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Pop Up Magazine's Maureen Towey

Maureen Towey, an artist working across many mediums, is the on-set director for the beloved Pop-Up Magazine. With their most recent iteration, "At Home," Towey and her team was faced with new challenges. She spoke with us about how they pivoted.

What aspects of your diverse experience have best prepared you for the translation that needs to happen right now, from real-world settings to socially distanced experiences?

Pop-Up is an inherently interdisciplinary show, so we have a staff stacked with people like myself who have mixed skill sets—between us, we have deep experience in journalism, theater, film, fashion, fine art, and lots of points in between. We're constantly learning new skills and learning from each other to keep our show innovative. When we decided to translate the show from stage to screen, we tapped the staffers who had more film experience, myself included. For the live show, I coach performers to refine and magnify their performances, but I also love doing that type of work for film, even if I'm coaching someone via a video call.

Oddly, I actually directed a project a few years back that was all about storytelling while isolated at home. We were collaborating with older people who were aging in place, so we sent them prompts through Meals on Wheels drivers and received answers via a voicemail line, which were then edited into radio. That project definitely prepared me for a creative process that needs to happen at home!

What has been lost and what has been gained in the various translation exercises you’ve been a part of since the early spring?

Obviously, for any filmed production right now, we miss the fancy cameras, a cinematographer present in the room, and a full lighting set-up. But we gain a beautiful intimacy and an endearing scrappiness in the productions that are continuing to forge ahead, despite the limiting situation. When we were working on the dance pieces for this issue of Pop-Up, we referenced Ten Tiny Dances, a series in Portland where dancers perform on a 4x4 foot stage. It felt similar to ask a world-class choreographer to make something in her bedroom. Limits can definitely breed creativity.

Are there any new approaches that you think you’ll carry forward in your work overall?

Some of our contributors were sheltering on their own, so that meant they were starring in the shoot as well as running their own camera, lights, and sound, while we coached them through it all on a long Zoom call. Remote filming can be a slow process! But we cultivated a great patience through these shoots, and I will take that with me into other work, for sure. Sometimes, the best shot is the hardest one to get.