stuff that depend heavily on images. And we try and have a few moments that could only work in front of a live audience.

So much attention is paid these days to magazine covers. What would be the cover for your pop-up magazine?
I'm a huge fan of great cover design. (Is anyone right now doing it better than the new Businessweek?) We're lucky to have a great design director, Maili Holiman. We don't do a designed cover. I kind of feel like the theater itself is our cover. You see this big, dramatic facade, and a buzzing crowd by the door, and like a great magazine cover, it makes you want to know what's inside. 

A lot of what magazines do these days is reader engagement and interaction. How does the pop-up magazine format do that?
Our issues in San Francisco are always followed by a big party, where the contributors and the audience hang out together over drinks. Very engaging and interactive! When you think about it, it's rare that anything brings out writers, documentary filmmakers, radio producers, photographers, and illustrators. One of the things that's been most rewarding about editing Pop-Up Magazine is the way a real, medium-spanning community has grown up around it. Collaborations have emerged. Friendships have formed. And of course we end up following one another on Twitter. 

How did ESPN the Magazine get hooked up with Pop-Up Magazine?

Gary Belsky, Editor of ESPN the Magazine: Part of our mission--at ESPN in general and at The Magazine in particular--is to push the boundaries of the content experience. That's what we're doing here. We heard about Pop-Up from a friend in San Francisco, a media strategist and consultant named Deborah Schneider, who is a big fan. She thought I'd enjoy it, and suggested I fly out to the Bay Area to catch the next show. She was right about me liking it--it's a really inventive and interesting idea--but she was wrong about me flying out there. After doing a bit of research, I thought we might as well just team up with the Pop-Up folks to do a live magazine in New York, themed about sports.Robbyn Footlick, who is producing this on our end thought it was a good idea, too, so we reached out to them and began to collaborate on a process that we've found to be as funb, compelling and entertaining as we expect our live magazine to be.

Related Story:
Three Questions with Maili Holliman, DD, Pop-Up Magazine

  • Dennis Huynh

    This show was awesome! Experimental, fun mix of visual and narrative storytelling. Skewed slightly more for the writerly type, but a good time. Highly recommend they do it again!

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