Contributor Guide – Pop-Up Magazine

What exactly is Pop-Up Magazine?

Pop-Up Magazine is a live magazine — an evening of new, reported stories, photography, film, radio, and music, all mixed together. We create different kinds of shows and experiences, but the typical Pop-Up Magazine show happens on a stage in a big theater, lasts about 100 minutes, and consists of a series of 10-12 short, true stories, accompanied by photos, film, illustration, animation, and live music, followed by a fun after-party. Our contributors include New York Times bestselling authors; photographers who shoot for major magazines and exhibit work at top galleries and museums; Oscar-winning documentary filmmakers; prominent radio journalists and personalities; Grammy-winning musicians; and also a wide, eclectic network of emerging media makers. We don’t post any video or audio online. You have to be there to see it.

We produce shows for big audiences — in a given year, tens of thousands of people will experience Pop-Up Magazine events at iconic venues such as San Francisco’s Davies Symphony Hall, the Greek Theatre in Berkeley, Lincoln Center in New York, the Theatre at Ace Hotel in Los Angeles, and other major theaters in the Bay Area, Boston, Chicago, Austin, Seattle, Portland, the Twin Cities, and Washington, DC. With more cities to come. We have also guest edited a session for the main stage at the TED conference in Vancouver and collaborated on live multimedia performances with ESPN and Beck.

Some of the nice things media outlets have said: “A sensation” – The New York Times … “Beautiful” – Los Angeles Times … “Highbrow/Brilliant” – New York Magazine … “A huge hit” – San Francisco Chronicle

We’re putting together several new shows, and we’re looking for stories. All work presented at Pop-Up Magazine is new. Some pieces are produced specifically for the show. Others may be adapted from a big work in progress or drawn from fantastic, unused material from some past work. (Keep in mind: because the show isn’t recorded, presenting at Pop-Up Magazine doesn’t get in the way of publishing or airing a version of the work later.) All Pop-Up Magazine stories are true, and most are based on reporting the contributors have done about the world around them. We tend to assign more reported stories than memoir.

All Pop-Up Magazine contributors receive an honorarium, travel and lodging, and a big, warm crowd of fans. Our contributors routinely say performing at Pop-Up Magazine is one of the most rewarding creative experiences they’ve had.

What are we looking for?

Pop-Up Magazine pieces typically range from 3-10 minutes long. Nearly all contributors read their narration from a script. Our producers and art department work closely with contributors to create unforgettable multimedia stories, which are accompanied by images, audio, or film, and can include music, or props, or require audience participation.

Here are some of the things we’re particularly interested in.

Here are some of the ways we like to tell stories.

Here Are Some Examples From Past Shows.

Short stories (3-5 minutes):

“Hacked!” – the story of a writer who became friends with a hacker who stole his Facebook identity, told in words and screenshots of the exchanges.

“One Breath” – a 3:38-second audio profile of a freediver that was the exact length of her record-breaking dive. The story involved audience participation — “How long can you hold your breath?” as well as lighting cues that mimicked the underwater descent into darkness.

“Embracing Trumponomics” – a timely and satirical exploration of Trump’s budget priorities accompanied by animations.

“The Polaroid Kidd” – a funny story, told in photography and film, of what happened to the subject of a beautiful photograph immediately after the photograph was taken.

“Note on a New Era” – a dispatch — in the form of a reported poem — from Obama’s farewell speech and Trump’s inauguration with a series of animations that build along with the poem.

“Icons” – a first public look at the notebook of Susan Kare, in which, decades ago, she sketched her designs for the original Apple Computer icons.

“Lost and Found” – interviews with Lost and Found managers at public and cultural institutions across the Bay Area, gathering their funniest anecdotes of items left behind or reunited with their owners.

“You Are Here” – a sealed envelope given to everyone at the theater entrance is revealed to contain a braille map of the neighborhood. The theater lights go down, and the audience tries to find the theater on the map, while listening to audio of a blind scientist, the inventor of the map, about navigating a city without sight.

“Assembling Tom Hanks” – a Pixar director took the audience behind the scenes to show the process of editing 13 seconds of Toy Story dialogue from an astounding number of takes.

“Winning Streak” – a reported, seven-point list on how to successfully streak a professional sports game, based on interviews with stadium security guards (and featuring a surprise streaker).

“Sing at Your Own Risk” – a countdown of the 5 most hated (even violence-inducing) karaoke songs, culminating in a sing-along — with the entire audience — of the No.1 most hated karaoke jam.

Longer stories (6-12 minutes):

“Notes from the Border” – a haunting dispatch from the border between the U.S. and Mexico told through the items left behind by immigrants, and accompanied by original music performed on instruments made from those objects by a composer/musician.

“Deadlift” – the story of a man in his 80s, a mostly sedentary intellectual his whole life, who becomes a world champion power lifter in his old age. Then the story takes a poignant turn, and the hero appears onstage in a surprise cameo appearance.

“Party Band” – the story of the official house band of the Black Panthers, accompanied by lost archival recordings and audio of the men reuniting for the first time in decades.

“High Five” – a winding narrative on the surprisingly contested story of the origin of a gesture you’d never expect to start a fight.

“Add as Friend” – a military prison guard returns from Iraq and begins looking up and connecting with former detainees on Facebook, in hopes of making amends.

“Blind Date” – a love story by a blind woman and a seeing man, which takes a turn after they’ve gotten married…when the man begins to lose his sight.

“War Fare” – a history of how war and international conflict have affected the flavors on your plate, uniquely demonstrated with flavored marshmallows included in the show’s program.

“Dirty Birds” – a dispatch by a writer and a photographer from a remote town in Alaska being terrorized by bald eagles, examining what that means for local residents (Scary!), and what it says about our national character (Sad!).

“Head in the Clouds” – a profile of a man with no short-term memory who relies on his smartphone as his only tether to the world, told by a writer and an innovative live shadow theater troupe.

“Queer Habits” – a documentary told in film and still photography about a small agricultural town divided between conservative residents and a local order of queer drag nuns, and the bingo game that brought them together.

“True Conviction” – after serving decades in prison for crimes they did not commit, three exonerated men form a detective agency dedicated to freeing other wrongfully convicted prisoners.

“Cold Case” – an animated and audio-rich story of a woman who froze to death in a skiing accident, only to be revived many hours later, and how she influenced the way doctors think about hypothermia and the definition of death.

“Customer Slurvice” – a radio producer collects voicemails left on customer service lines from a variety of liquor companies. Hilarity ensues.

“The Opera Singer” – a documentary film about a Broadway performer’s descent into addiction and homelessness and his hopes for redemption, accompanied by a performance by the singer.


Past contributors have included writers such as Alice Walker, Michael Pollan, Susan Orlean, Steven Johnson, Rebecca Solnit, Jenna Wortham, Jon Ronson, Farhad Manjoo, Doreen St. Félix, Lindy West, Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, William Finnegan, Daniel Alarcón, Jon Mooallem, Peggy Orenstein, Mary Roach, Mychal Denzel Smith, Dana Goodyear, William Langewiesche, Samin Nosrat, Daniel Handler, Alexis Madrigal, Davy Rothbart, and Yiyun Li. Filmmakers such as Ava DuVernay, Alex Gibney, Barry Jenkins, Chris Milk, Steven Okazaki, Amanda Micheli, Lee Unkrich, Phil Lord, Chris Miller, Marah Strauch, and Sam Green. Radio producers such as Roman Mars, Ira Glass, Jad Abumrad, the Kitchen Sisters, Tracy Clayton & Heben Nigatu, Joe Richman, Brittany Luse, Eli Horowitz, Starlee Kine, Stephanie Foo, Youth Radio, Al Letson, Nishat Kurwa, Kelly McEvers, Glynn Washington, and Molly Webster. Photographers such as Larry Sultan, Katy Grannan, Jim Goldberg, Autumn de Wilde, Matt Black, Gillian Laub, Richard Misrach, Tabitha Soren, Lucas Foglia, Corey Arnold, Trevor Paglen, Cheryl Dunn, Alec Soth, and Todd Hido. Artists and actors such as Beck, John C. Reilly, Kumail Nanjiani, Sasheer Zamata, Phoebe Robinson, Marc Bamuthi Joseph, Shawn Colvin, Devendra Banhart, Gillian Jacobs, Lil B, Wendy MacNaughton, Thao Nguyen, the Kronos Quartet, John Doe, Bethany Cosentino, Jason Polan, and Shamir. Among many, many others.


Send a description of the idea (ideally a few paragraphs) to

If the pitch is for a story, please describe the characters and tell us a bit about what happens and what you think it might all mean. If it’s non-narrative, like a list, let us know what kinds of examples we can expect and what they add up to. If it’s a photo story, share a few images. Same goes for audio and film.

Thanks so much. We’re really excited to hear from you.