Donald Horn, the Visionary Behind Triangle Productions!, Reflects on His Career and Life

“I think you have to be comfortable in your own skin.”

Portland playgoers know Donald Horn—and his feet.

During his decadeslong stewardship of Triangle Productions!, the theater company he founded in 1989, Horn has perfected his brand: brash, heartfelt plays, often focused on LGBTQ+ history. He has also cultivated a unique personal style, from his lustrous silver mane to his frequently bare feet.

Whether dashing to his car or holding court at a performance of an original musical about Darcelle XV at Portland State University, Horn is rarely seen in shoes. It’s a choice, he says, that dates back to his childhood on a farm in Burns, Ore.

“I think you have to be comfortable in your own skin,” he says. “And I’ve always enjoyed just being me. Own who you are. Don’t try to put anything in you that isn’t you.”

Few people in Portland’s theater community own who they are like Horn does. Despite a staggering schedule—in addition to directing and running Triangle, he writes both plays and books—he has verve and vigor that belies his 67 years.

Horn is currently preparing Mr. Madam—his one-actor play about Kenneth/Kate Marlowe, a real-life ‘40s and ‘50s drag performer who became a male madam and began transitioning at 50—and masterminding The Umbrella Project, an epic multimedia compendium of Oregon’s LGBTQ+ history that he estimates will be complete in 2024.

In between rehearsals for Mr. Madam with star Wade McCollum (a veteran of TV, film and Broadway), Horn sat down with WW to discuss Pride, coming out, and a life in theater.

WW: I don’t think we’ve ever talked about where you come from.

Donald Horn: I’m a farm boy at heart, so to do [theater] is kind of weird. I would slop the hogs—they were my friends. I had the pigs, my brother had the cows. I loved what I did. I also hated what I did.

Now, [my siblings and I] were treated horribly. I have a book about this, and it’s called Crumbs of Love. We would be locked out of the house a lot of the time. My aunt, who became my stepmother, was pregnant with my dad’s child. The baby is born, and three days later, the baby dies, and she has to come home and diaper me. So there’s a lot of hate toward me. She was in depression. I get this now. She’s 92 years old now and I haven’t met her for years.

So growing up, I always felt like I was not wanted. But I feel like what I do now is because I’m supposed to. And this feels right.

How did you discover that theater was your calling?

When I was going through my first divorce, I was lonely and trying to find something, and I married my second wife. I started liking theater, not knowing why, but I missed it. I did get lead roles, I was in musicals, I had a blast. But then I got a divorce. And when I got the divorce, it was my coming out.

And then I met Jeff at a bar. We didn’t see each other for six more months. I had his telephone number, I didn’t call him. I had children and I said: “I will never, ever have a revolving door. If I marry somebody, meet somebody again, it’ll be for life.” There’ve been some highs and lows, but for 36 years, we’ve stayed together. Why throw that away?

You’ve talked about being taken aback when people respond positively to your work.

I’m 67. I know my time is limited now. What’s 20 years? What’s 25 years? So, you know you have to look in the mirror. Somebody told me that once—they said, “Look in the mirror and love yourself first.”

I’m here [at Triangle] at 5 in the morning, I’ll be here tonight. I believe in what I do. But I know there’s a time period when I’ll say, “Eff you. I’m done.” Because after a while, I have to have a life. But I’ll always love theater and probably always want to do theater. You’ve got to grab it when you can do it—and know when you have to let it go.

What does Pride mean to you?

It’s knowing yourself and then allowing yourself to be part of a community. Because then you find that you’re OK and you can contribute to the community. And then that becomes a bigger balloon, if you will, or bigger part of something. But if you’re insular, you don’t see that, because you’re not participating. I think Pride, to me, means that.

SEE IT: Mr. Madam plays at Triangle Productions, 1785 NE Sandy Blvd., 503-239-5919, 7:30 pm Thursday-Saturday, 2 pm Sunday, June 9-25. $15-$35. 18+.

See more of Willamette Week’s 2022 Pride Guide here!