By Midge Pierce

SE Portland lacks a community center, a situation that leaves organizations struggling to find space for events, concerts and more. 

Taborspace at 5441 SE Belmont St., is one of the non-profit organizations working to fill that void and they are currently hosting a new pop-up theater concept.

Just as it’s not always easy for non-profit facilities to keep the lights on, it’s even harder for a theatrical start-up to set up stage lights. Now in a first-of-its-kind match, newly-formed The Theatre Company will debut inside Taborspace’s stain-glassed Copeland Hall with the March 18 opening of The Moors for a 17-night run.

“We want to enliven the community that doesn’t have a theater hub, namely SE,” says theater veteran Brandon Woolley, Co-Artistic Director of the start-up. 

The idea is to bring a full experience to audiences where they live. “Using found spaces for bold endeavors,” he says, “brings theater to the people.”

The pop-up approach allows directors to match plays with appropriate places. Copeland Hall’s paneled interior suits The Moors. 

Woolley describes the Bronte-esque production as a darkly comedic, satirical, theatrically entertaining and shocking blend of mystery, power dynamics and intrigue. 

“The show is Grey Gardens meets American Horror story meets Calvin and Hobbes,” he says. 

Surprises abound. Upending gender politics is among the plot points as is a touching, oddball love story of a mastiff and a Moor Hen who, along with two isolated sisters, chafe against society’s constraints.

Shaking loose constraints of traditional theater is a win-win for both art and communities, according to veteran actor, producer and The Theater Company Co-Director Jen Rowe. 

“Portland is dealing with a space crisis,” she says. Existing theaters are being torn down and replaced with pricey condos or reconfigured for multi-uses causing production costs to rise, doubling and even quadrupling in some cases. The affordability and accessibility that made Portland a creative mecca are vanishing.”

Because it’s getting harder for artists to afford to stay in Portland, one of the company objectives is to pay actors and crews a living wage. Renting local defacto gathering spaces like Taborspace, helps keep costs down, grow audiences, keep Portland theater alive and support local venues.

Taborspace Director Josh Pinkston says events and productions like The Moors bring new visitors and levels of creativity to the building that houses a coffeehouse and hosts art, music, concerts, language classes, wellness practices, recovery workshops and 500+ visitors who already come through the facility’s oak doors daily. 

“The purpose behind Taborspace is to cultivate connected community,” says Pinkston. “Because of the incredibly passionate, caring people who utilize Taborspace, we’re able to continue our work.”

Taborspace is a function of Mt. Tabor Presbyterian Church, which, as membership declines, is actively reaching out to families. 

A recent offering is the interdenominational and nondenominational Mt. Tabor Presbyterian Peace Choir for kindergartners through 5th graders at all skill levels and abilities. 

Choir Director Jane Clarke says it’s not just another kids chorus, but a beginning music education class. 

“We incorporate music from all cultures and religions. In addition to learning songs, we learn to read music, develop singing techniques and discuss inspirational influences.” 

The winter session focused on spirituals and civil rights leaders. “We want to empower children to sing for peace in times of hatred and violence.”

Clarke, who has a Masters in music from Portland State, started the program with a Peacemaking Grant from the Presbytery of the Cascades. The choir’s first concert will be Sunday, March 15, at 11 am. 

While Taborspace and other organizations serve children and the arts, SE still lacks a center with dedicated community and performance spaces, recreation facilities and replacement for the quadrant’s defunct Buckman pool.