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How Vulture Festival Is Upending the Magazine Pop-Culture Event Model

New York magazine's head of experiential discusses the pop-culture festival's new slate of fun and interactive events, its expanded activations, and its move to Los Angeles.

The cast of Hulu's Difficult People performed a live table reading at last year's Vulture Festival, which returns to New York this weekend.
The cast of Hulu's Difficult People performed a live table reading at last year's Vulture Festival, which returns to New York this weekend.
Photo: Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Vulture Festival

Since its launch in 2014, New York magazine's Vulture Festival has engaged its readers, along with pop-culture fanatics, with live, editor-curated panels and one-on-one interviews featuring creators and actors from popular TV shows, films, and podcasts. The upcoming fourth edition of the pop-culture festival, which will take place in New York May 20 to 21, is slated to be its biggest ever.

According to Pam Norwood, New York's head of experiential, the festival has tripled the number of events since its inception and sold twice as many Vulture passes as it did in 2016. But the festival also has evolved its content, as this year's edition will offer a variety of interactive TV show-related events that go beyond the typical onstage panel. 

The festival, which will attract Vulture readers and general pop culture fanatics to venues including Milk Studios, West Edge, and the Standard, High Line, still will have its fair share of standard live panels. Events include discussions with the casts of timely TV shows, including Jane the Virgin, Riverdale, and Shameless, as well as interviews with high-profile actors such as Aziz Ansari, Connie Britton, and Michael Shannon.

The current political climate has inevitably been infused into the festival as well, with events including an interview with Donald Trump impersonator Anthony Atamanuik and an "In Conversation" event with Stephen Colbert and Frank Rich. 

But other TV events include a pajama brunch with the cast of Playing House, a pinot noir tasting with Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt star Tituss Burgess, and Saturday Morning Cartoons, where animated voice actors will read scenes from classic films. Norwood says the additions of these out-of-the-box events, which infuse Vulture's quirky style, are what sets the festival apart from other similarly structured events that also are curated by entertainment magazine and website editors.

"Vulture is a website for people who are complete super fans. The content created by our editors is so innovative and so different and reflects the brand so well. Our voice is wonderfully wonky, and all of that is reflected in the approach we take," says Norwood. "We take these A-list people in entertainment and present them in a way that's completely unexpected, fun, and surprising. The real magic in it for our guests is they get to see their heroes let their hair down."

Event sponsor TNT is promoting its upcoming shows, Claws and Will, with interactive pop-up culinary events that will offer sets designed to reflect the shows, where attendees can enjoy meals with the casts. Claws, a nail salon dramedy, will feature a three-course brunch from Top Chef winner chef Brooke Williamson, while Will, a drama about young William Shakespeare, will offer a dinner by chef Jamie Bissonette, co-chef and co-owner of Toro. "This was the brainchild of our TNT partners. We love this concept because it marries food with celebrity chefs and the cast," explains Norwood. "You get to have brunch or dinner with the cast of a show that's about to come out."

The festival also will have an expanded lineup of activations at the AT&T Vulture Lounge at High Line Stages, including those from returning sponsors AT&T, TNT, and Citi, contributing sponsors including Heineken and Bridge Lane, and Vulture's sister websites Grub Street and the Strategist. Norwood explains that one notable activation from Grub Street is a live version of its ongoing editorial feature "Absolute Best," which highlights five New York restaurants and bars that offer the best of a specific food or drink. 

"We worked with the editors and came up with an 'Absolute Best' list," says Norwood. "We're doing two- to three-hour cameos [for our winners] such as the 'Absolute Best Bagel' from Fred's at Barneys and the 'Absolute Best Babka' from Bread's Bakery. For short periods of time, people can come in and sample what we consider to be the best."

Vulture Festival hasn't just grown in terms of content; it's also expanding to a new location. The event's first Los Angeles edition will take place November 18 to 19 at the Hollywood Roosevelt. Norwood explains that it was only natural to bring the festival to a city that's home to most of its speakers, and one that's full of pop-culture fans. "We're going to launch in L.A. with a more contained program," she says. "We're going to gauge that and see where that goes."

Norwood adds that for the future, based on how the event grows in L.A., Vulture is toying with the idea of bringing miniature versions of the festival to different markets.