Theater is as much about the shared experience of a live audience as it is the performance.
Enter COVID-19, stage left.
“It’s changed everything,” said Mike Rademaekers, executive director of the Hill Country Community Theatre. “We have to look at everything we do and see how we can do it as we begin looking at reopening.”
The Cottonwood Shores theater has had to postpone at least one performance — “The Savannah Sipping Society,” which was scheduled to open in late April — and cancel a fundraiser due to the pandemic.
Cast and crew were in the middle of rehearsals for “The Savannah Sipping Society” when Gov. Greg Abbott issued his stay-at-home order and restrictions on what could remain open.
While the stay-home order expired April 30, and many businesses, including movie theaters, restaurant dining rooms, salons, and stores have been allowed to reopen at a reduced capacity, live theaters remain closed.
“The cast has been rehearsing remotely,” Rademaekers said. “We all know we will open, but we just don’t know when. Hopefully, by September.”
But the theater won’t just be throwing open their doors to audiences.
“There’s a laundry list of things we have to get just to reopen,” Rademaekers said.
That list includes basic cleaning and disinfecting supplies as well as an electrostatic disinfecting fogger, hands-free faucets for the restrooms, hands-free hand sanitizer dispensers, and social distancing floor signs.
“These are things we never thought of before,” he said “Who would have?”
To sanitize the theater’s cloth seats, the venue is purchasing the fogger, which creates a mist of disinfectant to cover a large space and surfaces.
And, there are only 146 of those cloth seats. Based on current social distancing standards for movie theaters and similar venues, that would mean 20-25 people per HCCT show.
“That’s just not a lot,” he said. “One of the great things about live theater is you get to experience with a whole bunch of other people. That’s one of the things that makes it so special.”
Social distancing also extends to cast and crew. Rademaekers said they will have to rethink how the cast prepares behind stage and in dressing areas.
This could even affect which plays and musicals the theater selects for its 2020-21 season. Instead of productions with large casts, Rademaekers said they’ll probably focus on more intimate ones.
The HCCT’s future remains in the community’s hands. As a nonprofit theater, it depends on donations, fundraisers, and ticket sales. No shows this spring and summer cut out one revenue source. The canceled spring fundraiser was another hit.
The theater’s board is looking at other possible fundraisers, but the theater could definitely use donations.
HCCT has set up a range of donation amounts that will help purchase needed cleaning supplies and non-contact equipment. All amounts are appreciated and can be donated through the website.
“It’s not going to be the same,” said Rademaekers on how live theater will look going forward. “But we will go on. That’s what we do in community theater: We keep going, and we find a way.”
The Hill Country Community Theater is located at 4003 FM 2147 in Cottonwood Shores. Visit its website for updates and to donate.