As Doug McGray tells me, Pop-Up Magazine started as a simple hobby. As a writer and radio producer, he was introduced to a whole world of innovative storytellers that interested him in creating something as important as it was entertaining.
Now a large-scale show produced in more than a dozen cities and gracing D.C.’s own Lincoln Theatre on November 18, Pop-Up Magazine has evolved far past its humble beginnings. As the editor-in-chief and co-founder, McGray is fulfilling his original hopes for Pop-Up Magazine while also pushing the boundaries of conventional storytelling.
“It was just a hobby in those days. But we had this idea of bringing together writers, filmmakers, radio producers, photographers, illustrators and comedians to perform new stories on stage in all different kinds of media mixed together,” McGray says.
Today, Pop-Up Magazine stays true to that vision by creating a multi-sensory experience, complete with music and live animation that elevates the stories of speakers.
“Over the course of the show, a series of storytellers come out,” McGray says. “And as they tell that story, the band begins to play an original score underneath them, so the music swells up and becomes part of the story. Then onscreen behind them, the story starts to come to life visually with commissioned animations and illustrations. So you’re experiencing the story in this very multi-sensory way with the intimacy of a live storyteller, the atmosphere of a music show and these really beautiful visuals.”
One of the most compelling things about Pop-Up Magazine is that the stories are kept under wraps before the show, with viewers unaware of the exact experience they’re walking into. McGray says this element of surprise is integral to what makes Pop-Up Magazine so unique.
“We’re looking for stories that surprise us,” McGray says. “When we talk about being inspired by the classic idea of a magazine, it’s that idea that you’re sitting in the audience and there can be a funny family story followed by a serious story about politics, followed by something about food or something about pop culture. And all these different topics are mixed together with all sorts of different tones and all sorts of different styles. We want it to feel really varied. So you never totally know what’s coming next — in a good way.”
A key characteristic that differentiates Pop-Up Magazine from a conventional print magazine is the presence of a live audience. McGray believes the communal aspect of the show is an important part of creating an intimate storytelling experience.
“There’s something really magical about getting tickets to a show and going to a theater and the lights go down, and you’re sitting in a dark room with other people,” he says. “And the person who reported the story, or in some cases, experienced the story personally is right there in front of you. There’s this real intimacy there. And then because of the live audience and our ability to use sound, visuals and music, we can make those stories a theatrical experience. There isn’t really anything else like it.”
For McGray, one of the beautiful parts of Pop-Up Magazine is that it brings together people who think, create and express themselves in different ways. Oftentimes, he tells me, Pop-Up Magazine staff and audience members alike find parallels between stories or make connections to their own life they didn’t anticipate.
“One of the things we love about making the show is that when we talk to audience members afterwards, different people will have different favorites,” McGray says. “Different stories will speak to them in different ways, and we love that.”
An unintended yet treasured byproduct of Pop-Up Magazine has been that it’s inspired creativity in those who have the opportunity to attend a showing.
“It’s interesting, because it isn’t something that we set out to do, but it’s something that seems to have happened – we hear afterwards all the time that coming to the show makes people want to go home and do things and make things. A lot of people have told us they find creative inspiration in it: both those who are creative for a living and people who aren’t. I think it speaks to everyone.”
Ultimately, McGray hopes the show inspires people to get – and stay – interested in the world around them.
“People are telling stories about their lives and the lives of other people,” he says. “We make the show for curious people, and I hope it makes people want to stay curious about the world and people around them, to learn about lives that aren’t their life.”
Pop-Up Magazine is coming to Lincoln Theatre this Thursday, November 18. To learn more about the production and purchase show tickets, visit Pop-Up Magazine’s website here and follow them on Instagram @popupmagazine.
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