James was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and moved to Kansas City when he was three years old. He began acting, modeling and voiceover work at the age of five, appearing in local and national advertisements. James started acting in stage theatre and opera at nine years old, and performed with professional Kansas City companies such as Theatre for Young America, the Lyric Opera, and the Coterie Theatre. He began playwriting and improvisational comedy as a teenager, and pursued a wide range of other activities in high school, including journalism, debate, scholar’s bowl, and forensics, winning Kansas state championships in the latter two.
At 18 years old, James moved downtown to attend the University of Missouri-Kansas City, where he rigorously performed in undergraduate and graduate productions (in partnership with the Kansas City Repertory Theatre) while also training as a playwright and director.
As a self-produced thesis project for his undergraduate degree, James wrote and directed a full-length play called “Banker’s Dozen”, a comedy inspired by the 2008 financial crisis, featuring a cast of 15 theatre students. James also founded the professional longform improv group “The Makeshift Militia”, and also regularly performed with other improv theatres in town, including a performance at the Chicago Improv Festival.
After graduating from UMKC in 2009, James moved to the university town of Tübingen, Germany and became involved with the Anglo-Irish Theatre Group, a small company utilizing a 99-seat black box theatre on the university campus. After performing in a production with the group, James took over as Artistic Director, and over the next several years he stayed with the company and directed some of his favorite plays, including Brian Friel’s Translations, Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman, and Peter Shaffer’s Equus. James maintained a strong relationship with the group after his departure, and they staged a production of his full-length play Henchman the year after he left.
James left Germany to return to the United States in 2012, this time relocating to the San Francisco Bay Area to join his brother, who was beginning his medical residency in the area. James began working as a freelance theatre director, and over the next four years he directed a dozen shows with area theatres, including Dragon Productions, Ross Valley Players, Masquers Playhouse, Novato Theatre Company, and Custom Made Theatre Company, where he directed the regional premiere of Madhuri Shekar’s In Love and Warcraft, which won the San Francisco Bay Area Critics Circle awards for direction, ensemble, and overall production in 2015.
Apart from his artistic work, James found a place in the Bay Area theatre community through regional arts organization Theatre Bay Area, where he worked as Programs and Events Coordinator. In his three-year tenure with the organization, James was able to directly support artists and theatre companies in many different ways, such as administering funding panels to award project grants to individuals and organizations, helping run annual general auditions which introduce hundreds of performers to dozens of theatre companies, and working with theatre companies to research the intrinsic impact that their productions had on their audiences. Through his role with the company, James saw over a hundred local theatre productions a year, traveled widely for outreach and programming, and felt very much connected with the community.
In 2016, James was accepted into Indiana University’s M.F.A. program in directing, a program that takes only a single student each year, and he left Berkeley for Bloomington to pursue graduate school. During the three years of the program, James benefitted from a wide range of specialized training in theatre history, stage combat, sound and scenic design, acting, and Shakespeare in addition to his core classes in directing. He directed three major productions during his time at IU: Annie Baker’s Circle Mirror Transformation as his first-year studio project, Sophie Treadwell’s Machinal as his first main-stage show, and a massive staging of Titus Andronicus as his M.F.A. thesis production. James also extensively taught undergraduate courses in acting and directing with IU, building his skills and experience as a university instructor.
Upon graduating from IU in 2019, James decided to start fresh again in a new city, this time setting his sights on Chicago. He is currently in the process of moving, and will arrive in his new home this summer, ready for whatever comes next.