An Evening at Pop-Up Magazine

Reading Time: 4 minutes
Brooke Jarvis at Pop-Up Magazine
Brooke Jarvis at Pop-Up Magazine in Oakland. Photo: Dave Cerf, used with permission.

I had the opportunity last Monday to attend Pop-Up Magazine’s fall issue at Revolution Hall here in Portland, Oregon, and it was wonderful. I mentioned last month that tickets had gone on sale; there are still tickets available for the remaining shows this coming week, and I highly recommend giving it a try if you’re able to.

Pop-Up Magazine is a “live magazine”: it’s a series of presentations that feels like a different way to experience a magazine, complete with some live music, images and animation and video, and some other effects. It’s not recorded, so you can’t watch it online later—what you take with you is your memory of the event. (I didn’t even take photos, so I just have these, provided by Pop-Up Magazine.)

Now, I don’t want to spoil too much because there are some really fun surprises, but I’ll give you an overview of some of the stories I heard and saw, without giving away the surprise touches.

The night opened with just a little animated intro for Pop-Up Magazine—you know, some abstract shapes moving around, coalescing into recognizable images, with words like “music” and “movies” popping up. It was accompanied by a peppy tune, played live by the Magik*Magik Orchestra, Pop-Up Magazine’s house band. Even though it’s the sort of thing that, like the intro to a TED Talk video, I would normally mostly tune out while I wait for the main attraction, I found myself mesmerized by the way the musicians were able to time the music with the animation, with bright notes and beats pairing up with visual transitions and flashes.

Sean Rameswaram at Pop-Up Magazine
Sean Rameswaram at Pop-Up Magazine in Oakland. Photo: Erin Brethauer, used with permission

The first story we heard was “The Highest Court” by Sean Rameswaram, which was accompanied by animations by Cari Vander Yacht. The story was about a basketball court above the Supreme Court—how it came to be, how it was used, and some of the other fun and fascinating trivia surrounding it.

Mary Melton shared a multi-part story, “Hot Pursuit,” throughout the evening about high speed car chases—specifically about the live broadcasting of chases in LA. Throughout the evening, we watched clips of one particular chase that had captured LA’s attention.

Aparna Nancherla at Pop-Up Magazine
Aparna Nancherla at Pop-Up Magazine in Oakland. Photo: Erin Brethauer, used with permission

Aparna Nancherla shared a story about power poses—you know, the idea that if you strike a particular pose, it can make you feel more confident or powerful even if you didn’t feel that way before. But hers were hilarious, tailored to some specific situations she had encountered, and the animations by Allesandro Apai (using photos by Amy Lombard) were fantastic.

The next story was “The God Committee” by Brooke Jarvis (photo at top), about the early days of kidney dialysis. When dialysis was first introduced, it was very expensive and very limited. A panel of seven people was formed to decide which patients would receive dialysis—they became known as “the god committee.” Jarvis’ story explored the ramifications of this panel—how it affected patients, how it affected the people who served on it.

Brittany Spanos’ “Sing at Your Own Risk” was an examination of some of the most dangerous titles you could choose for karaoke—which titles? Well, you’ll just have to attend to find out. “Gophran’s Journey” was a moving photo essay by Erin Trieb about a young Iraqi woman trying to make her way back home from ISIS-held Mosul. “Leave a Message” was a surprising story by Cord Jefferson about his love/hate relationship with voice mail that just might make you cry. Yes, about voice mail.

Pop-Up Magazine
“Strange Gardens” at Pop-Up Magazine in Oakland. Photo: Dave Cerf, used with permission.

“Strange Gardens” was a true multimedia presentation: Donal Mosher talked about strange dreams that are often brought on by a particular medication. His dreams included dreams from other people—and the whole thing was accompanied by a film by Michael Palmieri, the Magik*Magik Orchestra playing music by Minna Choi, and a dance performance by Katerina Wong. The whole thing added up to a mesmerizing, dreamlike effect.

Matt Wolfe’s “Pray” was an investigation into some mysterious graffiti that turned up in New York City in the 1970s: the word “PRAY,” scratched into metal surfaces all over the city. I’d never heard of it before, but I loved the story. Finally, Robin Amer gave a talk about “The Diva,” a profile of opera singer Maria Callas, the epitome of the Diva. Her talk was punctuated by soprano Emily Birsan, singing segments of opera music accompanied by Philip Brezina.

After the show, both audience and performers had a chance to mingle in the hallways and the adjoining bar. I have to confess that my introverted self mostly just chatted with a friend of mine instead of approaching any of the performers, but it was cool that people had a chance to chat with those who just shared some amazing stories.

I came away from the night feeling kind of like I’d just read an issue of a really great magazine—one that included stories I don’t normally seek out, but was glad somebody had put in front of me. Thanks to Pop-Up Magazine for inviting me! I’d definitely be interested in attending more issues in the future if they return to Portland.

There are three more performances of the fall issue: New York City on Monday (October 30), Washington, DC on Tuesday (November 1), and their debut in St. Paul on Friday (November 3). Visit the Pop-Up Magazine website to order tickets.

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