Last Friday night, Pop-Up Magazine brought a magazine's worth of eclectic content to life at the Civic Theatre.
[This is the first contribution for Cody Siler]
Friday's Pop-Up Magazine show at the Civic Theatre was advertised only as a "live magazine," leaving the audience mostly in the dark about what to expect. After seeing the show, it's easy to see why. The presenters touched on such a wide range of topics, and the fusion of speaking, visuals and music was so complete that to capture the show's appeal in a concise description would be nearly impossible. Ultimately, it was an ambitious project with a diverse group of speakers presenting on an ever farther-flung range of topics, but its slick production and emphasis on storytelling allowed it to bridge the gap between intellectual stimulation and pure enjoyment and become a truly unique kind of entertainment.
The show featured a rotating cast of journalists, filmmakers, photographers and artists, and their work at Pop-Up Magazine centered on storytelling. Each presentation was researched and designed by the individual performer, and they touched on topics from dystopian futurism to history to karaoke. On Friday night in New Orleans, the show opened with a riff on Black History Month paintings that concluded with a drawing of the two presenters, Eric Eddings and Brittany Luse, eating at Popeyes with James Baldwin, Kanye West and Beyoncé. Eddings and Luse are the hosts of The Nod, a podcast that explores the quirks of Black life in America, and the two of them worked together to conceal a serious message within their playful one, delivered with style to the mostly white audience. If it sounds bizarre, that's because it was--but it was also side-splittingly funny and beautifully soundtracked, accompanied by slick, well-timed animations.
From there, the show raced around the globe. Daniel Alarcón delivered a deadpan rendition of some pre-packaged speeches he'd discovered in a book in a slum of Peru, and tied it in to the country's balancing act between Spanish and Quechua, the indigenous language of the Inca peoples. Fiction writer Nathaniel Rich told a story about New Orleans in the early 20th century, and discussed the connection between a crime spree-the "Axeman murders"-and the explosion of jazz into nationwide popularity. Photographer David Guttenfelder spoke about tensions between North and South Korea, and journalist Brittany Spanos led the crowd in a singalong to Journey's "Don't Stop Believing." The show oscillated quickly between levity and seriousness, between irony and sincerity, and the crowd loved it.
One of the most moving presentations was by L. Kasimu Harris, a New Orleans local, photographer and self-described storyteller. Harris delivered a treatise on the gentrification of St. Bernard Avenue since the storm and the decline of Black barroom culture in the city. Delivered to a mostly white audience, the presentation was provocative. As he mentioned Sidney's Saloon and Poor Boys, bars that have transitioned from Black to white ownership, and from a clientele consisting of Black locals to one of white hipster transplants, a few in the audience shifted in their seats-but the presentation had the tone of a serious journalist delivering uncomfortable truths, and accompanied by Harris' own beautiful photography, it ended as a moving ode to Black barroom culture in New Orleans. Of the changes at Sidney's, he concluded: "Well, there are a lot more bikes outside."
The show's visual and musical flourishes didn't outshine its centerpiece, which was the quality storytelling of each presenter. It was soundtracked by the Magik*Magik Orchestra, whose conductor Minna Choi composed scores for most of the presentations. Additional touches were quirky and fun, like the envelope in the program that read "Don't Open Me. Yet" and contained two different-colored glow-sticks so the audience could vote on a choose-your-own adventure type presentation about a futuristic nursing home.
If you were looking for something to criticize about the show, you could say that it had no internal consistency--no thread tying one presentation to the next. But I think the rest of the audience would agree with me in saying that, in the end, that lack of consistency was the show's most exciting feature. As the spectators went from raucous laughter to thoughtful silence and back again, it was clear that the show's presenters had absolutely no doubt in their own charisma and the weight of their stories-and the audience agreed. The show was ambitious but ultimately, they pulled it off with style.