/Mississippi playwright’s life comes full circle – from running the lights to running the show – in ‘Morningside’

Mississippi playwright’s life comes full circle – from running the lights to running the show – in ‘Morningside’

Payne says, “This is my scrapbook that I travel the world with,” and launches into a tattoo tour to connect his storytelling career. The same typewriter has a self-start button. His beloved Daisy is honored by Blooms Kudzu wraps up the story. He describes the vine as “uniquely Southern”, “a bit of a nuisance, but completely indestructible.” “And, that’s something worth aspiring to.” Payne’s Mississippi roots are strong enough to bring him back home with “Morningside,” which is a comedy that will open New Stage Theatre’s 53r season. This one also features Payne as the director. Morningside is set in an Atlanta neighborhood and features a hilarious look at the worst baby showers. It also explores the realities of family, society, and the minefields within them. The show will run from Sept. 11 through 23. This is Payne’s second job. He was a Kosciusko teenager who landed at New Stage Theatre as a professional theatre. Determined to pursue a career in the arts, he accepted the position. As a teenager, he had attended Idyllwild Arts Academy in Southern California for two years. He says, “It was an exceptional opportunity and I was terrible student.” He thanked John Maxwell for giving him a job in the scene shop as an intern during 1997-98. He began acting with New Stage’s Arts in Education program and wrote his first play, “Beached Whales.” The first reading took place in New Stage’s Hewes Room. It was twenty years ago. Payne was back in the Hewes Room two weeks ago to watch nine actresses make his “Morningside”, a funny and poignant production, in rehearsal for the mainstage production. He was the one who ran the lights twenty years ago. He’s now the show’s director. Cleve Payne and Sheryl, the playwright’s parents, met in Jackson. They moved to Kosciusko to start their families. His grandfather, who was a postman in Kosciusko and his father, also a postal worker, had been with Payne. These roles were well-known in a small town like Kosciusko. Payne was first exposed to storytelling through the First United Methodist Church Kosciusko’s annual passion play, “His Last Days” — an outdoor pageant in which Jesus ascends to heaven with a cherry-picker. He says that this was “high tech” and it was a memorable experience for the crowd. I learned this from my family, my church and my parents at an early age that storytelling is the best way to communicate something that is truly meaningful to you. This is how I learned the history of my family. This is how I learned about my spiritual practices. Being a native Mississippian also means you are a part of a long line storytellers who have changed the world. “The path made perfect sense to me. Payne said that his love for storytelling and instilled values about how people should be treated made a huge difference in his career path. “Mississippians are at their best when they have a way to be and a way to create community that allows for the creation of delightfully individual people. He says that Mississippi is proud of its eccentricities. This appreciation is not always common. “I don’t like writing stories about villains. I cannot. I can’t. “Morningside” was brought to New Stage by the theater’s Eudora Welty Newplay Series. Payne’s legendary spirit also weighs in. What are Payne’s Mississippi writing influences? He chants “Welty Welty, Welty,” as if he were singing a song. Welty once served him wine at his party. He still has a photo of Jane Reid-Petty with her, laughing about a private joke. He says that all Mississippi communities are secret matriarchies, where strong women make the decisions. The women-centric setting of a baby shower proved to be irresistible. “Morningside” explores the current challenges faced by women when tradition and social expectations conflict with progress and personal wants. Payne is excited to be able to finish the script after only one production. “I don’t believe anyone can do it perfectly the first time. It’s not me. New Stage’s support, the services of a dramaturg, and, he said with an eye-twinkling tease: “A very profound and opinionated set of actresses around him” will all help him do his homework on the play. From Jackson and the surrounding areas, Ali Dinkinson, Jessica Wilkinson and Joy Amerson are part of the ensemble cast. Hope Prybylski and Bryn Striepe, both from Atlanta, are from Atlanta. Payne made the move from Jackson to Atlanta in 1999. He found a place that was big enough for him to continue his career, but not as large as Los Angeles or New York. Payne has written more than 20 plays that have been performed around the globe. His other works include “Swell Party”, “Perfect Arrangement” as well as “Tokens of Affection”. He also wrote TV movies such “A Gift to Remember”, “Broadcasting Christmas” or “My Summer Prince” which he names among his career highlights. These are the moments when achievement and close ties collide. For example, the opening night Off-Broadway premiere of Perfect Arrangement with 15 family members. Premiere of his first Hallmark movie. I missed the L.A. premiere, but the Bolton premiere in its entirety was incredible! “Those are the most memorable moments.” He has received numerous awards, including the American Theatre Critics Association’s 2014 Osborn Award. The real reward is being surrounded by loved ones and celebrating your success. My parents had the privilege and challenge of having to deal with a child who chose a different path from theirs. They spent a lot time, devoted a lot heartache and resources to help me find my way.” It’s special when something feels like the return on that investment. “Morningside,” at New Stage Theatre, is one such moment. “Morningside” at New Stage Theatre is just such a moment.