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Pop-Up: The Magazine You Can't Hold Comes to New York City

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Pop-Up Magazine Pop-Up Magazine (Courtesy of Pop-Up Magazine)

These days, you can read The New York Times six different ways, you can download articles from all around the Web to your Smartphone, and even the Library of Congress is archiving your tweets. So, why in the world does Pop-Up Magazine only exist for two hours?

Despite its name, Pop-Up is not a traditional magazine, but rather is a live event that takes the stage for only one night at a time. The contributor list is one that even the oldest print rag would envy: Oscar-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney; This American Life's Starlee Kine; ESPN analyst Jay Bilas; the creator of FOUND Magazine, Davy Rothbart; and even WNYC's own Radiolab producer Pat Walters.

The "magazine," in collaboration with ESPN The Magazine, travels from San Francisco, Calif. to takes the stage for the first time in New York City on Wednesday night. WNYC caught up with Pop-Up Editor-in-Chief Douglas McGray via e-mail, along with Gary Belsky, who is Editor-in-Chief of ESPN The Magazine to find out more about the next issue.

WNYC: Why in the world — when everyone is so eager to document everything — would you design an event that has no lasting record?

Douglas McGray: You know, it's actually one of the things people really seem to appreciate about our issues. You can't see them whenever you want. They're rare. And really, rareness is rare in media these days. The audience knows they're going to see this thing that was handmade just for them, for just this one night. For contributors, it's an opportunity to share a bit of work that would be cool to present to a curious crowd, but maybe not the entire Internet just yet. So, filmmakers bring moments from films in progress, and writers share bits of books that are still a year or two away from publication, and people can try things that would only work live, which, for people who like to think about new ways to present stories and ideas, can be a fun challenge.

Gary Belsky: We’ve long believed that 'content as experience' is a real and meaningful idea that needs to be developed further. The Pop-Up folks understood that, which is why we were interesting in partnering with them.

DM: Also, the community around the show is as important as the show itself. Part of the reason we made Pop-Up Magazine was a feeling that writers, documentary filmmakers, radio producers, and photographers are weirdly segregated, as communities. Writers have their readings, filmmakers have festivals, photographers have openings ... we thought it would be interesting for people from all these different genres to come out and make something together. And in San Francisco, we always throw a big party after the show, for both contributors and the audience, so people can get to know one another. Friendships and collaborations have gotten started over drinks. It's social media!

WNYC: Have people ever tried to document it surreptitiously? Is there a no-cameras policy?

DM: You know, it hasn't happened. It's not like we're out there with night vision goggles, looking for cameras. We just explain to the audience, in an editor's note at the top, why we like for the event to be unrecorded — how we worked hard to make something ephemeral, just for them. That we believe in getting people out and bringing them together around stories and ideas. We don't beat people over the head with rules. We just ask them to participate in the experience.

WNYC: What about the theme? Why sports?

GB: You can blame us. We’re a sports magazine, but we knew, and the pop-up folks knew, that sports is fertile ground for every conceivable type of content experience. Plus, everyone’s a sports fan to some degree.

DM: Sports are great! Also, ESPN The Magazine came to us and proposed the idea. Generally, our issues have no theme, but we liked the editors at ESPN, and thought it would be a fun challenge — and sports is a theme that lets us tell all kinds of different stories, explore lots of different ideas.

WNYC: What kind of guidelines do you give the contributors? Magazines have editors – what’s your editorial process?

DM: I'm a magazine writer (The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic) and I've been a magazine editor (Foreign Policy). And I have to say, the process is really similar, at least at the beginning. People come to us with story ideas. We reach out to other people we like and ask them what they'd do with one to five minutes in front of a live audience. And then we assemble a Table of Contents. Eventually, it gets different. It matters a lot what stuff sounds like. And the screen, and the speakers, and the live crowd open up new possibilities. But in most ways, we operate a lot like a magazine staff.

WNYC: Do you worry that this is a little exclusive — an amazing event that only 1,000 people get to witness one time?

DM: I guess it's exclusive in that way. But it's democratic at the same time. Anyone online at noon sharp, when we go on sale, is going to get a seat. Also, we always throw a big party after our San Francisco shows, so audience and contributors can talk over drinks — instead of some stiff Q & A. And tickets aren't particularly expensive. We could charge more. We've chosen not to; we love our audience, and don't want to change it. But we would like for more people to be able to see the show. So, for our next San Francisco one, Issue 5, we're going to try out the San Francisco Opera house, which has 3,200 seats.

GB: At ESPN The Magazine, we celebrate the exclusivity. And if there’s demand, we’ll figure out a way to do it again. And maybe charge a little more!

Tickets for Pop-Up Magazine's live New York issue, onstage at 7:30 P.M. on Wednesday, May 11 at NYU's Skirball Center, cost $25. Get them here.

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