The wildly pop-ular Pop-Up Magazine (Fri/20 in San Francisco, Sat/21 in Oakland) is a Bay Area wonder that’s grown to appear in cities all over the country. It’s also, as many hundreds of attendees can attest, not quite a magazine at all. Rather, it’s a wide-ranging, multimedia evening of storytelling, presentations, reportage, art, performance, and other hijinks—extremely well-curated: a live magazine, if you will. In the past, I’ve been brought to the edge of both tears and my seat at Pop-Up nights, and left humming a few good tunes (from “contributors” like the great Thao Nguyen and Kronos Quartet) to boot.

Now, the Pop-Up Magazine event is formally collaborating with an actual magazine, California Sunday, for the first time, and presenting its first ‘themed issue,’ called ‘Escape.’ Featuring Jordan Carlos (writer for HBO’s Divorce), poet Sarah Kay (founder of Project VOICE), musician Left at London, SF-based photographer Lucas Foglia, and more, it promises to expand upon the notion of getting away that’s taken hold of the culture—from corporate escape rooms and digital detoxes to not-so-sci-fi trans-humanism.

In advance of this week’s Bay Area Pop-Up events, I spoke with senior producer and co-host Aaron Edwards about how the theme came about, how contributors are selected, and what we can look forward to on a night “devoted to escapes big and small, daring and mundane, physical and mental.”

Former Pop-Up Magazine contributor Michelle Buteau onstage. Photo by Jon Snyder

48 HILLS Hi, Aaron! This is the first themed Pop-Up Magazine—what made you decide to take on a theme this time around?

AARON EDWARDS Hey, there! So, this show was co-produced with The California Sunday Magazine. Pop-Up Magazine and California Sunday to me are like really tight but independent siblings—we share a family and an identity, but also do our own thing.

I’m based in New York, but in our San Francisco office the editors for both teams are always in the same room. Ideas flow naturally between them. And stories that end up in the magazine might also end up in the show, or vice versa.

After several years of growing alongside each other, it felt like the right time to dive into a full collaboration. A unifying theme for both entities was an ideal way to set the stage for intentional crossover. Anita Badejo and Raha Naddaf, the executive editors for Pop-Up and California Sunday respectively, came up with a theme that lent itself to a wide range of stories. And then we were off!

48H What inspired the “escape” theme, and how is it particularly relevant to our moment?

AE This feeling of wanting to escape from something or to somewhere is so core to life today. We’re approaching a major election and many of us would love to take a breath from the barrage of political discourse. As technology continues to usurp aspects of our lives, the impetus to break free of it grows stronger. Just think of the boom of apps created with the sole purpose of getting you to…stop using your apps. And when was the last time you went on a vacation that really felt like a vacation?

There’s truth and intensity to the ways people go about their escapes, either out of necessity or desire. There’s humor and sorrow in the ways people succeed or fail while in pursuit. And nestled within each of those emotions and driving factors is a story. The theme presented opportunities for a ton of angles. And in the context of a print/online publication and a live show, it satisfied needs for a mix of seriousness and levity that both teams value.

48H What was the process for choosing participants—was it different with a theme?

AE There’s a lot more focus when it comes to story selection and ideation with a theme. When I’m approaching people for Pop-Up, our conversations around ideas might begin with us talking about their personal interests and obsessions, and seeing if there are stories of any ilk buried in there.

This time around, as a producer, I wanted to make sure potential contributors were at least in the sandbox of the theme in our brainstorms, while also giving them free range to come back to me with unusual or off-beat ideas. Escape is a malleable theme because in so many ways a lot of good stories are about movement and getting out of one circumstance into the next.

Crafting this issue, and the ideas we landed on, felt like an exercise in intention. The word escape conjures some clear touchpoints for people. Going into this collaboration, we were constantly asking ourselves: How can we make a show and magazine that leans into that familiarity but also subverts it in delightful, challenging, and unexpected ways?

Fri/20: Sydney Goldstein Theater, SF 
Sat/21: Paramount Theatre, Oakland
Tickets and more info here.