Welcome to A Perry Good Time, Alex Perry's weekly blog about her experience being a fall intern for BRAVO!. We love our intern blogs and hope you enjoy following Alex!
September 26 - September 30, 2016
As a TWC student, I have various assignments I need to complete in addition to my work at BRAVO!. One of these assignments is having an informational interview with somebody in my field who I admire. Enter Bret Freedman. After approaching Nancy about this assignment and asking for some guidance as to who to contact, Nancy immediately thought of Bret as someone she highly respects in the industry. BRAVO! has worked closely with Bret over the years, both previously while she was at The Mandarin, and now currently at Dock 5, an over 12,000 square foot industrial event venue in Washington, DC. For someone with little events background and a desire to learn about all aspects of the industry, I thought that meeting someone with a wide range of experience in events and a key partner for BRAVO! would be a great learning experience… And she works at Union Market… sign me up!
Ok, Bryan said… around the back of Union Market… red carpet stairs… red carpet stairs… I peered behind a truck and looked up at stairs (no, no red carpet) that went two or three stories up to an unmarked door. I was trying really – I mean really – hard to be casual as big, burly men loaded up trucks from the warehouses next door. I walked a little further down the road, hoping the rain wouldn’t start again, when I noticed 6 red stairs leading up to an unassuming looking warehouse. Well… I guess this is it. I wandered into Dock 5 and was floored. Before me was a warehouse, yes. Concrete floors, exposed pipes, you name it. But it was like something out of a dream. The twinkling lights strung from support beam to support beam and the rough exterior both came together to create a space that was aggressively industrial, yet seamlessly warm. It was a unique, blank canvas for an event of any kind. And there, before me, was Bret Freedman.
Bret Freedman is a go-getter. Growing up in Connecticut, Bret came down to the District for her time in undergrad at American University where she majored in public communications. “I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life, and it seemed like a nice, general thing to focus on at the time,” Bret admitted very honestly. Graduating from college, Bret decided to move to the Greater New York area to be closer to home. Unfortunately, she couldn’t plan or prepare for what happened next. “I came out of undergrad and got an internship at Lincoln Center in New York,” Bret explained. “My start date?” she paused, “September 11, 2001.” She walked me through her time trying to find work as a new college grad in a country faced with the beginning of a recession and a growing fear. After finding a job as a meeting planner, Bret realized her love for certain skills and activities that turned out to be the building blocks of events.
Bret started to volunteer on the side for other events work to gain more hands on experience. Once she took a job at Revlon, Bret began to dive into events full time. She worked for a few years, building her skill set and becoming close with her boss and now continuous mentor. After leaving Revlon and beginning to freelance, she started really focusing on VIP entertainment and schmoozing. Her experiences led her to grad school where she received a degree in organizational change management from the New School. “I figured out what I was good at and then learned how to find solutions. I realized those were the skills I needed to move forward,” she said. Coming out of grad school, Bret faced a similar situation she had faced graduating from undergrad: another recession. “I don’t know what it’s like to graduate into having the job you know you want. Both times I graduated into a recession. I only know what it’s like to be broke and scared,” Bret admits. But these are the moments that shaped Bret Freedman and led her to take the leap to get to where she is today.
Bret moved back to the District 6 years ago, taking a job with the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. “I handed them my resume and told them to put me where they thought my skills would fit,” Bret explained, “and that’s how I ended up the catering manager of Mandarin.” It was here that she started to sell venues. By the time she left the Mandarin, Bret had flawlessly worked as the senior catering manager while also managing to completely revamp the hotel’s wedding program. While she loved her job at Mandarin, and she was good at it, too, Bret knew it was time for her to move on to a new challenge. When the opening at Union Market Dock 5 came up, she realized it was something to fight for.
Currently, Bret runs and operates everything that has to do with Dock 5. And when I say everything, I mean she quite literally does it all: marketing, selling, and operating. Now, there’s a formula for booking the space. Bret has not only created new business, she has also planned and organized her way to safeguard for the future. Corporate events? Weekdays. Weddings? Weekends. “Before, everyone was seeing this industrial space as only corporate. We do everything here now,” Bret explained. She walked me through her thought-process in figuring out that if one event type realized the industrial look wasn’t “in style” anymore, she had expanded her clientele enough to continue to have business. Dock 5 would continue to be relevant.
Bret Freedman is a go-getter, but she’s also a powerhouse. She’s a one-woman production team, and hot damn, does she know how to sell a venue. (To top it all off – she also has begun teaching summer classes at the Georgetown Grad School of Hospitality. I KNOW.) But the thing about Bret isn’t that she’s smart or driven or organized or busy, no. I mean, she is ALL of those things – but it’s something more. Bret is passionate about her work, and has a natural desire to create. Now, at Dock 5, she is drawn to an industrial, blank canvas that doesn’t fit the mold. A place that she is managing to put, like she has before, on everyone’s radar. “Too often in Washington everything is museums and politics, museums and politics. Every events space is the same. Everything is ‘finished’,” Bret explained, “this is different.”
I’m not really sure what I want to do when I graduate from school in May. I jump around all the time. Fundraising? Communications? Stage lighting? EVENT PLANNING? I really don’t know. But after meeting with Bret, and then Nancy and my TWC internship supervisor, Kathleen, the next morning, I feel so much more relieved. Here were three successful women sitting before me, and all three of them admitted that they didn’t even know what they had wanted to do at my age. What’s that cheesy saying? “It’s about the journey, not the destination?” I’m just lucky to be meeting people along the way who make my journey such a positive one.
Above, find photos from BRAVO!’s most recent event at Dock 5: A Vintage Affair. Check out my blog next week, friends!