Mike Rademaekers, executive director of the Hill Country Community Theatre, died Aug. 29 after battling COVID-19. Courtesy photo
Hill Country Community Theatre Executive Director Mike Rademaekers, 59, died Sunday, Aug. 29, after a battle with COVID-19. Services and a memorial for Rademaekers are still being planned and will be announced as soon as details are available.
When Rademaekers came to the Highland Lakes to head the HCCT in 2014, the theater board knew he had the talent for acting and operating a community theater. As a bonus, he also could spot talent in others and draw it out of them.
“He shared his professional acting and directing experience with the performers in our theater community and helped many of us find within ourselves talents and abilities we didn’t know we had,” said actor Seth Smith, who worked on numerous productions under Rademaekers’ leadership. “The people whose lives were shaped by the creativity Mike encouraged at HCCT are too many to list, but what they learned has enriched the greater community in so many ways.”
HCCT director Laura Gisi said Rademaekers connected with her daughter, Riley, and helped her not only thrive in theater but beyond the stage.
“My daughter’s on the spectrum,” Gisi said. “Before we came to the theater, she couldn’t look anyone in the eye, and she transformed into a different person. We owe it to Mike. She saw him like a grandfather. She never had anyone she was so comfortable around, and he brought her out of her shell.”
Rademaekers also helped Laura Gisi find her own inner director. She didn’t envision herself in that role, but Rademaekers did and he helped her grow into a strong one.
He never minded when those he helped outshined him.
“He told my daughter, ‘Don’t tell your mom this, but I think she’s a better director than me,’” Gisi recalled. “He was a great coach for me and liked to keep hidden just what a nice person he was. He’d do anything for anybody.”
Rademaekers evangelized the community theater. He was always on the lookout for new actors or stage help. When repairman Kyle Hirning showed up one day to fix the theater’s heating and air-conditioning system, Rademaekers saw his potential.
“(Hirning) became a master of musical comedy and drama with Mike’s support and guidance,” Smith said.
Even veteran actors grew with Rademaekers’ support.
Penny Rapstine, whom audiences know as Kay Baker, was a regular HCCT performer even before Rademaekers’ arrival in 2014. Yet, under his guidance and direction, Rapstine developed stronger connections with audiences, Smith said.
Rademaekers often portrayed himself as gruff and curmudgeonly, but laughter was one of his strongest attributes.
He had a great sense humor as evidenced by his introduction to the Highland Lakes. When asked at the time what brought him from Los Angeles to the Central Texas community, he said, “My car.” Gisi said she can’t imagine not hearing one of his jokes again, noting it was a real gift.
HCCT board President Patty Gosselin said Rademaekers enjoyed traveling and “loved, loved, loved animals.” He was a cat owner and was heartbroken when any died, she said.
When Rademaekers moved into an apartment in the Highland Lakes, his landlord’s dog adopted the new lodger.
“I think Mike and Buddy, that was his name, became very fast friends,” Gosselin said. “It helped when he lost his precious cats. We have a theater cat named Mama Rose that Mike named. She just had kittens. Mike always fed her. That’s been years, and she’s still being cared for. He’s such a big guy and can be a big personality that I don’t think people can understand that he had a tender side.”
Rademaekers’ entertainment background as an actor, producer, director, lighting and sound systems operator, and everything in between gave him an understanding of the unique challenges that theaters face. He founded the Secret Rose Theatre in Los Angeles, which he sold before moving to Texas.
He made no secret that he wanted to work with talented writers, musicians, technicians, and anyone who could help grow the Hill Country Community Theatre. He organized fundraisers that benefited not only the theater but also other nonprofits.
“I will miss his creativity,” Gosselin said. “He had a feel for the business end of our theater. He could kick around ideas and think outside the box. He was an interesting storyteller. He had a great sense of humor and enjoyed being around theater people.”
And his ability to build relationships with people of all walks of life made him an invaluable asset, Smith said.
“The annual talent show alone found dozens of folks on the stage, and the partnerships with performing groups like the Bluebonnet Chorale and local church musicians brought the creative communities close together,” the actor said.
HCCT board member Frank Reilly noted that Rademaekers had a desire to see people of all ages enjoy the theater.
“Mike’s artistic talent and his ability to put that talent to work for HCCT enriched the theater and all of us who have been involved in the theater’s productions,” Reilly said. “His love for those with whom he worked and directed, especially the young talent that he helped develop, was evident in every show. All of us who were lucky enough to be his friend will miss that love, his immense personality, his sense of humor, and his wonderful, hearty laugh.”