In the era of extreme documentation, Pop-Up Magazine is like a dream. It will exist for one night only – no recurrence, no rerun. There will be no video or podcast. You must – if you can – get thee to The Greek Theatre in Berkeley on Friday night to experience its foray into the California Dream.
You may be wondering what a pop-up magazine is. I admit I rolled my eyes a little bit at first, pop-up everything being all the rage these days. But after speaking with co-founder Doug McGray yesterday morning, I’m mind-boggled by the detail of thoughtful collaborations that bring flat page to bright stage.
A few years back, McGray, a writer, stumbled into radio working with the NPR program This American Life. He was impressed by the fact that despite so many storytelling similarities between writers and the radio, these two industries rarely intersected. He and his team set out in 2009 to create an event that would bring the two to the same stage – featuring collaborations between not just writers and radio producers, but musicians, visual artists and performance artists as well. The aim was to create a live version of a general interest magazine (covering music, art, food, politics, relationships and anything else), with multi-media performances each in the 4-6 minute range, usually scored by a live band and sometimes animated.
“We didn’t set out to make a show that would perform to thousands of people or tour other cities,” McGray told me, “but something about it resonated with audiences.” And before long, that’s exactly what they did.
Pop-Up Magazine has now performed in San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, in venues ranging from Davies Symphony Hall (where they collaborated with Beck and publisher McSweeney’s for a multi-media presentation of Beck’s 2012 sheet music album Song Reader), the Paramount in Oakland, BAM Howard Gilman Opera House in Brooklyn and LA’s Ace Hotel. They work with huge names (Oscar and Grammy winners) as well as unknowns and up and coming artists. “People have an amazing time doing it,” McGray says. “They want to come back, and they want their friends to do it too.”
Friday’s event at The Greek features a theme, though not all of their events do — The Golden State Record: Stories and Sounds of California and the West. It’s inspired partly by a love for our great state and the West in general, and partly by the famous Golden Record, a literal golden record of human intelligence and artistry sent into space in 1977 aboard the Voyager spacecraft and curated by a committee cosmologist Carl Sagan fronted.
This “issue” will focus more on musical collaborations than usual thanks to a partnership with Noise Pop, of which McGray says “We loved working with Noise Pop on this one. They’ve helped us informally before, but this is the first full collaboration.” The musicians also will be joined by filmmakers, writers and artists.
The impressive list of 20+ performers for the event includes (in part): Mark Kozalek (Sun Kil Moon, Red House Painters), Thao Nguyen (Thao & the Get Down Stay Down), Lil B, Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, Magik*Magik Orchestra, Nosaj Thing, Georgia Ann Muldrow, and many others including some not yet announced special guests. Despite the large number of performers, McGray says the show only runs about two hours due to the multi-media aspect of each segment.
As if all of this were not enough, the show is taking place at the breathtaking Greek Theatre, an open air venue that holds 8,500 attendees while still feeling intimate.
Photo credit: Skerling Munksgard Photography