Arts

Atlanta Actor Topher Payne Gets Elf Actualized For ‘Santaland Diaries’

Topher Payne as Crumpet the Elf in Horizon Theatre's "Santaland Diaries."
Topher Payne as Crumpet the Elf in Horizon Theatre's "Santaland Diaries."
Credit Courtesy of Jef Holbrook

For 18 years, Atlanta actor Harold M. Leaver has performed the lead role of Crumpet in Horizon Theatre’s annual holiday season production of “The Santaland Diaries,” adapted from a story by author David Sedaris.

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This year, playwright Topher Payne takes over the role of the misanthropic department store elf. As it turns out, Payne is going into the role with years of elf training.

“The first production at Horizon in 1999, I was the set designer,” Payne tells City Lights host Lois Reitzes. “It was my first professional production in Atlanta. And then in 2004 and ’05, I was the male sidekick, playing the multiple roles of all these maniacs that David Sedaris encounters. So I got two years of watching Harold do it up close. As huge a fan as I am of Sedaris’ reading of the work, in my mind, Harold M. Leaver is my Crumpet.”

Payne has a world premier of a new work, “Morningside,” opening at Georgia Ensemble Theatre in a matter of weeks, as well as new Hallmark television movies airing in December. With the amount of work crossing his writing desk, he says he wasn’t actively seeking an acting project. But as Payne puts it, “it was this role.”

“When [Horizon artistic director] Lisa Adler contacted me to let me know that they’d be seeing people for the show, I just couldn’t turn down the chance,” he says, “at least to come in and audition and see what I would do with the material.”

“As a storyteller, I love to spin a good yarn,” Payne says, “and there are few better than this one to have the chance to do.”

“The Santaland Diaries” opens at Horizon Theatre on Nov. 17 and runs through the end of the year.