Pop-Up Magazine coming to Austin, brings stories to life

Daniel Young

Most magazines collect commonly themed stories for their audience to read. Pop-Up Magazine, on the other hand, is a publication that sings, dances and performs live before disappearing from the face of the earth forever. This week, it comes to Austin for one night.

Billed by its producers as a “live magazine,” Pop-Up presents a dynamic experience that seeks to bring together the best aspects of radio, print, visual and documentary storytelling. According to their latest press release, a series of speakers, musicians, photographers and artists will take the stage together Wednesday night to perform Pop-Up’s “Winter Issue” at the Hogg Auditorium.

Haley Howle, Pop-Up’s senior producer and a native of Austin who previously worked at KUT, spoke about Pop-Up’s start. According to Howle, the group started with the goal of bringing different types of storytellers together.

“They wanted to celebrate journalism and storytelling in all of their unique, creative forms (and) to mix together writing, film, animation and photography,” Howle said. “(They) wanted to create a place for their friends and people that they admired to get on stage and work.”

Justin Gilliland, a freelance journalist based out of Naples, Florida, caught Pop-Up’s Fall Issue show in Washington D.C. last year.

“I’d never heard of it before, but I ended up really liking it,” Gilliland said. “It’s a different experience. It’s not quite theater, it’s not quite a movie, it’s not the news; it is in its own genre.”

The show Gilliland attended involved a variety of acts. One performer, he said, played a game of bingo with the audience focusing on controversial moments from the Trump administration’s first year, while another group combined a monologue on dreams with music, interpretive dance and photography to create a more lucid experience for viewers.

“(The performances) changed the way I thought about the pieces. If it was just text, it wouldn’t have been as impactful,” Gilliland said.

If you want to see the acts Gilliland saw, though, you’re out of luck, as Pop-Up shows don’t get recorded or published online. Once a show finishes, it cannot be seen again.

“What’s great is that it’s ephemeral, and, because you have to be there to see (a show) and experience it, the minute it’s over you just want to talk about it with your friends,” Howle said.

According to Howle, their shows’ fleeting nature has allowed Pop-Up to “up the ante” for themselves constantly. They experiment with and introduce new acts in each issue: animators, a meet-and-greet after each show and even an opera singer have all found their way into Pop-Up programs.

In a particularly unique act from their Austin show last year, Matt Largey, KUT’s managing editor, came together with UT faculty past and present to change a 35 year-old grade. Upon receiving a C on a paper arguing for the ratification of a Constitutional amendment, Gregory Watson spent a decade of his life getting the amendment ratified. During the last Spring Issue tour, Largey traveled with Pop-Up, sharing Watson’s story, and mid-way through the Austin show, surprised Watson with document officially changing his grade to an A.

As for Wednesday’s show, Howle said that performances will range from a collaboration between a Grammy-winning musician and a respected photojournalist, to an audience-led choose-your-own-adventure experience with surprises along the way.

“(When I lived in Austin) the Annie Street Arts Collective used to do these secret shows, where you never really knew what you were going to see, but you’d get led down this path, and you were always pleasantly surprised,” Howle said. “It feels a little bit like that. You’re in on a secret once you see a pop-up show.”