Films, gigs and yoga mark a new breed of pop-up
The people behind Happenings wait for a sunny day and then announce an event on Facebook with only hours to spare
A Happenings screening of ‘The Big Lebowski’ at Fitzwilliam Square in Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
The notion of the pop-up is old news. The chichi boutique; the concept store selling sugar bowls in 12 varieties; the molecular Spanish gastronomy- meets-sushi bar. They are hyped by cultural commentators, appear for a few weeks in appropriately dilapidated locations and then disappear, leaving no trace bar empty cardboard boxes and the lingering taste of sashimi paella.
However, over the past few years, a new breed of pop-up has been asserting itself. Happenings, created by Peter O’Brien, has been putting on open-air events in public spaces since 2011 but only landed upon a winning formula last summer, capitalising on a mass social media presence.
“Our perception of social media is somewhat skewed: we believe it has been functioning the way it does currently for far longer than it actually has,” says O’Brien. “Its potent ability to gather people instantly has actually only taken hold very recently. It was that shift in the use of social media, and this new cult of spontaneity, which has enabled Happenings to be as successful as it is.”
The Happenings strategy is simple: organisers wait for a sunny day and announce an event to their 24,000-strong Facebook following with only hours to spare.
About 10 hours’ notice is usually give, although O’Brien says that is set to decrease. Hundreds turned out to watch Labyrinth, David Bowie’s foray into cinema; punters were packed in during a showing of Finding Nemo on Hanover Quay; and queues could have wrapped twice around Merrion Square for the screening of Grease.
Adapt or die
Happenings has proven adaptable: it has broadened this summer to include live music gigs, yoga circles and mindfulness sessions. The formula has the chameleon potential to extend to all manner of open-air events, from gastronomy and exercise to children’s events and theatre.
Most of the small fee paid by each attendee goes towards the maintenance of Dublin’s green spaces. Although Happenings is not a non-profit scheme, it has an altruistic dedication to sustainability.
This new style of pop-up event transcends the spontaneity and ephemeral nature of those that went before. The tone and target audience of the scheme could not be more dissimilar. Instead of exclusivity, Happenings epitomises democracy. Instead of guest lists and advance ticketing, Happenings functions with Twitter alerts and first-come-first-served pragmatism.
Also targeting the Twitter generation is Salt Lick, a weekend dining pop-up that has turned the fact it lacks an alcohol licence to its advantage by instigating a bring-your-own- cocktail scheme, whereby diners bring their own spirits, which are mixed into cocktails for a few euro.
In a city where cocktail prices are frequently exorbitant, this BYOC idea is attractive.
With all this Twitter targeting comes a resolute championing of nostalgia.
Aside from the occasional nod to the last decade (take a bow Finding Nemo and Fantastic Mr Fox), the Happenings popcorn flavour of choice has been decidedly retro.
Perhaps it’s the sign of a lost generation, or maybe it’s that 22 Jump Street was just a bit rubbish, but a grand swathe of twentysomethings would prefer to rewatch Ferris Bueller’s Day Off than scope out the latest blockbuster sequel.
As much as Happenings appears to play to the young, the bored and the fast, the format has been there since Danny took Sandy to the drive-in.
Devotees of Happenings span from the teenagers dressed up like Molly Ringwald to the octogenarian who still vividly remembers falling head- over-heels for Marilyn Monroe in 1959. Another important levelling factor is the alcohol-free clause in the leave-no-trace ecological policy, part of O’Brien’s mission to transpose public social spaces from the pub to the park.
It is oddly comforting to think that the essential pleasure derived from sitting in a park watching a movie on a big screen hasn’t changed at all, even if the nostalgic tint is entirely provided by your careful choice of Instagram filter.