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Recently passed Save Our Stages Act a flop for community theaters

Hill Country Community Theatre

Despite the federal government earmarking $15 billion to support live music venues and movie theaters, community theaters such as the Hill Country Community Theatre aren’t in line to qualify for any of it. Staff photo by Jennifer Fierro

The Save Our Stages Act passed by Congress in December 2020 will indeed help save musical venues across the nation, just not community theater stages — a blow to the Hill Country Community Theatre in Cottonwood Shores. 

“People have been calling me, emailing me, and showing up all excited that we’re going to get all this money from the Save Our Stages Act, and we’re not,” said HCCT Executive Director Mike Rademakers. “Through this pandemic, we’ve gotten contributions. I don’t want these contributions to stop because people think we’re getting all this money.”

The act was included in a $900 billion COVID-19 stimulus package approved by Congress late last year. It set aside $15 billion in Small Business Administration grants for small live-music venues, motion picture theaters, and live performing arts organizations. 

To qualify, venues must sell tickets or assess a cover charge to attend most performances. Also, artists must be paid fairly. They cannot perform for free or solely for tips. That last stipulation brought the curtain down on HCCT’s hopes to qualify for the grant. All of its community theater performers are volunteers.

The Hill Country Community Theatre hasn’t hosted a performance in months due to the pandemic and state restrictions on venues. Even if HCCT puts on a show, it can only open at 50 percent of its 146 maximum occupancy. Coupled with other restrictions, the theater can only seat a maximum audience of 60 people, cutting revenue to less than half. 

The actors may come free, but HCCT still must pay for rights to the plays and musicals performed as well as other regular overhead costs like insurance, utilities, and accounting.

Facility upgrades to make COVID-related improvements to the theater and a new ticketing system have also been costly. Restroom facilities now have touchless sinks and the website has been upgraded to more efficiently handle online ticket sales. 

“We’re trying to make facility improvements and getting reorganized,” Rademakers said. “I want to make sure the public is clear: We’re OK. We own the building, we own the property, and can ride it out. But, we’re not getting ticket sales, we’re not able to hold fundraisers, so everything we’ve done this year are campaigns.”

HCCT leaders are tentatively planning a musical review fundraiser for the end of April. 

“I want to make sure people feel safe coming back,” Rademakers said. “Our donors are out there, and we really appreciate them, but people don’t understand we’ve been left out in the cold with this bill.”

Visit the HCCT’s website to learn how to support live community theater in the Highland Lakes. Donations can be made directly online. The theater also has a store that sells HCCT merchandise

2 thoughts on “Recently passed Save Our Stages Act a flop for community theaters

  1. NIVA told me that community theatres that use volunteer actors should still apply. Many times, theatres offer their volunteers thing like comp tickets. That can be considered a formal mutually beneficial financial arrangement.

    1. S. 4258 clearly states for venues to be eligible that “artists are paid fairly and do not play for free or solely for tips.”

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