Matthew James likes a spectacle. In 2009 when he was 10, he began creating his own by entertaining family and friends during the holidays at his home in Upper Saddle River. Years went on and the production progressed; culminating in “Fun and Fame,” the December 2019 show at the Cavallini Middle School.
“The show’s format is concert-like,” says Matthew. “I like to produce a series of different performances with an overarching theme.” December’s show was an artist tribute, featuring performers celebrating celebrities like Dolly Parton, Elvis, Nicki Minaj and Lady Gaga.
The opportunity to perform at the school auditorium allowed Matthew to build upon his idea of a truly immersive show, where the audience sits within the performance. Through the use of platforms located around the venue, performers have the ability to “pop-up” throughout the space.
Matt’s shows have grown over the years to ensembles of over 38 cast and crew ranging in age from 7 to 65. Backstage logistics demand make-up, costume and hair changes that must be done in minutes, and Matt gamely organizes the process with color-coded spreadsheets. He creates unique and original parody videos including his own version of “Home Alone” for the audience to enjoy in between scenes.
Matt loves working with kids and adults of all ages and views performance as an activity where everyone feels like they belong. “I love creating a team of professionally-minded volunteers,” he says. “They realize the importance of their job as part of the team, and show up to do it.” The cost of such a production runs high and ticket sales are a big part of recouping expenditures. The challenge is ever looming to break even by maintaining the delicate balance of business versus creativity. Fundraising and sponsorship opportunities may soon become a part of future productions.
A 2019 graduate of Northern Highlands, Matt currently attends NYU. He has no formal music, dance or acting experience aside from two years of piano lessons.
“Seeing this all come alive is amazing,” he says. “I love the process of putting together music and dance and seeing people enjoying what I create. Watching kids and adults immersed in the process creates a purpose for me and many others.”
When asked if this will continue to be a yearly event, Matt replies, “I keep a list of problems that come up throughout the rehearsals and production of the show. If I can solve them, there’s no reason not to do it again next year!”