Preview: Pop-Up Magazine’s live journalism brings the page onstage

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Pop-Up Magazine tour sneak peek from Pop-Up Magazine on Vimeo.

Tonight marks the launch of Pop-Up Magazine’s Fall Tour, as well as its second year of bringing West-Coast-style of experimental storytelling to audiences around the country.

For those unfamiliar with Pop-Up Magazine, think of it as live journalism. It’s a performance of writers, musicians, photographers and others whose work is much more of a live multimedia experience than something audiences would find in print.

Its first show, at San Francisco’s Brava Theater Center in 2009, drew a crowd in the hundreds. It gradually grew to additional locations, and Pop-Up Magazine since has sold out venues like the Theatre at Ace Hotel in Los Angeles and San Francisco’s Nourse Theater, which hold well over 1,000.

In many ways, it’s a live show from scratch without a template, and no two shows are the same. You won’t find any past shows, videos or photos online because Pop-Up Magazine doesn’t record them. And that’s by design—they can’t be relived.

“There’s something lovely about telling a story in a way that makes it this one-off experience,” said Lam Thuy Vo, a visual journalist and fellow at BuzzFeed’s Open Lab who’s performing on San Francisco and Oakland dates, in an email. “My work lives online, and once online, forever online. What’s really lovely about this is that it happens, we hopefully all have a great time and, poof, it’s gone.”

So, in the absence of YouTube videos, what can audiences expect from Pop-Up Magazine?

“It’s almost like turning the page of a magazine as the next story begins,” said Douglas McGray, founder of Pop-Up Magazine. He appears first, welcoming the audience. Then, narrators begin with shorter, minutes-long stories, mirroring the front-of-book items in a print magazine. The deeper into the show, the longer the features get. Typically, there are about a dozen stories.

“Some will be funny, sad, or surprising. We try to have a real variety of tones,” said McGray. “Sometimes it’s a hilarious dispatch, other times it’s taking you inside a prison, or a war zone.”

The Magik*Magik Orchestra, a collection of musicians that score original tunes, will play underneath and in between stories.

Past shows have featured household names Beck, writers Susan Orlean and Michael Pollan.

When the lights come on at the end, an after-party of sorts lets the performers and audience mingle—often an opportunity for people to pitch ideas to Pop-Up.

The crew behind Pop-Up Magazine founded "The California Sunday Magazine" in 2014, which in many ways was born out of the content and success of the live show.

This is the first year Pop-Up Magazine comes to Boston. McGray said he expects it to expand to other cities in coming years, both nationally and internationally. However, the show’s format of raconteurs delivering live nonfiction is decidedly evocative of its origins: the West Coast.

“One of the things I love about the West Coast is there's a culture of trying things, creating things out of nothing,” said McGray. “When we decided to gather all these interesting filmmakers, radio producers and writers to create a show that didn’t exist, it was a very California thing to do.”

The tour kicks off tonight in Los Angeles at The Theatre At Ace Hotel. Get tickets and info here.

Tour dates:

  • 11/3: L.A. - The Theatre At Ace Hotel
  • 11/9: Bay Area - Nourse Theater (Sold Out)
  • 11/10: Bay Area - Paramount Theatre
  • 11/12: Chicago - Harris Theater
  • 11/15: Boston - Wilbur Theatre
  • 11/17: Brooklyn - Kings Theatre
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