Mark Hopkins: Today’s Notable Young Entrepreneur

Mark Hopkins is one of the busiest people around Calgary and you’ve probably encountered him in one capacity or another. When he’s not running his theatre company (Swallow-a-Bicycle) you can find Mark spending his time volunteering for many different organizations. For Mark, groups like Calgary Arts Development, Calgary 2012, ArtsVote, and artsScene are initiatives that look at the big picture of the cultural scene. They help to give artists and cultural workers a collective voice, and are hopefully helping to build capacities to bring the entire sector forward.


Mark is also the mastermind behind the regular event called ‘We Should Know Each Other’, which started back in 2008. We Should Know Each Other is an exercise in reaching outside of our comfort zone to meet new people who are, well, not exactly like you. Mark said the whole point of the event is to break down the silos that so many of us have created for ourselves. He was tired of looking around and seeing such a diverse and interesting mix of people who didn’t’ have any connection. As Mark puts it, “I didn’t know what to do about it, so I decided to start inviting strangers to my living room to meet each other… and that’s how We Should Know Each Other was born!”

And to top it all off, Mark is also a contributor for FFWD. His monthly column, which many of you have probably read, is called the “Discomfort Zone” and has Mark putting himself in the most uncomfortable situations possible. In his early 20s, Mark came up with the life philosophy, “If it’s not scary, it isn’t worth doing,” which is kind of the basis for the column. His hope is that his articles will inspire readers to also step outside of their comfort zones every once in a while. To date, Mark credits Power-kiting on a frozen lake and attending a Cuddle Party as his two most uncomfortable of situations. 

But back to his day job…

Elevator Pitch: Describe your business in a nutshell.
Swallow-a-Bicycle Theatre creates fearless site-specific theatre in Calgary, enriching the lives of artistic thrill-seekers with performances that push boundaries in unusual spaces!

Why did you start your business, what was the inspiration?
Prior to starting Swallow-a-Bicycle, I worked with a now-defunct company called Bubonic Tourist that was doing all the coolest, edgiest, wildest performance work in the city. When that company folded, Charles Netto and I had the sense that something was missing… so we created Swallow-a-Bicycle to give ourselves and other artists a place to experiment and challenge ourselves.

What is the best part of what you do on a day-to-day basis? The most challenging part?
The best part is that every day is different. I might write a new script, or teach a site-specific performance workshop, or research land use bylaws, or roll around in yoga pants, or hang out with a Member of Parliament. Even bookkeeping can be kinda fun, if it’s not all the time.

The biggest challenge is the same as you’d hear from any non-profit or arts group. We’re always scraping for resources, whether it’s money, space, time, staff, whatever. It also gets pretty tiring to constantly defend our industry and my career choices. There are a lot of misconceptions about the arts sector, and I’m happy to help clear them up, but it can be exhausting.

Where do you see your business going in five years?
A huge part of our theatre practice is about community – after all, the core essence of a play is getting people together for a shared experience! I hope, in five years, we’ll find new ways for our artistic work to intersect with different communities. We already have a play that’s performed in coffee shops. What would happen if we teamed up with a bank, or a recreation centre?

What does success look like to you?
Success is challenging the status quo and, where necessary, shifting it. It’s easy to get caught up in the endless day-to-day details but, as a society, we’re faced with huge challenges. When we can look beyond ourselves and do something that makes the world a better place, even in small ways, that’s success.

What is the most memorable milestone in your career?
Oh man, that’s tough! I was incredibly proud of We Should Know Each Other #100 – it was such an awesome confluence of the things that make Calgary great. We filled the King Edward School with 2,500 people and 50+ local organizations as part of Alberta Culture Days and Doors Open YYC. There was a balloon room, a hoverboard, a slow dance party… it was rad.

Do you have any advice for other young professionals?
Be bold. You might think you’re “too young” or “too inexperienced” to do the things you want. Says who? Shoot high. Be badass. Change the world. Who else is going to do it?

Do you support any charities? If so, which one(s) and why is that important to you?
The ALS Society of Alberta has been a huge support to my family, so I try to return the favour. My father, uncle and great-uncle all died of ALS, and I have a 50% chance of eventually being diagnosed, so this cause is quite personal.

I’ve also been lucky enough, through the Slow Dance Party, to learn about the Calgary Sexual Health Centre and Camp fYrefly, which are incredible organizations with great youth programs. And, of course, pretty much every arts group in town is a charity. Support local arts!

What is Notable to you?
People that take risks and shake things up!

Blackberry, iPhone, Android, or Other?
I use an iPhone, but I don’t think the brand of device particularly matters as long as it helps me stay connected to awesome people and the zeitgeist of the city!

How do you keep active, energetic, and vibrant?
Ugh, some days I wonder the same thing! I thrive on conversations with inspiring people. I love walking the Bow River pathway… and it’s always fun to step outside of my comfort zone, with a Cuddle Party or whatnot.

Photo by Citrus Photography

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