Pop Culture

We Crave Temporary Experiences, Popups Deliver

Personal touch is what's needed to power this exhibit at The Color Factory.
Personal touch is what's needed to power this exhibit at The Color Factory. Photo by Cody Bess courtesy of The Color Factory
Blasts of neon light with accompanying music all fueled by personal touch at The Color Factory. Bright yellow shipping container Café Bustelo slinging cortaditos and hot, crisp empanadas. A trip to the theater that’s actually located in an Airbnb to see All Through The House.

Keep these one-of-a-kind popups coming, sweetie. Sign. Us. Up.

Houston is a hotbed for popup culture, but on top of that, the interactive and immersive kind.  New experiential entertainment, as well as theater, food, retail—businesses within these markets are seeing sweet, sweet cha-ching due to high volume interest because desire attached to a vaporous lifespan is lucrative— and what's buzzing right now, in this constantly scrolling society, is what’s for dinner.

We like to touch things, taste things, submerge ourselves in bright atmospheres. We like to feel. We like to take pictures of ourselves and blast it into the social media darkspace, and if it weren’t for the ability to scroll backward it’s like what was I even doing three months ago? No clue.

Multi-sensory experiences like it’s-already-over Candytopia and it’s-happening-right-now The Color Factory generate excitement for what they are, the ‘Gram worthy TNT they bring, but also for the fact that in a few months they’ll be inaccessible.

As a social media influencer, Houston blogger Carrie Colbert toes the line when it comes to bringing attention to the hot and the new. On the growing popup culture, she explains, “People want more from a retail experience than just a transaction, blame it on social media if you want. Everyone wants to document things, they want a cute picture to post and these popups provide that in spades.” Having visited temporary, experiential shows around the country, like The Happy Place in Los Angeles or The Museum of Ice Cream in San Francisco, she particularly likes how The Color Factory embraces the community it pops up within.

The Color Factory carves out a different image than say, Candytopia, in that it isn’t the simple transference of a marshmallow ball-pit every four months, or packets of five-piece Make Your Life Sweeter multicolor caramel corn—though they do have that and it’s delicious.

Going on right now, The Color Factory HTX doesn’t have an impending end date and is a curated, thoughtful interpretation of Houston. Our Houston. From the Mango Margarita found in many a Navigation Boulevard establishment to the bluebonnets off T C Jester— to the sketchy brown waters of the Buffalo Bayou.

“We really want to be an organic extension of the city. Give back what it’s giving to us, if that relationship no longer makes sense, we want to move on,” says spokeswoman for The Color Factory, Katarina Brown.

Because aren’t interactive popups of this magnitude the polar opposite of the kind of entertainment we experienced as children? Apart from a sweet-ass, two-story Tyrannosaurus Rex at the Museum of Natural History, let’s be real, most ticketed experiences consisted of hushed observations from an arms-length away, all while the most pressing issue was—what’s for snack later.

Thanks to handheld technology: audio, visual, and not to mention every answer imaginable is momentarily accessible—it’s been like that for a solid decade. With entertainment served at firehouse speed it’s no wonder those entry-level drugs don’t do the trick anymore.

Though the theater scene has always seemed popup in nature, productions come, they go, at Dinolion shows, audience participation is commonplace and has been for years as performances like The Rabbit Cage spin conventional theater norms on their head. Owner Jeromy Barber says after experiencing Sleep No More in New York City, an example of promenade theater where the audience physically walks through a play located in an unconventional space, he decided he wanted to experiment in the same immersive fashion in Houston.

“I like the idea that the audience gets to participate. After seeing Sleep No More, I realized I want to make things that utilize those mechanics.” Dinolion describes itself as a “full blown media monster,” and has been doing its thing for the last seven years.

Last December, All Through The House, a show from Firecracker Productions, was staged in an Airbnb and had audience members feeling very fly on the wall as each act took place in a different room witnessing a “Christmas Eve” turn down starring two dads, their pre-teen daughter and son, and a surprise raunchy Santa. Which in terms of holiday entertainment, is quite the opposite from the per usual, two-hour-feels-like-seven, leotard stare down known as The Nutcracker.  Do love those tights, gentlemen.  Keep up the good work.

The Houston food scene lives and breathes popups as they serve as incubators for up-and-comers or perhaps it’s a widely known brand dropping in to say ‘ello governor. Last Spring, the robust flavors of Café Bustelo graced Houston for two-and-a-half months as snapshots fluttered across social media of the colorful shipping container it inhabited.

“With Houston’s diverse food and drink culture and eclectic arts scene, the city carries an unmatched vibe that Café Bustelo complements…Houstonians came out in droves, ordering cafecitos and empanadas to go or coronados and pastelitos to sit, savor and share,” says Eduardo Merino, Senior Brand Manager at the J.M. Smucker Company. Merino says the Container Café allows them to fashion boutique experiences as they adapt to different cities and markets.

For smaller businesses like the lifestyle brand Staffon Eugene a producer of luxury socks, owner Staffon Adams says the flexibility of short-term popups allows him to have low overhead as well as branch out to different places.

“I want a permanent space at some point, but as I grow, I want to be in contact with as many people as possible.” Adams has had six popups in the past year; in a clothing store, at a trade show, at a car dealership, and he's pleased with the coverage as well as what he learns from each experience. “[Popups] show me what I need to focus on and do differently.”

In a city as vivacious as Houston, public excitement surrounding the popup model from the next to the next to the next is as inevitable as a hamster exercising its wheel at 3 o'clock in the damn morning. It’ll never get old—for the hamster.
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