A network outage is affecting MSUM campus servicesMore details.Hide details.
See daily updates.More Information

From Straw Hat Players to the Olympic Success

When Kerri Strug stuck her all-or-nothing vault to help the USA win its first-ever team gold in gymnastics in 1996, Matt Weil was there.

He watched as Halle Berry walked across the Dolby Theatre stage to receive the Academy Award for Best Actress in 2002.

And Janet Jackson’s infamous “wardrobe malfunction” during the 2004 Super Bowl Halftime Show? Yep. He was there, too.

Weil, an Atlanta native who was a Minnesota State University Moorhead student in the early 1990s, has helped produce everything from a one-and-done soap opera to a paranormal/metaphysical talk show, a traveling promotional event for Lexus Luxury Vehicles to the MTV Movie & TV Awards, and promotions for Martin Lawrence’s sitcom to the White House millennium celebration.

He's also been a key cog in the formation of a unique and mutually beneficial partnership between MSUM’s Entertainment Industries & Technology (EIT) program and San Diego, Calif.-based event production company Show Imaging, along with his old friend, Ryan Jackson, who is now a professor in the EIT program. The resulting exchange will take MSUM students to event locations for hands-on experience and bring Show Imaging staff to Moorhead to advise faculty on the latest and greatest in the industry.

Straw Hat beginnings

And it all started on the Straw Hat Players stage. Or, more accurately, behind and out in front of it.

“I’ve been very lucky in the events I’ve been able to do,” Weil says, then quickly acknowledges it hasn’t all been luck. Thanks to what he learned in the MSUM Theater Department, he was ready when the right opportunities showed up.

“It gave me an overview of all the different disciplines involved in producing a show so I had a good grasp of the bigger picture. Even though I wasn’t a line designer or an audio engineer, I had the fundamentals,” he said. “Another thing was being involved in theater practicums and the Straw Hat seasons. Those were all-in kinds of situations where we all had to do whatever was needed. We were working toward a common goal, to put on a great show, so we had to rely on each other. That’s exactly what you must do in any professional live-event situation.”

After MSUM, Weil headed for California and got his first paying gig as a production assistant on a late-night soap opera. “Valley of the Dolls,” starring Sally Kirkland, folded after one season, but it provided valuable experience, Weil said. Then came an ill-fated talk show, “The Other Side.” But late-night and ghost stories aside, every job helped Weil build upon his repertoire and hone skills in different areas of show production and live events.

He reconnected with Jackson early on, when the latter was in California trying to make a go of it as an audio engineer.

“Ryan had always been music minded, but one of my friends from the Theater Department was from the same hometown, so he was around a lot and we started hanging out,” Weil recalls.

“Matt got into the industry pretty quickly and we stayed in touch,” Jackson said. “There's a core nucleus of us who graduated around the same time who made good on what we wanted to do.”

Before long, Weil had a solid engagement with NBC. His crew was on Stage 1, once Johnny Carson’s kingdom, and shared a hallway with the new set of “The Tonight Show.”

“We’d see all the guests coming in, and you’d be like, ‘Hey, who’s that walking up the hallway?’ and the answer would be, ‘That’s Rodney Dangerfield!’ Or you’d say, ‘Who do I hear playing?’ and someone would come back with, ‘Oh, that's the Allman Brothers on The Tonight Show.’ Every time it was like, ‘Wow!’”

From NBC, Weil moved to FOX Entertainment, where he helped produce live shows like “FOX NFL Sunday,” specials for series like “Beverly Hills: 90210” and promos for sitcoms like “Martin.”

Then, in 1995, some friends called to ask if he’d be interested in working with them on the opening and closing ceremonies for the Olympics the following year in Atlanta. Of course, he said yes, and while he didn’t see the Strug vault in person, his work bookended the Games of the XXVI Olympiad for television audiences worldwide.

Weil also had his own Olympic Moment when he met his future wife, Jennifer, who had taken a break from her advertising job to join the production staff for the opening and closing ceremonies.

Following the games, he started working as a Los Angeles-based event production freelancer, serving in whatever roles would meet clients’ needs. Just like he did at MSUM, he sometimes handled lighting, other times he was the stage manager and still others he managed production. For smaller events, Weil simply did it all.

It was great work, he said, and great fun, too, but it kept him on the road for about 200 days a year. In 2003, he and Jennifer moved to Atlanta and he started doing a lot of work for staging companies.

“I realized corporate theater really worked for me,” he said. “I could use the aspects of the things I did in live events and the things I did in theater and recreate it for business meetings, special events, those kinds of things.”

COVID changes things

Then came COVID. The pandemic hit live-event companies and freelancers especially hard; even after the initial lockdowns, no one was anxious to attend gatherings with lots of people. A few months in, Weil reconnected with Darrell Henry, an old friend with whom he’d done auto shows for years. Henry had since become chief operating officer at Show Imaging, which handles every aspect of everything from college commencements to music festivals around the nation.

Show Imaging had been hit hard, as well, Weil said, but “Steve (Evans, the owner) and Darrell were very smart. They didn’t have to pivot too much, and the necessary pivot happened early, so they could keep the wheels turning.”

By October 2020, Show Imaging was in a stable position to bring Weil on as a national account director. He now guides clients through the entire process, from selling them on Show Imaging’s services to planning and developing what the company calls “creative experiences” to executing them in front of virtual and in-person audiences.

Here again, Weil said, having a broad overview of every team member’s capabilities and how everything needs to mesh is invaluable. The Straw Hat camaraderie and mutual trust comeinto play, too.

“Show Imaging has a strong team,” he said. “Everyone here collaborates and works hard to ensure the experiences we create and deliver for our clients are the best they can be.”

Make Sure Your Story Is Heard

Let us know how your life has been changed by being a Dragon: tell us your MSU Moorhead story today!

Send Us Your Story

More Stories from Dragons

View All Dragon Stories