The TBA festival was launched in 2002, a few months after I moved to Portland, as if in answer to my artistic prayers. Somehow it feels fitting that the launch of the 13th year should be in a grandiose church. Trinity Episcopal, it turns out, is an old-school house of god, a giant brick building that offers refuge while also celebrating the beauty of life with its arching ceilings, hanging candelabras, and stunning floor to ceiling pipe organ. I love being in spaces like this, but can’t bring myself to enter alongside weekly worshippers. It was my great joy to enter tonight, alongside the community that I worship with, a community of artists and art lovers. It was particularly delightful to see Angela Mattox appear at the pulpit to welcome her believers, and soon after to see Holcombe leading his choristers down the aisle looking like Jesus, with a scruffy beard and priestly robe.
I have head Holcombe talk about this project on two prior occasions, so was prepared for the nature of the choir itself: a diverse crowd of people who want to sing and be part of the community that he is building, regardless of their vocal training. The result was an opening number charged with the vulnerability of real people summoning performative courage. You won’t get the smooth polish of experienced performers with every piece here, but the joy and enthusiasm of the community shines brightly. Holcombe’s music is gorgeous, and interspersed with some history and context on the suffering of the LGBTQ community, as well as a sung lecture on the history of the term itself.
The piece is structured much like a church experience, with sing-alongs and call and response text, and in this setting each audience member plays a true believer.
Requiem Mass is a reminder to us all that there is still much work to be done before we can call ourselves a tolerant society, and that healing from the wounds of homophobia is only just beginning, and will be a huge process unto itself.
When I got home I remembered that our Air bnb guests were a lesbian couple from the South, and had already told me they were considering a move to Portland so that they could be in a more tolerant and open-minded area. I excitedly recommended that they see this show, which truly creates a space of community, celebration and much-needed healing for its audience, and I predict it will be unlike anything they have ever experienced.
Kate Holly is a theater artist and educator based in Portland, OR. She holds an MFA in Contemporary Performance from Naropa University, and is a co-founder of Fever Theater and Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble.