A couple years ago, Harrison Forman was living and working in San Francisco and dating around, as many twenty-somethings do, but he was doing it differently: he was broadcasting his dates via Facebook live.
Forman, who was working at Facebook at the time, was using the company’s new technology to date in a new way.
He would go live before the date, often using the “selfie-cam,” considering outfit options, give a “Halftime Report” from the bathroom (not so different from the mid-date text report we millennials so often share with our friends), and a “Recap Q&A” afterwards.
Eventually, his practice went viral. Thousands of people tuned into Facebook Live to see how his dates were going. Men were reaching out to him saying that his Facebook Live content was the first they’d seen of a guy openly talking about relationships. None of the content, Forman said, was offensive, just self-deprecatingly funny and relatable—making his Facebook Live feeds sharable content. He never shared the identities of the women he went out with.
Shortly after that, nevertheless, once word about his airing his personal dating life publicly got out, dates started to cancel on Forman. The jig was up.
Or so he thought.
About a year ago, Brandon Berman, a friend of Forman’s was sitting in the audience of a show on Broadway watching a moment on stage that depicted a date when he had a thought.
“I was like, wait, what if we did what Harrison was doing in front of an audience?” said Berman.
He called Forman that same night and proposed his idea. They would construct a live show with the same kind of setup that Forman had created for his broadcasts. There would be the pre-date, the date, the halftime report and the postdate. All in the period of two hours.
Forman moved across the country to New York to get started on the project in September. The two put on their first show in the basement of a taqueria in November and UpDating was born. Since then, they’ve put on 22 shows, all in New York, with four to come in May and they are currently booking their summer lineup.
UpDating presents a blind date during which the audience helps choose the course of the date by sending direct messages via Instagram to the hosts, suggesting questions, making comments and voting. They’ve even voted off one of the dates in favor of replacing him or her with another candidate.
Think of “The Bachelor.” Think of “Black Mirror.” Now, imagine the two shows combined, in front of a live audience—that’s what UpDating is like, Forman said.
Forman and Berman have created an entertainment experience that takes elements of modern dating and combines those with the elements of dating that are missing for millennials most such as face to face contact in a romantic world currently dominated by dating applications.
According to Business of Apps in 2018, there were 50 million active worldwide users on Tinder, worldwide. And Tinder isn’t the only popular dating app. Hinge, which is also owned by Tinder’s parent company, Match Group, which owns OkCupid, Match, OurTime.com and other dating services as well. Even Facebook, with its estimated 2.5 billion users according to TechCrunch, has announced that it is interested in starting its own dating service—it’s already rolled out a program in several countries outside the United States, including Colombia, Canada, Argentina, Mexico, Thailand and others, according to Wired.
But what is online dating lacking? Human contact.
“At the end of the day, we crave being around people,” said Forman.
Here’s the rundown of how UpDating satisfies that craving:
Before the show, Forman and Berman market the show on Instagram, send a newsletter out via email. They also host casting calls and lock in the daters, both male and female, about a week in advance.
During the show, there is a predate in which each dater comes in front of the audience to introduce themselves separately—and sometimes, there are multiple daters presented, (for example, three men might be voted on) and the audience can vote as to who starts the date off. Berman, who hosts the show, asks the dater a series of questions and the audience can chime in with advice.
Then comes part one of the date—essentially, it’s a first date except with Berman occasionally interjecting in from behind the scenes and Harrison communicating with the audience, often through Instagram DMs.
Sometimes they have a musical guest after the first date—which provides the only chance the daters have to talk privately.
Every show they have a halftime report—each dater is alone in front of the audience to share their thoughts on how the date is going, if there is chemistry, and so on. They share if they want to continue to “Date Part Two.” Then, the audience pipes in, do they want the date to continue to part two or not?
If the audience votes through DMs via Instagram to keep both daters on, and both agree, then the date moves to Part Two. Berman said that Part Two is basically accelerated dating, it becomes much more intimate than a first date. Before it begins, the audience votes on more serious topics for the daters to discuss and the setting is made to be more intimate too, with a loveseat brought in and soft music playing in the background.
Finally comes the post-date, in which the audience votes whether there should be a true second date, offstage or if the daters should kiss—which has happened multiple times, according to Forman.
The show is wrapped up with the announcement of the verdict of the future of the onstage couple. And after the show is done—an after party begins for everyone at the venue.
Not only have couples met onstage and continued to date but people are actually meeting in the audience too, according to Berman and Forman. Watching two people on a first date on stage, Berman said, makes it a lot less intimidating to go up to someone you think is cute to talk to them.
Now, they’re experimenting with matchmaking for the audience. They’re giving audience members the option to be matched to meet at the after party.
“More and more audience members are sharing their disdain for dating apps and interest in connecting with matches at our shows,” said Forman.
Forman and Berman aren’t trying to fight the digital factor though—they are working with it by including technology and social media as elements of their show. Berman hosts the show while Forman monitors DMs coming through the show’s Instagram account and they chime in accordingly.
“The audience knows,” said Berman. “They know if a relationship will work.”
People, Berman said, tend to pick up on chemistry. He added that, in his own dating experience, he’s been on a date that he thought was going really well when in actuality, it wasn’t. The audience though, will deliver the truth, he said.
Sam Nedimyer, who was in attendance at one of the UpDating shows, when the audience decided to give one of the daters on stage the boot. He ended up replacing him.
“At halftime, they open it up so anyone can DM the UpDating Instagram handle and try to replace one of the daters,” Nedimyer said. “I guess my smooth line sealed the deal and I got my chance with her [the other dater] on stage. I think I wrote something like ‘Does she wanna keep talking to this boy, or is she ready to move on to a man?’ Cheesy, I know.”
At the time, Nedimyer said that he was already going on two to three dates weekly and that he has no shame so thought, “Why not?”
He said that normally he believes he’s pretty witty on first dates but the bright lights and the stage made him a little nervous. It was especially awkward when he walked through a crowd of the original dater’s friends—they booed him as he got on stage and later voted him off. He thinks he handled the “walk of shame” as he called it, off the stage, quite well.
As for his surprise date, he thought she was nice, and cute, but he didn’t feel a connection.
Though he didn’t find love onstage, Nedimyer said that he thinks what Berman and Harrison are doing is great. “I love how the show is interactive and they do a tremendous job on Instagram. They’re really on to something by combining technology, shows, and dating all in one bundle.”
Eventually, their goal is for the show to spread. Forman said he imagines UpDating parties all over the country, creating a different kind of bar experience where people don’t feel shy about approaching each other.
“I think in dating, we’re rebelling,” Forman said. “That’s only going to continue to get bigger and bigger.”