Over the last decade-plus, as Newark turned a corner and its renaissance has gained steam under Mayors Cory Booker and Ras Baraka, many local individuals, businesses and organizations have played key roles in the city’s long-awaited revitalization. Front and center as one of Newark’s ardent evangelists has been Igor Alves SASN’04, GSN’08, co-founder/CEO of DreamPlay Media, an award-winning creative media agency based in Newark and Lyndhurst, New Jersey.
Led by Igor, 38 and his filmmaker brother, Yuri, 36, who grew up in Newark’s Ironbound District, DreamPlay is a full-service shop specializing in brand research and strategy, creative development, graphic design and website development, email and social-media marketing, video production, and photography for some of the biggest clients in Newark and northern New Jersey, including Prudential, the New Jersey Devils, Nike, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield, Rutgers University–Newark, the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, and several government agencies.
The brothers started DreamPlay Media in 2011 with a few clients, and by 2013 it was a full-fledged operation with a growing staff and stable of freelancers. But Yuri was an independent filmmaker with a less commercial, more cinematic vision. So, in 2017 the brothers started an off-shoot called DreamPlayTV, an online visual storytelling channel featuring locally inspired award-winning films and original series. That effort initially got help from Express Newark, Rutgers-Newark’s arts incubator, which counted DreamPlayTV as one of its community partners early on.
“DreamPlay Media is our commercial shop, and with DreamPlayTV we produce intimate, cinematic-style stories about inspiring people in Newark,” said Alves. “We bring that same sensibility to some of our commercial work as well, and much of our work, whether commercial or documentary, has a socially conscious ethos, but we get to go deep with DreamPlayTV and shine a light on some of the people who make Newark what it is.”
Alves grew up in the media business. His father, Victor, who grew up in Lisbon, Portugal, and moved the family to the U.S. from Rio de Janiero, Brazil, when Alves was 5, became a household name in Newark, first selling advertising in the Ironbound, then becoming a news anchor for a local TV station, and finally by founding 24horas, the only Portuguese-language daily news publication in the U.S., serving the Portuguese and Brazilian communities in the New York and New Jersey metro area. Alves remembers going to social functions and making the rounds with his dad at as a kid.
Arriving at Rutgers-Newark as part of the Honors College in spring 2001, Alves majored in political science and minored in history, thinking he would become an academic. In fact, he started a doctoral program at City University of New York before returning to Rutgers-Newark in 2007 to complete a masters’ degree in global affairs. But the lure of the family business was too great, as was Alves’ commitment to Newark, and after a stint working for the U.S. Census Bureau’s media team in 2010, he continued acting in and producing Yuri’s films, while helping his parents run 24horas.
The rest is history. As one visit to the ExternalDreamPlay Media and ExternalTV websites will attest, with these media models Alves and his brother have created some of the most memorable campaigns and documentaries about Newark in this promising new era.
Over the last two years alone, DreamPlay Media built the official website and shot videos for the 350th anniversary of Newark, completed videos and podcasts for Prudential’s Spirit of Community Awards, worked on an internal campaign for the New Jersey Department of Transportation, and produced the official H2Q videos for the City of Newark to attract Amazon to the city, among other work.
DreamPlay also has done numerous documentary film projects with Rutgers-Newark faculty, including the Cherry Blossom in Winter installation in Branch Brook Park (2016–2017), the short film Echoes of Fado for the Newest Americans Project (2017), and most recently, for the Four Corners Public Arts and Black Lives Matter mural projects.
“It’s been great to keep up my relationship with Rutgers-Newark,” said Alves. “The professors and the administration have made efforts to those of us operating outside the faculty and institution, and that’s critical for RU-N to have relevance to alumni. I appreciate the thrust behind the university’s efforts, and I look forward to them sustaining their vision.”
COVID-19 has presented challenges for DreamPlay, as it has for so many businesses. Work dried up initially and has been slowly trickling back. But the break has given Alves time to rethink the business, and one result has been to let DreamPlay Media remain a creative agency and production house and spin off its research and strategic- and innovation-consulting side to a new entity called ExternalBoldinary, which will give him more flexibility and help drive revenue.
Alves’ other goal is to get more production and distribution backing so the company can continue its DreamPlayTV projects, which are time-consuming and costly, and distribute the work at greater scale. Meanwhile, he’ll continue to evangelize for Newark to move beyond the tired portrayals saturating the mainstream media.
“We’ve tried to shine a light on the people and organizations in Newark, in a sustained effort to tell these stories,” said Alves. “And our goal has been to change the narrative of Newark not just by telling but by showing how great this city is. Our intent is to continue doing this, telling intimate stories that resonate with those inside and beyond the city so we recast Newark as the special place that it is.”
Story originally appeared in Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences