This week on “Two Way Street” we have Atlanta-based playwright and screenwriter Topher Payne.
Topher Payne got his start in theater because he had long arms and wasn’t afraid of heights. At least that’s the way he tells it.
His first experience working in a theater came when he was 17 years old. He’d dropped out of high school after the 10th grade because, he says, he was just a weird kid who didn’t fit in. so he took a position as an intern at the new stage theater in Jackson, Mississippi, not far from the town where he grew up. His fearlessness and those long arms made him the perfect choice to hang and set lights on the grid that hung high above the stage.
But his destiny was not to become a lighting director. Topher wanted to write plays. He was able to convince the theater’s managers to allow him to stage one of his short plays late in the evening after the main stage show was over. That was sometime around 1996, and Topher has been writing and having his plays produced just about every year since then. Most of them have had their first productions here in Atlanta, which became his home in 1999. He’s able to turn out funny, insightful and sometimes alarming plays at an astonishing rate. He’s premiered 13 full-length works at Georgia theaters since 2009. Many move beyond Atlanta and have been produced in theaters around the country.
Last year Topher began writing screenplays for the Hallmark Channel. The first of his scripts was “My Summer Prince,” which went on the air – yes – last summer. His second Hallmark movie called “Broadcasting Christmas” aired a few months late. He’s now working on yet another Christmas-themed movie for Hallmark. In fact, he’d just gone through an exhausting marathon writing session to meet a deadline for that new movie when he came in for our conversation. He was tried – but he was in high spirits and as you’d expect from a guy who writes such humorous work, was very funny.
Watch a scene from Topher Payne’s play “Perfect Arrangement,” which won the 2014 Osborne Award for best new play by an emerging playwright, given by the American Theater Critics Association.