Mark Hopkins likes to meet people. If you have never met him, I’m not sure what city you’re living in. This man has 1,400 friends on Facebook. And, in the interest of full disclosure, I should admit that I know him too. But that’s not enough for Hopkins. No, he wants to meet everybody, and he’s throwing a party to do it.
For the past two years, Hopkins has been hosting We Should Know Each Other parties in his Sunnyside apartment. Essentially, he sends out a message to 500 people on a mailing list every two weeks and whoever shows up is expected to bring someone they want to know better. Preferably that person doesn’t know Hopkins.
For the 50th incarnation of these gatherings, the Cat’s Eye Vintage building is subbing for the living room, the doors are wide open and there will be bands, conversation stations, foosball, communal Lego building and more.
“Fifty’s a big deal to me. I didn’t really ever expect to be doing this for two years,” says Hopkins. “I want to celebrate No. 50 and I’m really hoping it’s a springboard.”
New ideas are already percolating, including a We Should Know Each Other’s Parents party, and incorporating the Alberta Party’s Big Listen initiative into an event. This upcoming party, however, is more like a We Should Know Each Other for organizations. Thrive Calgary, a community economic development group, will host the conversation stations, and musicians and their networks are helping to organize entertainment — even the Telus World of Science is setting up an interactive display on myths and facts about sex and relationships.
“Really, the challenge for me has been taking the model of my living room parties and superimposing that onto a warehouse,” says Hopkins. “It’s a really different animal.”
The idea for the parties started one night after an Alberta Ballet performance at the High Performance Rodeo. Hopkins, a theatre artist, didn’t really think about elite dancers the same way he thought about actors, directors, visual artists and the like.
“Then I met the ballet dancers. They were hanging out at the bar afterwards, drinking beer and eating pizza and singing Little Mermaid show tunes and I was like, ‘You guys are awesome.’ It seems like that’s a small thing, but it sort of clicked in my mind that the art community is already so tiny and yet I had created this artificial division within it,” says Hopkins.
“So, I was like, ‘I’m not meeting people in the art community, who else am I not meeting?’”
In meeting new people Hopkins wanted to dispel certain myths. “People have such ideas about what Calgary is — we’re an oil city, we’re a capitalist city — and I’m always so fascinated to poke that and find the diversity that exists just around us.”
The parties are always different, relying on that strange alchemy of individual personalities mingling in an intimate setting. Sometimes there’s a lot of boozing. One time guests sang French folk songs. Sometimes nobody shows up. But without expectations, the parties are always a success.
“I had one party where one person showed up. People came later, but she was already gone at that point. By all standards, that’s a failure of a party, but it was really cool actually,” says Hopkins.
“We had this really intimate one-on-one conversation in my kitchen.”
One-on-one is a far cry from hordes of people (hopefully) showing up at a large venue, so how much can this friendship addict take?
“It becomes a little bit of an issue when you start forgetting people. I read a stat recently where you’re only able to have something like 300 friends. That’s your brain’s capacity on people you can actually care about. I don’t know if I agree with that or not,” he says.
“I just get so excited about meeting new people, it’s my absolute favourite thing to do.”