What if reading a magazine were more like watching a play - i.e., you could share it with a roomful of people? That's more or less the premise behind Pop-Up Magazine, which brings its winter tour to New Orleans Feb. 23.
The show, which bills itself as a "live magazine," adapts a variety of stories from writers, journalists and artists, adding multimedia elements and incorporating an orchestral score to create 3- to 12-minute storytelling pieces. The resulting performance is in a medium that is less curl-up-with-a-book night in and more collective outing, senior story producer Anita Badejo says.
"If you read an article or you listen to a podcast, that tends to be a very solitary experience," she says. "[With our show], people are experiencing it together, in a room ... as part of kind of a community."
[jump] Pop-Up Magazine was started by (current editor) Douglas McGray, who got the idea for the show when noticed that his writing-world friends didn't know the people he met working in radio. The first show took place in a small 300-seat theater in San Francisco's Mission District; the current iteration makes three national tours each year.
Designing stories for this production is different than straight adaptations of lengthy magazine stories, Badejo says. Pieces can include writing, photography, film, audio and radio stories, all of which are edited and produced from the ground up to make them engaging in a live setting - for example, producers make changes to structure, add breaks and pauses and make room for a live score by the show's house Magik*Magik Orchestra.
"Thinking about how a story is going to land, and the impact it's going to have when people are experiencing it together ... changes the editing process," Badejo says. "We really want to make it feel like it's a one-night only experience, that you're really present in the theater, and you're experiencing something really magical."
Badejo says participants can expect the show to be set up a little like a traditional magazine, with the first half of the performance comprising shorter pieces, often featuring characters and a narrative arc or playing off classic magazine tropes. The second part of the show offers more in-depth pieces, similar to a magazine's "feature well."
Though programming shifts as the show moves from venue to venue, the New Orleans show will feature some local connections. Local novelist and magazine writer Nathaniel Rich will discuss "a creepy and scandalous bit of lost New Orleans history" he uncovered while researching his latest book. Photographer L. Kasimu Harris will debut new pictures taken in and around New Orleans lounges.
The show also features an immersive "choose your own adventure" story, in which the audience helps decide what happens next, based on a Rose Eveleth speculative fiction piece. "We have no idea what the story is going to look like until we're there. ... The vibe is very Black Mirror-y," Badejo says.
Stories told in the show often go on to become longform pieces or books, but their appearance in this form is generally a one-time thing - the show's team has tried to keep its performances off the internet, where they seem to lose something by being filmed, Badejo says.
On this tour, she's most enthusiastic about having the production visit New Orleans, where she hopes it will pair well with the city's oral storytelling traditions.
"I only went to New Orleans for the first time last year, and I was just kind of blown away that a city like it exists in America - it's just so special and different," she says. "We're just really excited to bring this show there."
Pop-Up Magazine is staged at the Civic Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 23. Tickets are $25.