NEW HAVEN — How much can you learn about someone from knowing the smallest challenge they’ve faced this year?
For a little more than a year, friends David Weinreb and Antonietta Delli Carpini have aimed to connect singles through eccentric and playful speed dating, a project they call Elm City Speed Dating. The program will be held online for the first time this Saturday.
“Dave and I are both really passionate about connecting people and about offering safe spaces for people to be vulnerable,” Delli Carpini said.
Ordinarily, the program runs bimonthly at nightlife spots in all of the city’s neighborhoods, giving people an opportunity to mix and mingle with creative prompts — such as sharing the smallest challenge you’ve encountered — or playing games, such as guessing a password from your partner’s childhood.
After the coronavirus pandemic closed bars and restaurants across the state, the pair debated whether the program should continue.
“One of the purposes was to get away from the swiping culture of online dating or online selecting or connecting,” Weinreb said.
Delli Carpini said doing speed dating online seems to be, on the surface, more imtimate than merely interacting through digital profiles because participants will be face-to-face in some fashion.
Ultimately, Weinreb said they determined that people still would be desiring connection while in isolation, so it was worth testing out at least once.
“We’re willing to try it out if the other participants are willing to try it out,” he said.
When looking at the prompts for participants to use, Weinreb said the pair decided they could use it to their advantage. Those who spend large amounts of time on video conferencing software for work or leisure are now familiar with functions that mute participants’ microphones or allow someone to silently clap, so Weinreb and Delli Carpini developed a prompt asking participants which superpower would be better: the ability to mute anyone or to clap silently?
The program will be hosted online by At Home in New Haven. At Home in New Haven founder Anthony Allen calls it “a virtual stage and gathering place to showcase and support artists, makers, healers, nonprofits and small businesses that call and make this small city home.”
“It’s a direct response to COVID-19 that a small group of us, all volunteers from New Haven, came together to start building this space to try to reclaim some of the things that are lost into the crisis,” he said.
Participants can register online before Saturday at www.athomeinnewhaven.com. Although Elm City Speed Dating is ordinarily free — with only a reminder for daters to tip their bartender — the registration fee of $5 will go toward the New Haven Creative Sector Relief Fund. No one will be turned away for inability to pay, though, as a coupon code is available on the website.
Delli Carpini, a creative arts therapist, said supporting artists is important to her.
“I know the pandemic has affected everybody, and I think it’s affected artists and entertainers and the arts community in a really, really big way,” she said. “I wanted to use the opportunity to be able to support local artists who are out of work and don’t really have the ability to take their work online the way a lot of other industries do.”
Allen is an alumnus of Elm City Speed Dating as a past participant himself.
“I think the difference maker for them is Dave is really good at coming up with prompts and making up fun activities,” he said. “Getting to meet these folks and start to have conversations because of the prompts and activities that are set up, you get to bypass the awkward beginning of ‘what’s your name and what do you do’ and you jump into questions that are more stimulating and provoke more robust and fun conversation.”
Both Weinreb and Delli Carpini know that it will be difficult to ensure that every conversation will be a romantic one.
“One thing is we normally are mindful of gender identity and gender preference, and the activity in this format is going to be interesting because we’re going to be randomly assigning folks to breakout rooms,” Weinreb said. “This might be friend-making for some and virtual second date-inspiring for others.”
Delli Carpini said the event ordinarily takes place for two hours, with a chance for participants to mingle and get to know one another after. In cyberspace, the pair are only planning for the event to last for an hour.
“I think most of us, if not all of us, know Zoom fatigue,” she said.