Pop Up Magazine at the Curran San Francisco on Thursday, February 1, 2018. Photographs by Erin Brethauer

Pop-Up Magazine, an innovative event that re-creates the experience of reading a smart, general interest magazine, is back with its spring “issue.”

At a time when seemingly every publication is trying to get into the live-events business, Pop-Up Magazine followed an opposite trajectory — it’s an event that grew to include a print publication. Pop-Up Magazine started in 2009 in the Bay Area as an experimental storytelling show, aimed at a public radio listening, literary crowd. As the show found its footing and began playing to bigger theaters in more cities, it led to the creation, in 2014, of the ASME-award winning California Sunday Magazine.

The surprisingly engaging Pop-Up Magazine blends reported stories, photography, fiction and front-of-the-book fodder — all told on stage by writers, editors, filmmakers, photographers and the occasional actor or radio host. Pop-up Magazine spends one night in each major city during its seasonal tour. It is not recorded, making each performance an ephemeral “you have to be there” event that plays to sold-out theaters in major cities.

“We’ve got an incredible cast onstage with us this spring. They’ll be performing stories about crime, food, science, politics, music, a jaw-dropping family secret, and more, in all kinds of media mixed together,” editor in chief and cofounder Doug McGray said. “Film, photography, music, animation, sound — and we’re trying some things we’ve never done before. It’s going to be a really memorable night.”

Topics range from serious to humorous and include audience interaction. For example, the 2018 spring issue will feature a photographer’s look at the condolence gifts sent in the aftermath of mass shootings, a food writer’s analysis of President Trump’s favorite salad, the story of a filmmaker’s discovery of young children fighting their way out of poverty in Thailand, a true-crime story and an advice column for the audience. Performers include actors “Parenthood” and “Good Girls Revolt” actress Joy Bryant and Franchesca Ramsey from MTV’s “Decoded,” writer John Jeremiah Sullivan, The New Yorker’s Helen Rosner and illustrator and author Leanne Shapton, as well as photographers and filmmakers. 

And just like a print magazine, the performance includes advertisers. Advertisers for the spring installment include podcast staples such as Amazon Studios, Audible, Allbirds and MailChimp, as well as Skyy Vodka. Since most brands don’t have live-event divisions, they rely on Pop-Up Magazine’s brand studio to make content that fits into the context of the performance. During the winter production in February, the audience at the sold-out show at Brooklyn’s BAM clapped after each ad break — a rare feat of brand engagement that managed to feel more like a continuation of the show than an advertisement.

The spring issue kicks off on Thursday in Oakland, before heading to Los Angeles; Boston; Washington, D.C., and New York, where it will be performed at Lincoln Center.

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