Pop-Up Magazine brings its brand of storytelling to San Diego

The Pop-Up Magazine show featuring original stories accompanied by animation, photography and live music is at the Observatory North Park on Sept. 23


Hold on to your stone tablet. Also your quill pen, your manual typewriter and your floppy disk. It turns out that one of the hottest properties on the media landscape today is a skill that is both as old as time and never obsolete.

That would be storytelling.

The communal art that drew our ancestors to caveman campfires, the Theatre of Dionysus and London’s Globe Theatre now has us glued to podcasts, streaming-cable documentaries and audiobooks. And on Sept. 23, the art of the story will be bringing people to the Observatory North Park, where the Pop-Up Magazine tour is giving the ancient craft of yarn-spinning a tech-savvy makeover.

“When people ask me the best way to describe the show, I like to say it’s like a magazine, a podcast, a play, a comedy show, a concert and a documentary film, all wrapped into one,” said Anita Badejo, Pop-Up Magazine’s executive editor and show co-host. “You will hear an hour and a half of beautifully crafted stories that will make you laugh, cry and think.”

Since 2009, Pop-Up Magazine tours have put storytellers — journalists, photojournalists, essayists, comedians — on big theater stages to spin their tales accompanied by a multimedia blitz of live music, animation, original illustrations and other artistic goodies.

This year’s tour is organized around the theme of “Escape.” It is the first time Pop-Up has come to San Diego, and its cast of storytellers includes comedian and writer Jordan Carlos, poet Sarah Kay, writer Clio Chang, and photographer Lisette Poole. It also includes comedian Mohanad Elshieky, who will be kicking off the San Diego show with a story about a car ride.

And like everything else about the Pop-Up Magazine experience, there will be more to that story than just a guy in a car. It will be a story about a car ride in Benghazi told by a Libyan-born comedian who didn’t understand the whole Pop-Up Magazine concept until he was actually on stage doing it.

“When they asked me to do it the first time, I didn’t clearly envision what it was going to be like until I was in the theater,” said Elshieky, who toured with the Spring 2019 version of the magazine. “It was so amazing, because I was seeing all of the different ways people can do storytelling. One dude has this story about a guy suing Burger King. Now, if you had pitched that story to me, in my head I would be thinking, ‘This sounds not fun to hear.’ But when I saw the way they did it, it showed me how a story doesn’t have to be all funny to be gripping and meaningful. It helped me a lot.”

Pop-Up Magazine was formed in San Francisco by a small group of media folks who wanted to take the concept of a general-interest magazine — the mix of topics, the emphasis on art and photography, the celebration of the author’s writing voice — and bring it to live audiences.

The first show was held in 2009 in a small theater in San Francisco. The Pop-Up Magazine tours now make stops at high-profile venues like Lincoln Center in New York, the Paramount Theatre in Oakland and the Ace Hotel in Los Angeles. In 2014, the live magazine show launched The California Sunday Magazine, a monthly publication featuring thought-provoking stories and stunning photography.

Past Pop-Up tours have included appearances by such notable storytellers as authors Susan Orlean and Alice Walker, filmmaker Ava DuVernay, and “This American Life” host and producer Ira Glass. But the most important players are the audience members themselves. The full-immersion experience couldn’t happen without them.

“Most of us are used to consuming journalism on our own, whether we are reading a newspaper at home or listening to a podcast during our commute,” Badejo said. “This is a communal experience, and there is such a different energy in the room when people take in these stories, and then turn to the person next to them to see how they are responding. We want to make it feel like a conversation, not a bunch of people up there on stage speaking into a void.”

That communal experience continues after the show, when the Pop-Up performers join their audience in the lobby bar for a post-show drink and informal chat or two. Because like all good stories, no one wants the Pop-Up Magazine experience to end.

“I have been hunkered down with my book for three years, and I will love being able to talk to folks and hear what they have to say,” said photographer Poole, who will bring an excerpt of her book, “La Paloma y La Ley” to the Pop-Up tour. “As a Latina woman and a first generation American and a Cuban person, it always feels extremely important to connect with others and feel a sense of community. I don’t think I could ever get enough of that.”

Pop-Up Magazine: The Escape Issue

When: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 23

Where: The Observatory North Park, 2891 University Ave., San Diego

Tickets: $29 (all ages)

Phone: (619) 239-8836