One of Atlanta’s most celebrated and hard-working playwrights has officially broken into television.
Topher Payne is the award-winning playwright behind “Evelyn in Purgatory,” which was recently published by Samuel French. His play “Perfect Arrangement” was produced off-Broadway at Primary Stages last fall. And now, “My Summer Prince,” his first TV movie, is premiering on The Hallmark Channel on Saturday.
Payne has been known for working with edgier material — “Perfect Arrangement” is about the life of a pair of closeted gay couples in 1950s Hollywood, his show “Angry ____” (it’s a title we can’t put in print. “‘Angry Expletive,'” Payne says, “that’s what Momma says in church.”) dealt with gay empowerment and domestic terrorism. For those who know him from his theatrical work, writing for the Hallmark Channel may seem like an odd move.
“Here’s the gig,” he explains, “my responsibility is as a storyteller. If you offer me a captive audience, […] it’s people giving you the gift of their time and their attention. That’s something that I take very very seriously.”
And the story he tells that audience depends on who that audience is.
“So of course the stories I tell at 7 Stages are very different from the stories I tell at Georgia Ensemble, which are very different from the stories I tell on Hallmark,” Payne says. “But the through line is an attempt to communicate something that is very important to me and bringing people together.”
Another aspect of Payne’s writing which has carried over from the stage to the small screen is his knack for creating roles for women over the age of 30. “My Summer Prince” stars Marina Sirtis, who some may remember as Counselor Deanna Troi from “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” and actor Lauren Holly.
Payne admits that when he first began writing roles for older women into his work, he characterizes it as “a cheat.”
“Female characters with life experience under their belt are more […] willing to engage in conversation about deeply held beliefs and feelings and personal stories,” he says, explaining that it was easier to tell stories using women like his own mother and aunts, “who I know do not hold back.”
“And then I fell in love with telling those stories,” Payne says. “In part because of the extraordinary actresses it introduced me to along the way. And then I felt an obligation to continue writing for them.”
“My Summer Prince” airs on the Hallmark Channel on Saturday, Aug. 6 at 9 p.m. EST.