Dayton Playhouse mourns loss of former leader Jim Payne

James “Jim” R. Payne, local educator and arts advocate who guided the Dayton Playhouse as managing director for 14 years, died March 3 after a lengthy illness. He was 82.

Born March 4, 1939, in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, Payne was a graduate of Iowa Wesleyan College and Miami University. He also taught speech, drama and English at Colonel White High School. In addition to serving on the planning committee and helming the drama component of the Living Arts Center, a project created by Dayton Public Schools in the late 1960s and continuing through the mid-1970s, he directed or acted for Dayton Theatre Guild, Dayton Community Theatre and Dayton Repertory Theatre, as well as other community and collegiate theatres.

In 1980, Payne was named managing director of Dayton Playhouse. He was very instrumental in designing the current Playhouse location at Wegerzyn Garden Center. During his tenure, he developed the nationally-recognized FutureFest of new plays, created in 1991 to support the previously unproduced works of emerging playwrights. The festival, held annually in July and conceived by John Riley, produces six plays over the course of three days. He was also named a Lifetime Member of the Playhouse in 1991.

“Jim had great vision for the Playhouse and a loyal crew of volunteers as well,” said Dodie Lockwood, a member of the Dayton Theatre Hall of Fame and former Playhouse board member who implemented FutureFest with Payne and Riley among other volunteers. “It amazes me that FutureFest is still going. We couldn’t have done FutureFest without Jim. He deserves so much credit. Overall, nothing happened at the Playhouse if Jim didn’t want it to happen.”

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In 2002, Payne was among the inaugural class of the Dayton Theatre Hall of Fame. In the span of his career, he directed 75 plays and musicals. After retiring, he became a talent agent with Jo Goenner Talent Agency.

“Jim was passionate, driven and funny,” recalled Greg Smith, a member of the Dayton Theatre Hall of Fame who served as Playhouse technical director during Payne’s tenure as managing director. “Seeing him inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame was a highlight for me. My tenure at the Playhouse was better because of him. He will be missed.”

“Jim was legendary,” echoed Kevin Moore, artistic director of the Human Race Theatre Company. “He kept growing the Playhouse to what it has become today. He was smart, friendly and a perfectionist. We’ve missed him in the theater world for a while and we’re going to continue to miss him even now.”

Shortly before Payne’s death, Lockwood and Riley reached out to his friends to share reflections by way of birthday cards. Here are a few of those remembrances:

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Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

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“He will always be special to me,” Riley said. “He was the starting point of the second part of my life, and we did some great things together.”

“I was a little intimidated by Jim at first – he was confident, well-trained and had done many shows – but I came to love him very quickly,” Lockwood added. “I assistant directed lots of shows he directed and was in several shows as well. He really taught me a lot about acting and directing. He was a mentor.”

Payne is survived by his life partner James L. Hayden as well as his sisters Katherine Applebee and Christine (Milton) Baldridge along with many nieces and nephews. Payne and Hayden, affectionately known as “The Jims,” loved their Cabin-in-the-Woods and entertaining family and friends and their dog, Mitzi.

A visitation will be held Thursday, March 10 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Kindred Funeral Home, 400 Union Blvd., Englewood. Services will be held Friday, March 11 at 9:30 a.m. at Kindred Funeral Home. In lieu of flowers, friends are asked to consider a donation to the Dayton Playhouse, PO Box 3017, Dayton, 45401-3017.

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