Pop-Up Magazine revolutionizes journalism by bringing it to the stage

Jon Snyder

Jon Snyder

If print is dead, Pop-Up Magazine is trying to resuscitate it.

Pop-Up Magazine: A Night of Live Stories

Fitzgerald Theater

The “live magazine” show takes exceptional journalism and performs it onstage. Stories on everything from politics, pop culture, sports, and food are infused with breathtaking visuals and instrumental vigor. Post-show, the cast – made up of reporters, writers, radio producers, illustrators, and entertainers – mingle with audience members in the lobby bar. With its strict “no recording” policy, this is truly a “you had to be there” experience.

Pop-Up Magazine arrives at the Fitzgerald Theater for its inaugural Twin Cities show on Friday. Peabody Award-winning Madeleine Baran, along with Samara Freemark (best known for the In the Dark podcast, the first season of which was about the Jacob Wetterling case) are the local talent participating in the event. Pop-Up Magazine’s 2017 lineup also includes big names like comedian Aparna Nancherla, New York Times war photographer Erin Trieb, and documentary filmmakers Donal Mosher and Mike Palmieri.

We spoke with Pop-Up Magazine’s CEO Douglas McGray about this new and exciting art form.

City Pages: How did the idea for Pop-Up Magazine originate?

Douglas McGray: I spent much of my career as a writer writing long features for magazines like the New York Times Magazine, the New Yorker, places like that. One day, I did a piece for This American Life and I loved it. It occurred to me that filmmakers have their festivals and photographers have their gallery events and writers have their readings and these worlds are maybe more separate than they need to be. I had this idea to create a live magazine where writers and radio producers and filmmakers and photographers perform news stories onstage in a show.

CP: Would you say Pop-Up Magazine is a supplement to, or a replacement for, print?

DM: It’s certainly not a replacement for anything. It’s really a love letter to reporting stories in all different forms. It’s a place for fabulous writers, some of whom are really well-known, and some of whom are emerging, super talented, and at the start of their careers. It’s for those writers to mix together this photography and film and sound and to make a show that’s really inspired by a classic general interest magazine, but certainly not a replacement for it. It’s taking it in a new direction.

CP: How is journalism “performed”? What does that look like?

DM: I’ll talk about what the night feels like. You arrive. You sit down near the orchestra, and the lights go down and the show starts. The night runs about 100 minutes. There’s about 10 stories in the course of that time. For a typical story, someone comes out and they begin to narrate; you drop into a scene. There’s some sort of animating tension, and off you go. As the narrator begins to tell the story, you’ll see a screen above the stage and it comes to life – we shoot the stories like magazine stories or we’ll commission animation or illustration. For many of the stories, there’s also a band onstage and many of the stories have a live score underneath. Sometimes we mix an element of radio, too, so the narrator may stop and you may hear a voice in the theater, a sort of recorded radio voice almost like an interview format. 

CP: How do you scout and choose the talent?

DM: It’s very magazine-like. We keep our eyes out for interesting people all over the country – filmmakers, magazine and newspaper journalists, web journalists, radio producers, photographers – and we call around and ask people, “What would you do with five or ten minutes onstage? What kind of live story would you tell?” Sometimes people will pitch ideas to us and we’ll assign it.

CP: How many people work on one of these shows? It sounds like a lot.

DM: It’s a pretty big production because we’re art-directing everything on the screen, all the music in the show is original so we’re having live scores composed, and editing all the pieces obviously.

CP: Why don’t you allow recording at the show?

DM: Oftentimes, things are recorded without really thinking about why. It’s just “put a camera in the room” ‘cause it’s easy and not really thinking about whether it’s great video or not. One of the things we realized is that if we didn’t record it is that we can focus entirely on our audience. We can make stories and experiences that are really amazing when you’re in the room. Part of what we wanted to do is to use stories and art to bring people together. If you want to see the show, you have to come out and see it. You have to sit in a dark theater with a bunch of other curious, interesting people, maybe stick around for a drink after. You can’t watch it at home alone on your phone.


Pop-Up Magazine
Fitzgerald Theater
7:30 p.m., Friday, November 3