Phyl Holbert and GiGi Fischer
THIRTY-FIVE YEARS IN THE MAKING
Our Mission Statement
The primary purpose of HCCT is to present and promote quality theatre activities and programs that entertain, educate, and encourage community participation in support of performance and related cultural arts.
In the beginning …
In 2020, the Hill Country Community Theatre celebrated its 35th anniversary. There have been many challenges along the way, but it has endured a remarkable accomplishment and something in which our community can take pride. Started by a small group of friends in Horseshoe Bay who loved live theatre, its mission is to present and promote quality theatre activities and programs that entertain, educate, and encourage community participation in support of performance and related cultural arts. Since its establishment in 1985, it has staged over 200 productions and special events, and it now sells over 7000 tickets a year. It draws its audiences, its performers, and its volunteers from all around the hill country.
The theater had its beginnings in 1985 at a cocktail party hosted by GiGi Fischer and Phyl Holbert, two women passionate about theatre. They had sent invitations to people they thought might be interested, and they were pleased when 22 guests attended and expressed their enthusiasm for the project. That evening, Melissa Rowe, who was to become an audience favorite in many productions over the years, suggested the name, the Hill Country Community Theatre, to signify that the theatre was an enterprise for all of the surrounding communities to participate in and enjoy. The original board of governors was chosen: GiGi Fischer, Phyl Holbert, Cookie Puckett, Charlie Keiser, Jim Rose, Ken Holbert, George Edgerton, Marge Oberholtzer, and Gloria Sams.
The early meetings were covered dish suppers where members could get acquainted and enjoy some theatre-related activities. They brought in people to talk about different aspects of theatre and do some entertaining and teaching. They also enjoyed doing informal readings from various plays. Betty Delisle, the wife of the fire chief, volunteered to put together a regular newsletter. “The Stage Whisper” was published several times a year for over 30 years.
Their first public outing was a revue, a combination of musical numbers and readings from comedies, which they performed at Quail Point. It was so successful that they were invited to perform at the Yacht Club. They were ready to invite members to join them for a moderate $25 a year, but finding places to rehearse and put on performances was not easy. To prepare for their first performance for patrons, they rehearsed at Quail Point, built sets in a warehouse that Jim Rowe managed to find for them, and put on the production at Marble Falls High School. Tickets were $2 each.
They never turned down an opportunity to go out in the community to talk about the theatre and perform for interested groups. The Horseshoe Bay Guild asked them to do an old-time melodrama for the Fourth of July celebration, a tradition that continued for many years. With some help from people who came in to give classes on acting, directing, and set construction, they began to prepare for their first season.
Finding space to perform continued to be a problem. At one point at the old high school, they were rehearsing while a basketball game played on one side, and a town meeting was taking place on the other. They found a unique but temporary solution when Dutch Lemming, the Cottonwood Shores Fire Chief, offered to let them move in with the Volunteer Fire Department, where they shared the space with the fire trucks and crews. Finally, with the help of loyal supporters and fundraisers, they were able to buy and renovate a boat dealership in Cottonwood Shores, where the 146-seat theatre has been located ever since.
Largely thanks to the efforts of Jim Rowe, the building was expanded. Dressing rooms were added, along with a scene shop, a kitchen, and other amenities. Activities have grown as well. HCCT generally has a regular season of five productions throughout the year, and the summer production is usually a big well-known musical. Over the years, many other events have been added at various times. They have brought in shows, taken bus trips to other theatres to see shows, offered lessons in acting and directing, and put on talent shows and special programs. One year the theatre organized a playwriting festival, an ambitious undertaking that brought in submissions from all over the country, judges from throughout Texas, and many actors and volunteers.
An essential part of the theatre’s mission is education and outreach. The annual two-week youth summer theatre program for ages 8-17 has been very popular. The program is designed to introduce the participants to basic theatre concepts, from scripts to stagecraft to performance. Thanks to a fund named in memory of Bob Turnbaugh, one of the founders of the theater and a beloved performer, HCCT has been able to offer scholarships to the summer theatre program to young people from low-income families. Students from drama programs in high school are frequent participants in season productions, particularly in summer musicals. The theatre has a scholarship program for graduating seniors who wish to pursue performing arts.
Throughout the years, everything—from maintaining the facility, soliciting funds, building sets, painting scenery, searching for props and costumes, crewing backstage—was done by volunteers. This included staffing the box office, greeting patrons and serving beverages upfront, and—of course—directing and performing, and myriad other things. Eventually, it became apparent that the theatre needed someone to take over the business’s daily management. Starting in 1999 and for a little more than ten years, a paid executive director handled the general management of the theatre. Buffeted by the effects of the economic turndown, in 2010, the Board of Governors voted to return operations to an all-volunteer status. Fortunately, within a few years, it hired professional management again, and a paid executive director has led theatre operations since then.
Since ticket sales—even of sold-out performances—bring in only a portion of the theater’s operating costs, fundraising is critical and continues to be a challenge from year to year. The theatre can continue to operate only through the generosity of a host of contributing members and volunteers. All of those people who work behind the scenes to keep the theatre in business, along with the dedicated performers and crews who have worked countless hours on the productions to bring live theatre to the hill country, are to be gratefully congratulated on sustaining the Hill Country Community Theatre for 35 years.