Pop-Up Magazine Is Making Its Toronto Debut at Koerner Hall

Pop-Up Magazine is making its Toronto debut on October 16 at Koerner Hall.

What is Pop-Up Magazine, you ask? It is a LIVE magazine experience with a stage, a screen, and a live audience. Contributors tell vivid, never-before-told multimedia stories accompanied by illustration, animation, photography, and an original score performed onstage by Magik*Magik Orchestra. Past contributors and performers include Alice Walker (The Color Purple), Barry Jenkins (Moonlight, If Beale Street Could Talk), Beck, Kumail Nanjiani and Sasheer Zamata.

At the end of the show, performers and audience gather around the bar. And nothing goes online after; you have to be there to see it. (We love anything with an emphasis on IRL these days!)

The Toronto show will feature Albert Samaha (a criminal justice reporter for BuzzFeed News who just released a new book, Never Ran, Never Will), Yowei Shaw (a producer for NPR’s Invisibilia podcast), Katherine Laidlaw (a Toronto-based writer for Toronto Life) and Rowan Jacobsen (the James Beard Award-winning author of A Geography of Oysters).

We reached out to senior story producer Tina Antolini to learn more about this show.

SDTC: When and where did the idea for this show originate?

TA: Our editor-in-chief Doug McGray had been a freelance magazine journalist and had also filed stories with the radio program This American Life. That led to him and some of his friends talking about how they worked in different media—documentary films, radio, magazines—but didn’t really have a place where they could collaborate.

In the world of magazine journalism, you don’t have the equivalent of theatre, so the original Pop-Up Magazine was an experiment among friends, who put on the first show in a bar, and then it was so popular that it went to bigger venues. Now, we tour three times a year in big theatres like New York City’s Lincoln Centre, San Francisco’s Curran, and, of course, Koerner Hall at TELUS Centre. 

What is the significance of presenting a show IRL and not adding any content online afterwards?

It gives the whole production a different energy. The audience pays attention and experiences it differently because they know they can’t just go home and watch it online. At a time when we’re all consuming so much news all the time, it’s a great reason to put your phone down and experience long-form storytelling surrounded by other theatre-goers. It’s intimate. 

photo credit: Erin Brethauer

What kind of feedback are you getting from audiences?

One of the best parts of Pop-Up Magazine is having the chance to receive feedback from our audience right there, in person, after the show, when we’re all milling about having drinks together. I worked in public radio for years, and, in that medium, when you put a story out into the world, it can sometimes take a while to know what anyone thinks of it.

With Pop-Up Magazine, you can have conversations about the piece immediately after the performance. I also think there’s something intangible that’s translated from the performer to the audience, and vice versa, when delivering a story live on stage. You can feel when an audience is held in rapt attention. Adding that to a journalistic enterprise is part of what makes Pop-Up Magazine so magical. 

What can guests expect at the Toronto show?

We’re so excited to treat a Toronto audience to our show for the first time! We’ve crafted an especially great show for our first time to the city. In our stories, we’ll go inside a controversial terrorist rehabilitation facility, attempt to bring a flower back from extinction, explore the lifelong friendship between two hundred-year-old WWII army nurses, and much more. There will be hilarious musical moments, and moments of poignancy and emotional depth.

We’re also thrilled to have Toronto-based writer Katherine Laidlaw contributing a story to the show, a thriller of sorts, which also helps us ponder issues of privacy an era of social media saturation.

Pop-Up Magazine takes place October 16 at 7:30 p.m. at Koerner Hall. Click here for tickets.

photo credit: Jon Snyder

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