Kris Rothstein's Blog

VIFF 2019: Pop-Up Magazine

Kris Rothstein

Pop-Up Magazine began in San Francisco as a group of writers, radio producers, photographers, filmmakers, and illustrators. They dreamed up this “live magazine” to present stories in mixed media and to push genre boundaries. The magazine started in 2009 with performances in San Francisco and eventually went on the road—this was the first show in Vancouver. Each show or tour is comprised of all new material, and for this tour the team conceived of their first themed issue: escape.

In essence, there is one presenter narrating a story, one large screen displaying a visual component, and the house band, the Magik*Magik Orchestra, providing a live soundtrack. Within that structure huge variation is possible. Eight stories hit the stage in the show I attended, each combining original reporting, personal memoir, animation, film, or interviews. The best ones used humour to make an impact. All of them included themes of compassion, community and curiosity.

In a Pop-Up Magazine show, the author is much more central and present than they would be in an article or story, literally on the stage, but also an intrinsic part of the content. Imagine a great magazine piece morphed with a lecture. The format definitely falls within the definition and genre of live storytelling, but it adds a real twist.

In my favourite piece, “Gone Girl,” journalist Clio Chang tells the story of Betsy, a thousand pound cow who escaped an Alaska rodeo and is still on the loose after two years. Locals report sightings of Betsy and she has inspired various hashtags and t-shirts.

In another piece, Chris Duffy, who after a game show appearance that caused him to become a meme (it involved the song "No Diggity"), sought others with similar experiences. His story includes three other hilarious examples: Tim Kim AKA ‘the Asian Baller,’ ‘First World Problems’ woman, and ‘Disaster Girl.’

Mary Melton, editor-in-chief of Los Angeles Magazine, directed the audience through a story about car chases and police pursuits on the freeways of Los Angeles. Her piece was broken into three segments, so that she left the stage and returned after other performances to update us on how the pursuit in question was progressing. She made a strong case for the appeal of the outlaw, and for the role of televised car chases in uniting Angelenos as they spot places they know and remember along the chase routes.

The one element I missed was a little more dynamic performance, which would propel the concept well beyond the range of enhanced storytelling. Left at London (singer Nat Puff) did this in her piece “Voice Lessons,” in which she sings, in the voices of Kanye West and Kermit the Frog, as well as in her own high and low registers. Of course, not every article lends itself to this, but I’d be excited to see the show blend genres and push the limits between media formats even further.

The show deserved the enthusiastic response it received from the audience; I can't imagine leaving Pop Up Magazine without feeling energized and satisfied.



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Kris Rothstein

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