Featured Stories

Other Pamplin Media Group sites


Actress is ready for Broadway Rose debut July 31

'Best Little Whorehouse' is Carmen Payne's first Tigard show but probably not her last


by: LACEY JACOBY/FOR PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP - WAY-TOO-FUN REHEARSAL -  During a rehearsal at the Broadway Rose New Stage, with a 'Best Little Whorehouse in Texas' set under construction behind them, newcomer Carmen N. Brantley-Payne (center) shares a laugh with Sharon Maroney (left) as the wheelchair-riding Miss Mona and director Peggy Taphorn.Tacoma's loss is Portland's gain.

Carmen N. Brantley-Payne is still new to the metro area, and while her husband Ivan Payne and daughter Cavana are still in the process of completing the full move to the Portland area as a family, Brantley-Payne is already making a name for herself in the local theater scene.

After appearing in the Lakewood Theatre Company's production of "Show Boat" this spring, Brantley-Payne is appearing in the Broadway Rose Theatre Company's production of "Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" as Miss Mona’s maid and cook Jewel and has two more shows lined up after that with Portland Playhouse and Stumptown Stages.

Her move to Portland occurred after she was preparing a song from "Show Boat" for an audition in Seattle, Googled the show and learned that Lakewood was holding auditions for it. Alan Anderson, who is the Broadway Rose marketing director, was the assistant director for "Show Boat," and at the same time that show was being cast, Sharon Maroney, Broadway Rose producing artistic director, was casting "Best Little Whorehouse."

Brantley-Payne made two trips to Portland to audition and was almost simultaneously cast in both shows. Only later did Maroney and Anderson realize they had cast the same actor, but luckily there was a month in between the end of "Show Boat" and the beginning of rehearsals for "Best Little Whorehouse."

Brantley-Payne was born in Orlando, Fla., to Walter and Elena Brantley, and when she was 3 years old, her parents divorced; Brantley-Payne's mom, a nurse, moved to Live Oak to help take care of a relative. Brantley-Payne's mom remarried, and the little girl's stepfather started sexually and physically abusing her, which she graphically describes in a blog at cnbpayne.com but didn't report to anyone until she was in the sixth grade.

After Brantley-Payne told her mom, they immediately moved to Tampa to get away, and the young girl, already showing a penchant for the theater from her elementary school years, started performing in church plays. "But I also focused on education and stuck with what I knew, and by ninth grade, I was in advanced classes," Brantley-Payne said.

But then another traumatic incident occurred: The school's PE teacher was beaten, and Brantley-Payne got dragged into the case, accused of participating in the assault.

"I had to go to court, and while I was finally cleared of wrong-doing, I couldn't go back to school for 30 days," she said. "Missing 30 days of school in the ninth grade means failure. Then I got put in with the tough kids, and I had to become tough myself. My GPA went from 4.0 to 2.8, which was just enough to graduate."

Brantley-Payne admits that she also started drinking at that time: "I had one drink a day before school starting when I was 12," she said.

Somehow, she graduated from high school, and her godfather, who was serving in the Air Force, encouraged her to join. Brantley-Payne aced the military competency test without even studying, scoring a 99, and explained that the military assigns inductees based on their test results.

Brantley-Payne was given a couple of career choices and chose communications while also taking advantage of the military's 100-percent paid-tuition program. While in the Air Force, she earned a degree in information technology, and after serving for eight years, she got a second degree in web design/Internet marketing and is now working on a third degree in media communications.

"I loved singing and performing on stage, but I didn't believe that it would pay the bills," Brantley-Payne said. Thirty days after leaving the military, she went to work for Comcast, and then her whole department was moved to Everett, Wash.

Still wanting to perform, Brantley-Payne was cast in her first musical as an adult even though she has never had any formal voice training. "My entire family sings and performs," she said. "That audition was what propelled me towards acting again."

One of her non-acting jobs was doing web design for a church, and on Valentine's Day 2004, Brantley-Payne went to the church and met a "really cute" musician who sang and played the drums there. Their first date was Feb. 29, and they were married Sept. 18 that same year, "and we broke up for two months during that time," Brantley-Payne said.

Due to internal injuries she suffered at the hands of her stepfather, Brantley-Payne, 35, wasn't sure if she could even get pregnant, but she fulfilled a life goal of having a baby by age 30 when Cavana was born.

by: LACEY JACOBY - TAKING DIRECTION  - 'Best Little Whorehouse in Texas' director Peggy Taphorn (left) chats with Carmen N. Brantley-Payne, who plays Jewel, Miss Mona's maid and cook at the Chicken Ranch, and Sharon Maroney.Brantley-Payne got more acting jobs and reached a tipping point when the Internet marketing company for which she was working wanted her to be in the office more. She felt that she could do both jobs, but it wasn't going to work for the company, so she left the job to concentrate on acting and start her own media and marketing company.

"I thought I could make acting a career and while preparing for an audition, I researched 'I Can't Help Loving Dat Man' from 'Show Boat,' and that's when I saw Lakewood was going to do it," Brantley-Payne said. "I came down to audition and fell in love with them. When I was leaving, we shook hands, and I felt that sealed the deal."

After Brantley-Payne was back in Tacoma, Maroney contacted her about "Best Little Whorehouse," and she went down and back in one day to audition. Again nailing the part and getting the gig, she commented, "I have never gotten two big shows in a row. I feel so fortunate and so blessed."

During the two months Brantley-Payne was here rehearsing and then performing in the month-long run of "Show Boat," she lived with her sister-in-law.

And Brantley-Payne told her husband, who is now a teaching assistant as well as a musician, "Portland is a good scene. It has drive-through restaurants, I don't have to pump my own gas, and they have great grocery stores. The scene is wholesome but eclectic."

During the 30 days between the two local shows, Brantley-Payne packed up their house and put everything in storage in anticipation of moving here. Her daughter has a fledgling acting career and will be able to work in Washington, Oregon and even California now that she will be in a central location.

"I'm so happy I could cry at any moment," Brantley-Payne said.