Staging a Magazine: A Storytelling Pop-Up in St. Paul

St. Paul’s Fitzgerald Theater hosts a “live magazine”—where journalists become performers

Photo Courtesy of Doug McGray

People don’t read anymore, those in print journalism are often told.

It’s a reckoning that’s already influenced the way we tell stories (see: the Buzzfeed listicle, and Tronc media company’s “from pixels to Pulitzers” image-centric vision for the future). And it’s not hard to see why. Reading takes a lot of time. It requires slowing down.

Usually, we skim during in-betweens—choking down a New Yorker piece on a jerky, early-morning train commute. Easier would be to set aside a quiet evening for it: to buy a ticket, as you would to a movie, to a night of reading.

This is part of the appeal of Pop-Up Magazine, a staged show coming to St. Paul’s Fitzgerald Theater this Friday. In East and West Coast cities last month, the production company put on what it calls “live magazines,” where journalists, writers, and storytellers read aloud their reporting, accompanied by live music and some visual component—whether film or performance. Shows are “meant to feel as if a magazine is unfolding on stage,” says co-founder and journalist Douglas McGray. In New York City, D.C., Portland, and Los Angeles, theaters recently filled with audiences unreeling from the workday or workweek, as Pop-Up advertises itself as “for your nights and weekends.” That means no mid-work distractions. Lights dimming for the 100-minute show aim to immerse spectators as deeply as a magazine would, so the audience can practically luxuriate in the material.

Photo Courtesy of Douglas McGray

But if people don’t read anymore, many of us might not be “literate” in magazines. So, what, exactly, does a “live mag” look like?

Pop-Up‘s speaker-presentation format differs from that of a TED Talk in how it connects less as a performative, Power Point–guided lecture—where the speaker’s personality plays a big role—and more as carefully curated content. Each speaker’s story gets its multimedia fleshing-out: The narrator takes up one side of the stage while the live band, playing original music, takes up the other. A screen floating above provides its own concurring thread of animation, film, or photography. Drawing from the narrator’s reporting, collaborating art and music directors have asked themselves, “What does this story look and sound like?” And the writers, often confined to the tick-tapping of a keyboard, get to experience audience reactions in real time.

The stories go deep: the kind of character-driven features found in glossy mags you steal from doctor’s office waiting rooms because you got only halfway through a story and can’t wait to find out how it ends. They cover everything from politics to science to pop culture, each of the show’s ten stories getting about 10 minutes on stage. They aren’t filmed for YouTube, so you can catch Friday’s Fitzgerald Theater production just this once. Speakers in the past have included a comedian, a novelist, and an Iraq-based reporter. In St. Paul, the authors behind true-crime podcast “In the Dark”—about the disappearance of Jacob Wetterling—will take the stage.

Even if you’ve already listened to the award-winning podcast, this is your chance to sense new life breathed into it. And all you need to do is sit back.

Pop-Up Magazine
11/3, 7:30 p.m.
Fitzgerald Theater
10 E. Exchange St., St. Paul

Photo Courtesy of Douglas McGray