As he approaches his 20th anniversary of arriving in Atlanta, playwright and screenwriter Topher Payne has his sights on a pair of projects: a live performance podcast and a play which will not open.
His podcast is called “Kudzu,” (“We cover the South,” he cracks) and each episode will be an hour-long live performance incorporating essays, fiction, music, and film. The show is being produced through the Alliance Theatre’s Reiser Lab.
“It started with the central question of when you say you are a Southerner in the 21st century, what on earth are you really saying?” Payne tells “City Lights” producer Myke Johns. “What I wanted to do was craft a storytelling series that sounds like the way Southerners tell stories. There’s something innately performative about Southern storytelling. They’re always playing to the back of the room or the back of the church.”
Payne says the goal is to have the show in front of audiences by the end of the year. In the more immediate future, he is currently at work on a new farce titled “Entertaining Lesbians.”
The show is about, as Payne puts it, “an upwardly mobile, upper-middle class, white, heterosexual, cis-gendered couple, who are beginning to realize that the world is not made for them.”
The couple is trying to enroll their daughter into a prestigious school, and the head of the parents committee is a gay couple.
“So [the mother] Rowena invites them over for a day of celebrating diversity, which Rowena is learning on the fly,” Payne says.
The show is being produced as the first in a planned series at Out of Box Theatre called “Beta Test,” which will put the work in front of audiences for an extended preview period, but will not officially “open” with a full production.
He says the idea came after his play “Perfect Arrangement” went through an extended, three-week preview Off-Broadway.”
“The play benefited immensely,” he says. “[We] incorporated changes and cuts. And by the time that thing opened, we were ready.”
The Beta Test run of “Entertaining Lesbians” will run Aug. 2 – 17 at Out of Box Theatre.
For Payne, the presence of an audience is so instructive, that he goes so far as to call its role one of mentorship. After this how, Payne hopes to offer the Beta Test series as a way for other local playwrights to test new works. After 20 years in Atlanta, he says that his next move should also be one of mentorship.
“If I plan on sticking around, I have a responsibility to devote myself to the creative development of my colleagues.”