“Auditions for Shadowlands, British accents a help!”
The Shadowlands play was staged at Nashville’s Tennessee Performing Arts Center (TPAC) in 1996. Payne, who had never been on stage before, staggered everybody (including himself) when he won the lead role of C.S. Lewis. Though he did not know it at the time, a successful acting career had been launched! The TPAC production sold out, Lewis’ stepson Douglas Gresham flew in for the opening night and director, Sylvia Boyd, said of Payne afterwards, “I took a chance on someone who had never acted before but was rewarded with a performance of great power and sensitivity – I felt we had found the real C.S. Lewis!”
During rehearsals for Shadowlands, Payne was given a copy of A Grief Observed, Lewis’ diary of grief following the death of his American wife, Joy. Captivated by the brutal honesty of a man bearing his soul, Payne memorized the whole book and then adapted it into a one-man show Mist in the Mourning. Premiered at TPAC, where all three performances sold out, he then toured this production extensively throughout the US. Following these performances, Payne was very often peppered with lots of questions about Lewis. He was always very happy to answer these questions and then one day, a thought struck him. “Wouldn’t it be fun if Lewis himself could answer these questions.” That’s when he wrote An Evening with C.S. Lewis, basing the show around the questions that people kept asking and the pivotal occurrences in Lewis’ life. Now it has become his flagship production. He has since played Lewis in a number of productions of Shadowlands, in his self-penned Weep for Joy, in over 800 presentations of An Evening with C.S. Lewis (My Life’s Journey) in St Jack & The Dragon a touching yet sometimes hilarious account about the relationship between Lewis and his adopted mother, Janie Moore and Lewis & Tolkien – Of Wardrobes & Rings, which focuses on the very last meeting between Lewis and his great friend, J.R.R. Tolkien.