“A playwright lives in an occupied country. He’s the enemy. And if you can’t live like that, you don’t stay. It’s tough. He’s got to be able to take a whack, and he’s got to swallow bicycles and digest them.” — Arthur Miller
As associate producer at the High Performance Rodeo; founder and host of We Should Know Each Other; co-artistic director for the most unique theatre group in Calgary — also known as Swallow-a-Bicycle — Mark Hopkins has a lot to say about the Calgary art scene, politics and just cool things to do in the city. And with the High Performance Rodeo unveiling this January, all eyes are on Mark.
freq: You’ve been made pretty famous in the city by inviting random Calgarians to your apartment for We Should Know Each Other. With over 100 events and still growing, what pushed you to start that?
Mark Hopkins: It’s when I transitioned from the literary writing world into the theatre world and none of my new friends knew any of my old friends. I started noticing that that was systemic: that you have social groupings around your workplace, interests, who you grew up with, and where you live, yet none of these things overlap. And actually that struck me as a problem and not just because you’re not meeting other people. When you’re enclosed this rigid social circle, you’re getting your ideas reflected back at you — you’re potentially not being challenged or learning about other perspectives in the world. That was the night I got the idea, and I was like, “Screw it, I’m going to invite all of Calgary to my apartment.”
freq: One of the things I’ve noticed is a pillar of yours seems to be community. Any particular reason?
MH: I do a lot of different things and people ask “why,” and it all seems to boils down to community. When I do theatre, We Should Know Each Other, and even with my political involvement, I think community is extremely important. Why? Fuck, I don’t know. Social cohesion and social engagement is how everything gets done. From major political decisions to wars to building a playground in your neighbourhood to babies being made. Where I think we’re failing right now is bridging the gap between us. Sprawl is a big problem here, it’s hard enough to meet people in your community, and then add distance and it’s impossible.
freq: How are you using your theatre company, Swallow-a-Bicycle, to bridge that gap?
MH: We stumbled upon site-specific theatre about a year into the existence of the company. We knew we wanted to do edgy, crazy theatre. We like it because we are able to engage the city in the way people aren’t expecting it. I always use the example of a Plus-15 corridor downtown. You don’t think of the Plus-15, you think about where you’re going and where you’re coming from, it’s just a way to get there. But as soon as you put an acrobat and someone on roller-skates in there, you’re changing the experience of walking through it. And people are realizing all of a sudden that you don’t need to go to a theatre to see this kind of work, you don’t need to go to a performing arts centre. It can be part of your everyday life. And hopefully, the person who saw that acrobat is now going to walk to work everyday in that Plus-15 and say, “Remember when that happened, and what if more crazy things can happen all the time, everywhere.”
freq: Over the last couple of years, you seem to be getting a lot of attention [Hopkins laughs]. Which is a good thing! I mean, Avenue Magazine, the Calgary Herald, and now Freq. It must be overwhelming to have everyone wanting to talk to you.
MH: It’s weird. But it’s nice, I’m an attention whore so, it’s nice. The past couple of months especially have been super weird because I got that Diamond Jubilee medal, and then I got the [Avenue Magazine] Top 40 Under 40. I’m in Macleans this week, which is insane. It’s cool but where it gets weird is that I feel pressure to do something with all of that. It’s like, “Okay, I got into Macleans, now what do I do?” The first one that made me really nervous was Definitely Not the Opera on CBC. Third most hardworking Calgarian? That’s not even true. I mean, you get the Diamond Jubilee medal where I get to shake the hand of the Prime Minister, who I despise, and then the next day you miss a deadline on something or your laundry bleeds so your white shirt is pink now. It’s sort of a weird contrast. But yeah I think I’m doing stuff that’s awesome, I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t think it was. And I think it’s cool that other people do too.
freq: The High Performance Rodeo. Anything interesting we can expect? The Rodeo in itself is a really unique thing to experience, but is there anything that you’re excited about?
MH: Everything. But, I’m particularly pumped because we’re doing a project called the Icelandic Heat Wave, which are four shows either from Iceland or from Icelandic roots. And Iceland is badass. We almost got Björk, but it didn’t happen. We were far down negotiations but some of the people coming are friends with her so I’m really pumped for that. It’s a really cool showcase of Icelandic culture, which is really cool because when do we get exposed to that here? Mark from Woodpigeon, and some other singer-songwriters are going to Reykjavík, Iceland for a week to hang out and jam with two local singer-songwriters there, and then all of them are coming back to jam and do a three day concert with whatever comes out of that collaboration. Along with that, we’ve got music, a visual arts exhibition, a theatre show and a dance/multimedia performance all with Icelandic roots. So, that’s going to be badass.