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, NJ.
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. While the firm thrived on its commercial work, it also produced compelling documentaries and series showcasing the best that Newark had to offer. So, in 2017 Alves started an off-shoot called DreamPlayTV, an online channel featuring these locally inspired films and original series. That effort initially got help from Express Newark, RU-N’s arts incubator, which counted DreamPlayTV as one of its community partners early on.
“I wanted to leverage our work as living mosaic of storytelling inspired by and in collaboration with Newarkers, especially artists, changemakers and local makers,” said Alves. “I also wanted to create more cinematic content, with the goal being to showcase the city of Newark and other opportunity cities like it as the world-class communities they are through the power of visual storytelling.”
Alves sees the idea as scalable, making Newark the pilot for this type of locally inspired, premium storytelling, with the concept allowing for expansion to other opportunity cities around the country.
If Alves seems savvy, it's because he grew up in the media business. His father, Victor, who was raised in Lisbon, Portugal, and moved the family to the U.S. from Rio de Janeiro, 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 newspaper 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.
Our goal has been to change the narrative of Newark not just by telling but by showing how great this city is.
Arriving at RU-N 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 Ph.D. program at City University of New York before returning to RU-N 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 DreamPlay Media and TV websites will attest, with these media models Alves and his brother have created some of the most memorable campaigns, documentaries and series about Newark in this promising new era.
Over the last few years, DreamPlay Media built the official website and produced videos for the 350th Anniversary celebration for the city of Newark, produced the official videos for the state of New Jersey's Amazon HQ2 bid (for Newark), developed a new human-design-driven rebrand for Horizon Blue Cross/Blue Shield of NJ, and produced several videos featuring the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra.
DreamPlay also has done numerous documentary film projects with RU-N faculty, including the Cherry Blossoms in Winter installation in Branch Brook Park (2016–2017), the short film “Echoes of Fado” for Newest Americans (2017), and most recently, for the Four Corners Public Arts and Black Lives Matter mural projects.
Alves has remained connected to his alma mater in other ways as well. Last year he won an Express Newark Third Space Grant to create a DreamPlayTV streaming app for Roku, Apple TV and Amazon Fire. Since 2018 he’s sat on the selection committee for Express Newark’s Resident Partners program. And over the years he’s hired his share of graphic designers, photo assistants, and camera assistants and operators from RU-N, along with many interns.
“It’s been great to keep up my relationship with RU-N,” 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 but has been rebounding of late, so much so that Alves may meet or exceed his revenue total from last year. But the break gave 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 Boldinary, 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.”