COTTONWOOD SHORES — When asked what brought him from Los Angeles to the Highland Lakes, Mike Rademaekers went literal about the transition.
“My car,” he said with a laugh. “It’s a Prius.”
He laughed again because for most of his time living in Los Angeles, he drove a pickup, but when he left for Texas he switched to a Prius.
“Yeah, in Los Angeles, I had a pickup and everybody else had a Prius. Here I have a Prius and everybody else as a pickup,” he said. But no matter, because he has what it takes to be the new Hill Country Community Theatre executive director. Rademaekers is replacing Steve Reily who left the theater to take the executive director position at the Fredericksburg Theatre Company.
Though Rademaekers first official day was July 1, he was already working before then in anticipation of the upcoming production of “Hello, Dolly!” and the remainder of the season. And while the five annual productions will remain a big part of HCCT, Rademaekers has some ideas he hopes to implement that will further strengthen the 28-year-old nonprofit community theater.
Rademaekers brings with him a deep background in theater as well as acting and directing. In Los Angeles, he appeared with actors such as Keira Knightly, Matthew Broderick and Daryl Hannah. He even worked on five movies with John Goodman, acting as the man’s stand-in and photo double.
But it’s what Rademaekers did in the small theater realm that makes him such an asset to HCCT and the community.
He was a founder of the Secret Rose Theatre and managed and operated it for 14 years in Los Angeles.
“Basically, what we did was take this old retail center with two businesses, knocked out the center wall and built a theater,” he said.
While, structurally, it sounds quite straight forward, Rademaekers also built up the program, which kept the theater up and running for more than a decade until he decided to sell it and move to Texas. During those years, the small theater was the home to many productions of its own as well as those put on by other producers. And being so close to Hollywood, many professional actors stepped on the stage as a way to keep in practice between other roles.
Though HCCT might not attract many professional actors because of its distance from Hollywood, Rademaekers envisions bringing some of the programs he had at the Secret Rose Theatre here. One of the most successful was the 10-Minute Play Competition.
And it’s just what it sounds like, he explained.
It’s a short-form play competition with productions usually written by local writers. Rademaekers said many people might be intimidated by tackling a full play, but 10 minutes, well, that’s attainable. Through the process, local writers learn a craft, but they also become a viable group that writes plays the theater can produce.
“One of the things I was doing at Secret Rose was focusing on developing writers — local writers,” he said. “What happens is, with local writers, the community really gets behind them, and they’ll come out and support them.”
He also added a mini-musical festival that challenged writers to write 15- to 20-minute musicals. And there was She Wrights: A Festival of Women Playwrights, which was designed to encourage female writers and support them.
All this focus on shorter pieces for these competitions not only meant a place for writers to work on their craft, but gave local actors and directors a chance to practice theirs as well.
“If you have all these short pieces and plays, well you need a lot more actors acting in them and directors directing them,” Rademaekers explained. “That really means more involvement in the community theater.”
And that involvement and support of community theater is the really what brought him to Texas (though he did drive a Prius). After several decades in Los Angeles, Rademaekers saw the support for small theaters slip away. The Los Angeles Times stopped covering the smaller venues, and the other paper only occasionally reviewed small theater productions. Even the local governments seemed to turn their backs on the smaller theater companies.
“You wouldn’t think something like that would happen in Los Angeles, but it did,” he said. A friend told Rademaekers that if he was serious about small theaters, he needed to come to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, where she lived. Things worked out that a buyer approached him about purchasing the Secret Rose Theatre, so he headed for the Lone Star State. The community theaters in the Metroplex, however, weren’t hiring, so he looked elsewhere. An advertisement in American Association of Community Theaters regarding the HCCT opening caught his attention, and after a phone interview and one via Skype, the board invited Rademaekers down for a face-to-face interview. He drove down during the night and got a room at La Quinta.
“When I woke up the next morning, I pulled open the curtains and said, ‘Where in the world am I?’ I saw these rolling hills and everything and never knew a place like this existed,” he said. While the geography and other attributes of the Highland Lakes definitely increased his interest in the position, it was the support he saw from the community and local entities for the community theater during his final interview that actually brought him here.
Well, that and his Prius.
Go to thehcct.org for more information on the Hill Country Community Theatre and how to get involved.