He never dreamed of being an actor
Most actors had fantasies of being onstage from their youth, but David Payne studied to be an engineer. He liked numbers and planning and strategy. He liked order and structure, so any career in the arts was far from his thinking as a youth, growing up in the south of London. He was destined for a life of calculators and slide rules.
Yet after just a few short years as a structural engineer, David found himself pulled into the music and entertainment business. He and his two partners formed a groundbreaking company that encompassed a record label, publishing, event promotion, a youth magazine, and artist management. He became an expert in crunching the numbers and making the business side of the music industry work.
In fact, David was still in the music business in the 1990s, when he was asked to come over to the US and oversee a British record label’s operations in the States. He was just wrapping up his contract and considering whether to make the trip back to the UK when a flier arrived, advertising auditions for a play about CS Lewis… a play called Shadowlands.
“British accents a help,” the advertisement read. A bit bored, a bit intrigued, and with no hope of getting anything more than a walk-on role, David Payne scooted along to the audition….just to see what might happen.
Well as it turned out, a lot happened. Since landing the role of CS Lewis in that original play, David Payne has become the world’s foremost actor in the world of Lewis. He has performed as CS Lewis in more than 1000 productions, in front of nearly 750,000 people. Requests for his show, An Evening with CS Lewis come from all over the world, although he has mainly restricted his performances to the US, the UK, and Canada. Even so, he still hasn’t been able to fulfill all the requests for engagements.
“Never in a million years did I think I would ever be a performer on stage,” he says from his dressing room in Chicago’s Broadway Theatre. “And never did I think that I would enjoy it so very, very much.”
He’s not the only one who enjoys it. There almost seems to be a magical connection between Payne and his audiences. Throughout the entire 90 minutes, audience members feel as if they’re in the presence of the great author, scholar, and humorist as Payne completely embodies the role. During the performance, you can hear a pin drop in between all the infectious laughter and the occasional sob coming from the audience and at the end, the result is almost always the same… an instantaneous standing ovation.
So while David Payne never ended up making his career as an engineer, he has managed to engineer one thing….. he’s made audiences all over the world fall in love with one of the most enduring and endearing characters in all of literature.