This Monday, my wife and I attended the Spring 2019 edition of Pop-Up Magazine, a traveling show that bills itself as a “live magazine.” What that means is that various contributors come and share stories: humorous vignettes, photo essays, scientific explorations, investigative journalism. It’s a little bit Moth Radio Hour, a little bit TED Talk, a little bit variety show, all backed up by live music from the Magik*Magik Orchestra led by Minna Choi.
I’ve attended a few times now, and each issue takes me to places I’ve never been and new subjects I hadn’t thought about. For me, the fact that all of the names on the list of contributors are unfamiliar to me is a bonus, because that means Pop-Up Magazine is introducing me to people outside of my little circle of experience, and it’s more likely that I’ll hear stories that I wouldn’t have encountered or sought out otherwise.
This past issue included several more stories that were tragic or devastating in some way. Natalie Keyssar’s story “The Squad” was a photo essay about a cheerleading squad in Venezuela; for the women on the squad, it’s one of the only ways they can afford to pay for necessities as the economy has spiraled downward. “A Love Song for Latasha,” a film by Sophia Nahli Allison, was about the life and death of a young girl in L.A., a mostly untold story that is tied up with the Rodney King riots. Denise Zmekhol’s story, “Skin of Glass,” was about losing her father at a young age, then finding him through his architecture, then losing him again.
There were also amusing stories: Jason Parham examined the culture of “thirst traps” on social media, photos shared with the intent of arousing some sort of desire or reaction. “Lonely Island” by Laurel Braitman delved into the dating scene in Dutch Harbor, a tiny island community in Alaska. Jon Mooallem (pictured above) shared a story about dreams and the way we look for meaning in them, even when they involve Malcolm-Jamal Warner (Theo from The Cosby Show).
One particularly moving piece was “Sacred Sounds” by Sam Harnett, co-creator of The World According to Sound. He told the story of the Hagia Sophia cathedral and its impact on religious music of its time, and the way that we don’t get to hear those songs in the way they were intended because of the shifting status of the building (which is now a museum). But in 2016, thanks to technology, scientists were able to make a sound filter that recreates the acoustics of the cathedral, and we got to hear a small part of a performance by Cappella Romana, which was enthralling.
Pop-Up Magazine isn’t recorded or posted anywhere afterward. It’s a show that’s intended to be seen live on stage, and although this issue will be performed at several cities, this is pretty much the only way to experience it. Of course, this is nothing new: for most of human history, events took place that were only experienced by the people present. But in this day and age, when everything is recorded, shared, posted to YouTube, it’s a bit of a novelty to watch something, knowing that this experience will only be shared with the people around you, and it helps you to savor the moment.
The spring issue is mostly sold out, but there are still tickets available for upcoming shows in LA, Seattle, and DC. If you’ve never attended Pop-Up Magazine and you have an opportunity to go, I highly encourage you to give it a try!
Disclosure: Pop-Up Magazine provided tickets for the show in Portland, Oregon. All opinions expressed here are my own.