The B. Iden Payne Awards — named for the renowned British theater director and teacher who concluded his career at the University of Texas at Austin — are awarded annually to recognize outstanding contributions to the Austin theater community.
Ben Iden Payne wasn’t a native of Austin or Texas or even the United States. But this Englishman made such a deep impression on Austin, and particularly the theatre community of the city, that we continue to honor him more than a quarter of a century after his passing.
Payne, who had worked at Stratford, the Abbey, on Broadway, with such legends as the Barrymores, Helen Hayes, William Gillette, had also helped organize the first drama department at a major university. All this before ―settling in a little college town in Texas where the Drama Department wasn’t even 10 years old. That was Austin, and he spent 27 years on the 40 Acres.
It was after his retirement that Linalice Carey, who had started the theater we now know as Hyde Park Theatre, had the idea of starting something called Austin Circle of Theaters and an event to honor outstanding work in our local theaters. And so it was that the first B. Iden Payne Awards event, held at the Driskill Hotel, honored Dr. Payne himself.
That was in the mid 70s. Over the next six years, Austin Circle of Theatres grew, and in that time instituted an annual awards ceremony, the B. Iden Payne Awards, in which members voted honors to outstanding work presented on local stages.
Over the years, Austin’s theatrical landscape continued to evolve and ACOT became Austin Creative Alliance (ACA), a nonprofit organization that supports all of Austin’s art forms. In the fall of 2011, after 37 years as a special event of the Austin Creative Alliance, the B. Iden Payne Awards Council became a separate, sponsored nonprofit project of the Austin Creative Alliance. Now operating as its own 501(c)(3) organization, the Council is comprised of a group of volunteers who remain focused on recognizing artistic excellence within the Austin theatre community, and will continue with creation and distribution of the nomination ballot for voting community members and sponsor the annual awards ceremony.