Even in this corporate age, "sellout" is still one of the cruelest insults you can hurl in this town. In Portland, musician-slash-waiters and artistic baristas reign supreme. But 27-year-old actor Wade McCollum, acclaimed for his performances in local productions of Batboy, Hedwig and the Angry Inch and this summer's Rocky Horror Show, is king of them all. The guy's been couch-surfing for 10 years, getting by on what most people pay each month in rent so he can devote himself to his art. Selling out doesn't seem to be in his cards.

But in ONE, the rock opera McCollum wrote, co-composed and stars in, a young musician named Sid Arthur finds himself caught in the artist's ultimate dilemma: to sell out or not to sell out? That's the question McCollum distills from the ancient legend of Siddhartha, the story of the Buddha before his enlightenment. It's also a question that will be answered when ONE debuts at the Wonder Ballroom this Thursday.

According to the legend, at the birth of Siddhartha a holy man foresees the child's two possible futures: as a wealthy monarch or as a homeless-but spiritually enlightened-healer. But McCollum and the theater company he co-founded, Insight Out, now approach what would appear to be a similar dilemma, as they prep their production for Broadway. Could this become a meta-theatrical cautionary tale of compromise? After all, Broadway demands box offices that sell out.

Republican Scott Laing, an improbable friend of east-meets-west musical theater, is co-owner of one of the show's financial sponsors, Parametric Marketing. Laing explains that it wasn't the theater company's Sanskrit-inspired letterhead and idealistic mission statement that attracted him to the project, but that he actually admires the way McCollum and Insight Out do business. "Wade treats this show like venture capital. There are so many marginal institutions in Portland-people who seem to be willing themselves to be unsuccessful. But Insight Out seems to be willing to go out and do the hard work. I think that's exciting."

Clearly, not everyone who attains financial success must do so at the expense of idealism. In the same way, Siddhartha isn't forced to choose between the two extreme options of either ruling the world or healing it. Instead, he finds he can do both. The holy man's mistake was in seeing Siddhartha's destiny as two divergent paths when in fact those paths were always one.

Portland has no use for another story of a martyr artist, who sacrifices livelihood to preserve artistic integrity. Portland artists need an inspirational story, a legend that will prove that creating art and living by it can be encompassed in a single destiny. Let's hope this is the one.

ONE opens Sept. 15 at the Wonder Ballroom, 128 NE Russell St., 224-4400. 8 pm Wednesdays-Saturdays. 2 pm Sunday, Sept. 25. $20-$35 ($5-$20 Wednesdays).