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Arts & Entertainment

Multimedia storytelling powerhouse Pop-Up Magazine calls it quits

Pop-Up Magazine was established in 2009 at the Brava Theater in the Mission. | Courtesy Pop-Up Magazine

Pop-Up Magazine, the “live magazine” show that brought multimedia storytelling to stages across the country, announced on Wednesday that it was suspending operations.

“We have some tough news. Pop-Up Magazine has come to an end,” the producers wrote in a message posted to the show’s website. “To everyone who created stories and art and music with us, and everyone who supported our work, and most of all everyone who enjoyed our shows: thank you.” 

A brief Q&A offered a bit more explanation for Pop-Up’s demise. Citing the slow return of live audiences, the creators said they simply ran out of money.

“A profitable, self-sustaining future was in sight,” the message stated. “But we don’t have enough money in the bank to make it.”

Founded in 2009 at the Brava Theater in the Mission District, Pop-Up typically produced two or three shows annually, each with roughly 12 stories and often with a musical accompaniment by San Francisco ensemble Magik*Magik Orchestra. Notable performers like novelist Alice Walker, actor John C. Reilly or chef Samin Nosrat would take the stage, eventually leading the company on national tours. 

From 2014 until 2020, the same creative team produced an award-winning companion print publication called California Sunday Magazine, which appeared bimonthly as an insert in The New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle and other newspapers.

Lauded for its originality and production quality, Pop-Up Magazine was similar in scope to a TED Talk, only with a stronger commitment to live performance. None of the shows—which often played to large audiences at top venues like San Francisco’s Davies Symphony Hall or Oakland’s Paramount Theatre—were recorded for posterity.  

“Everything we put on stage is original for that night,” Pop-Up co-founder Douglas McGray told SF Weekly in 2016. “So nothing is a compendium; nothing has been aired. Some people are producing stories that are special for the night; some people are taking stuff from a book in progress or a film in progress and adapting it for the night. Sometimes pieces you see onstage may have another life.”

Astrid Kane can be reached at