“Pop-up is live”

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Pop- Up Magazine issue #3 came out on Friday, and so did the lucky 900+ people who managed to get tickets before the box office server crashed in five minutes and the show sold out in 30. Pop-Up Magazine is a live magazine, where live-ness becomes it’s own medium and journalists, artists and innovators present short, informative, non-fiction projects from a broad range of subjects to an enthralled audience.

The projects can consist of pieces of stories, documentaries, films, interviews, facts, radio, or anything else that presenters are excited about presenting to a crowd. Pop-Up mostly consists of works in progress. Editor in Chief Douglas McGray elaborated, “we encourage people, as much as possible, to take advantage of live-ness as a medium. And in most cases, if someone is sharing work in progress, the final product is not going to be live.  Basically, we ask people what they're excited about. What they'd enjoy sharing with a crowd. This is what leads people to share work in progress. Because, as writers, or filmmakers, or photographers, or whatever, we tend to be excited about what we're working on at the moment. But then the act of sharing it with a live crowd tends to transform it.” And it most certainly does transform the work, adding an additional dimension to each story that includes sharing the experience with the interested people around you.

Pop-Up afterparty on the Herbst theater balcony

There is no overarching theme or rehearsals and the format is open creating a rare experience for both those presenting and watching. According to McGray, the concept for Pop-Up Magazine came from pop-up books, “flat, printed things that spring up into three dimensions” and not Pop-Up retail,  though he says “it creates a nice double meaning.”

Laura Brunow Miner, aka Pictory, kicked off the evening by stating that she “collects photo stories” and presented a narrated photo slide show titled, Sorry, Mom, where each portrait was accompanied by a gracious apology for the story tellers’ mother, and I think, subsequently all mothers, who tend to receive more accusations than apologies.

Jon Mooallem, the contributing writer for New York Times Magazine who wrote the Easter morning cover story about the science and politics of gay animals, took viewers on a factoid journey about the surprising frequency that lost wallets are returned to their owners, sometimes decades after being lost. Mooallem tells of wallet uncovered in vents, walls, and army barracks that have traversed time, state borders, and lost hope. Mooallem likens the experience to “being reunited with an artifact from the back pocket of your former self.” But he doesn’t discount that maybe these artifacts are more valuable for the people who discover them, who are perhaps being reminded that when they move on, a part of themselves might one day be found, and given importance to, by a stranger decades later.

Ever wonder why, in a culture that strives to mechanize as much as possible, there are sign spinners? You know, those human easels who stand on highly trafficked street corners spinning, shaking, or as the feature “Sign Spinners” footage showed, dancing? Jamie Meltzer put some faces to this elusive subculture of people, accompanied by live country twang music, with footage of the bored, creative, and sometimes whacky styles that sign spinners employ for their trade.

Viewers were even treated to some music education when the Guardian’s Art Director Mirissa Neff played audio and video samples of Fado music, a Portuguese tradition of mournful folk music, that was, as we found out, influencial in the 1974 Portuguese revolution. Aside from her day job at the Guardian, Neff is a reporter for PBS’s Sound Tracks, a series that explores world cultures through music, and also goes by the alias of DJ Felina.

Some of the presentations were so filled with suspense that audience members were holding their breath and at the edge of their seats. Joe Richman, the founder of Radio Diaries, an organization that helps people document their own lives, and Bridgette McGee-Robinson presented “The End of Willie McGee,” which told the story of the execution by electric chair of Willie McGee, Bridgette’s grandfather and a black man, who was sentenced to death in 1951 for alledgedly raping a white woman. The presenters took us on a quest to find out what really happened, which included an audio recording of the generator used to power the electric chair, the only electric chair in the state of Mississippi at the time that therefore traveled from courthouse to courthouse to dispatch death sentences, and culminated in an audio interview with the son of the prosecutor involved in the trail. During the interview, the prosecutor’s son divulges that he remembers the day of the execution well, and recounts how his father left for the jailhouse with a pint of bourbon and a resolve to find out, once and for all, if McGee did it. The segment ended when Bridgette convinces him to tell her what his father found out, which he agrees to do off the record. The tape cut out and Richman and McGee-Robinson admitted that they have not yet decided how to handle that piece of information in the upcoming documentary.

Is there anyone left who isn’t on facebook? Justine Sharrock took a look into the emergence of Guantanamo Bay guards and ex-detainees reuniting on facebook in her talk, “Add as Friend.” Both ex-guards and ex-detainees are forming online communities on Facebook and subsequently gaining closure through apologies and acceptance on this casual forum. Sharrock suggests that the casualness is what’s allowing them to see the bigger picture and move on from feelings of betrayal and guilt.

More from the Pop-Up afterparty

These are only a few examples of the array of stories and topics we heard last Friday night at the Herbst Theater. There were surprising tales of Turkey Vultures (did you know that the German government is training Turkey Vultures to scout for dead bodies?) in Doug Long and Lisa Margonelli’s hilarious interview about these misunderstood local birds. There were tales of espionage and architecture inspired by Christopher Hawthorne’s recent trip to Dubai in “A Dying Art.” Visit Pop-Up Magazine’s website to learn more about this issue’s presenters and to sign up for their email list, so that you can be one of the lucky people perched over the “buy tickets” button on your computer the hour they go on sale, reminiscent of trying to sign up for popular classes in college. And stay tuned for Pop-Up alumni Sam Green and Dave Cerf's upcoming live documentary, Utopia in Four Movements, part of the San Francisco International Film Festival.

The promotion of the magazine is live too, being almost exclusively word of mouth. McGray doesn’t know when the next issue will come out: “We're so grateful that people are out there telling their friends about us, or tweeting, or our favorite, rounding up groups of friends to go together. That's what caused the box office server to crash a few minutes after tickets went on sale.  It wasn't anything we did, really.” But he’s just being modest. In fact, it’s exactly what they’re doing. Pop-Up Magazine offers savvy, information hungry people with a digestible forum for a myriad of interesting projects that are out there, when the alternative is often overload. Everyone I encountered leaving the theater was inspired from experiencing such a range of interesting stories. The stories reminded us that we need look no further than our communities to experience a whole world of information. We all have our own stories to tell, and taken as a whole, each tid bit is a “pop up,” and is relatable to someone. In keeping with their live mantra, Pop-Up Magazine doesn't photograph or record any portion of the event. Burn the internet, anyway. At the beginning of each Pop-Up Magazine McGray says, “Pop-Up is live;” and lest we forget, so are we.