by Lorie Lewis Ham
With Blossoms Up! opening at the Reedley Opera House this next weekend, it seemed the perfect time to take a look at the man behind its main character, Fanny Feastyoureyes, Matt Wiebe.Whether you know Matt as Fanny or one of the many other characters he has played at the Opera House over the years, or as your local pharmacist, he is the kind of person who stands out. Not only is he tall, he is very personable and charming. His larger than life personality follows him onto the stage into every character he plays. “Matt cares passionately about his performances and brings his larger than life personality to all of his roles,” shared Denise Norwood, who has worked with Matt many times over the years at the Opera House and is choreographer, costumer, actress and jack-of-all-trades for Reedley River City Theatre Co. (RCTC). She also happens to be the wife of Mark Norwood, RCTC Artistic Director.
Matt was born in Arizona but moved here with his parents at the age of four. He caught the acting bug in fifth grade when he played a really tall king of the Christmas elves in a Christmas show. In eighth grade, he was in the General Grant Drama Club and was named best actor of 1968. He continued to act through junior college and then under the direction of Mark Norwood for RCTC. “All of my work since school has been with Mark Norwood,” said Matt. “I have played so many roles I can’t name them. [My] favorite: Tevye, Fiddler On The Roof.”
“Matt gives his all to every role he plays,” stated Mark Norwood, who has worked with and been good friends with Matt for many years.
Showing off the comedic personality, he is known for, Matt jokes that his future goal is to become the commissioner of Major League Baseball, but then his life seems pretty full so perhaps he has to dream that big. Matt attended Reedley High, Reedley College and then the University of the Pacific Stockton. Currently a pharmacist for Rite Aid, he started his pharmacy career as director of pharmacy at Kingsburg Hospital and worked for Kings View Hospital for 13 years. His heroes are of the big personality variety just like Matt–John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart and Matt’s dad.
Having already played his dream role of Tevye, Matt has fulfilled a huge goal as an actor as well. “I was made to do that role. Loved it.” What he feels has helped him grow the most as an actor is the realization that you must become the character, think like the character. “The further from your own character a character is makes it a larger challenge but is more interesting.”
“This past summer while he was rehearsing Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof, he was Tevye everyday/all day, with voice and accent all the time,” said Sarah Wiebe, Matt’s daughter who has worked with Matt many times for RCTC, on stage and as stage manager. “It is always a special experience to be a part of a cast, but to be in shows with my Dad is extra special. He is very hard working both on and off stage.”
“It has always been an honor and privilege to share the stage with Matt,” shared Chris Giese, who has shared the stage with Matt many times at RCTC, including many of the Fanny shows. “His presence commands the attention of the audience and all of his performances are truly unforgettable.”
“Matt is one of those rare actors who never forgets that he is there to entertain the audience, not to be an Actor,” said Tanamin Clark, another fellow RCTC actor. “I’ve always admired that about him.”
Matt’s tips for those wanting to go into acting include being willing to take chances. “And it’s okay to be afraid, but never to be scared. And sing really loud.” The hardest thing for him about acting is balancing acting with a career. “[It] is very difficult but it is the price we all pay.”
As if finding the time to act wasn’t enough, Matt also spends a lot of his “spare” time building sets for RCTC shows and he loves golf.
On February 15, Matt returns to what has become for Reedley an iconic character, Fanny. For their 10th anniversary season RCTC is bringing back some of their earlier shows, one of which is the first show Fanny was ever in, Blossoms Up!–though there are rumors that Mark has made some changes to update the show. To learn more about how that special character came to be, check out an earlier article here in KRL where Mark shares the interesting and fun story: How Fanny Came To Life.
“Fanny is a wonderful character,” shared Matt. “She may not be as smart as Matt, but she is much nicer. She leads with her heart, which of course leads to a lot of problems. Originally, Fanny was going to be much more cartoonish. But we decided if she was going to last she had to be a real person, which she has become. It’s just really hard to find shoes and panty hose for her.”
If you haven’t seen Matt on stage as Fanny, I highly recommend you check it out! This original series of shows written by Mark Norwood are a riot and Matt totally makes you feel like Fanny is real–not just a big man in a dress and wig. I love Fanny! Watch for a review of Blossoms Up! here in KRL soon.