The Power of Storytelling: A Short Interview with Pop-Up Magazine's Douglas McGray

A few months ago, I attended my first Pop-Up Magazine event. It intrigued me as much as it entertained me. The tour is coming back to New York next month (all dates can be found below). Wanting to learn more about the background and framing of this one-of-a-kind storytelling event, I reached out to Douglas McGray, Editor in Chief of Pop-Up Magazine and The California Sunday Magazine to share some insights on what makes these nights so magical. McGray’s emailed responses appear below.

Question: Pop-up Magazine is a really unique theatrical experience. What led you to decide to create this innovative evening of storytelling?

McGray: It occurred to us that writers have readings, filmmakers have festivals, photographers have gallery events, radio and podcast producers do their own things. Why not mix it all together, so fans of great storytelling can see and hear stories performed live all kinds of different ways. Once we started producing Pop-Up Magazine we realized that we’d hit upon a really unique format for a fun night out. You’ll be hearing some surprising or funny or moving story, and it’s coming to life with beautiful photography, or film, or animation, or illustration, and a band onstage is playing something like a movie soundtrack at the same time. And then after we open up the lobby bar, so people can hang out with old friends and meet new ones, and talk about their favorite stories, and meet the cast too. We've learned that the audience is as interesting as the people onstage.

Q: Do any past stories that were performed come to mind that you believe were better delivered than they would have been more traditionally read on the page?

McGray: Well, one story, about how distant foreign wars can show up in your kitchen, in the spices you buy, the audience had to taste something. I wouldn’t recommend tasting a print magazine story or a story you’re reading on your phone. Another story, about a man who suddenly lost his ability to form memories, was animated with shadows, created live by this really innovative shadow theater company. But honestly, every story in the show is kind of magical because it’s live. You’re sitting in a big, dark theater full of people. You don’t know what’s going to happen next — will the room fill with sound, will animation leap across the screen? And there’s an intimacy to it. The person who discovered this story, or even experienced it personally, is right there in front of you, sharing it with you live. And nothing goes online after, so you have to be there to experience it. 

Q: When you're putting together the mix of stories, what are the criteria you seek from an individual story, and also from the set as a whole?

McGray: We’re looking for stories that are surprising. We’re looking for all kinds of variety. We want people who come to the show to laugh hard — and feel a whole range of emotions by the time the show is over. We want to hear and see things we haven’t heard and seen before.

Q: Some of the stories that have resonated most with me are about these obscure pieces of Americana that, for the subjects involved, offer great joy and pride. How do your storytellers typically find these off-the-beaten-path stories to cover?

McGray: We work with writers, radio and podcast producers, photographers, and filmmakers who are out there exploring the world every day, meeting fascinating people, discovering new things. A lot of the fun of the show is seeing what these creative people have found and brought back for us.

Q: I know you're coming back to New York pretty soon after the tour had been here. Is this part of an expansion plan to cover more cities, more often?

McGray: The show is such a fun night and it’s so fun to make, we want to make more and bring it to more people. So, tell your friends!

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Pop-Up Magazine 2017 Spring Tour

San Francisco - Wednesday 5/31 @ The Curran

San Francisco – Thursday, 6/1 @ The Curran

Chicago – Saturday, 6/3 @ The Harris Theater

Washington, D.C. – Tuesday, 6/6 @ The Lincoln Theatre

New York, NY – Thursday, 6/8 @ Town Hall

New York, NY – Friday, 6/9 @ Town Hall

Los Angeles, CA – Tusday, 6/13 @ The Theatre at Ace Hotel

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