Local theater aims for restart in virus climate


Congress has touted its efforts to save music and performance venues through the “Save Our Stages Act,” which was incorporated into the CARES Act II. But one beloved local performance venue finds itself shut out of any funding assistance, based on how the act is written.

The Hill Country Community Theatre in Cottonwood Shores has a small paid staff, including executive director Mike Rademaekers, but does not pay its all-volunteer casts for shows. This would mean the theatre does not qualify for any money under Save Our Stages, which requires that artists be “paid fairly any do not play for free or soleley for tips, except for fundraisers or similar charitable events.”

“When I first heard about Save Our Stages, some people were jumping up and down, but I was skeptical,” Rademaekers said. “These music venues are going to get all of this money, but many good community theatres across the country are going to get the short end of the stick on this.We just want our supporters and the community to be aware of that and not think that we’re going to all of a sudden get this huge chunk of government money.”

Rademaekers said the theatre was able to get $1,300 from the first round of COVID-19 relief, the CARES Act, which included some grant funding for the peforming arts, but that only went so far to pay expenses.

Rademaekers said the theatre has been unable to hold any large, in-person fundraisers as they have done in the past several years. Plans for a “big musical review based on the Roaring Twenties with a band and music” were canceled last year.

And while the theatre has made several upgrades, including making the restrooms “touch-free” and the addition of an electrostatic fogger to the theatre, they have not had any performances since “The Savannah Sipping Society” was able to complete its re-scheduled run in September.

“How quickly we can get back to normal is going to depend on whether people feel safe coming back to the theatre and in September, they just didn’t feel safe,” Rademaekers said. “We have a 146-seat theatre and we can fit 60 people in for social distancing, but when we came back with ‘Savannah Sipping Society,’ we only averaged 40 people and it hasn’t financially been in our best interest to produce any more shows yet.”

The theatre did receive several donations on Giving Tuesday, which encourages people to donate money to non-profit organizations on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. They also received some donations through a Christmas card sent to patrons which suggested recipients were responsible for hosting a party for the characters and gifts in the “Twelve Days of Christmas,” but could opt out by giving certain dollar levels of donations.

“It was similar to a circus fundraiser held in previous years and we adapted it to fit a year-end fundraiser and it did help bring in quite a bit,” Rademaekers said. “We’re trying to keep our audience engaged and that’s how we’ve been able to survive so far.”

He said the theatre hopes to do a musical review fundraiser in April featuring love songs from Broadway and hosted by Seth Smith and Karin Frasier. Unfortunately, they will not be able to serve food as they have in the past because they cannot have patrons mingling in the lobby due to COVID-19 protocols, Rademaekers said.

“We are planning and prepared to open up and start entertaining people as soon as they feel safe to come back. We’re ready to open the curtain back up once more,” he said.