A Brief History of the (Greenville Avenue) Pocket Sandwich Theatre
In 1980, two guys (Rodney Dobbs and Joe Dickinson) who had worked together at Dallas Repertory Theatre decided to start a theatre of their own. They found a space in a struggling pocket sandwich shop in a rather questionable area on lower Greenville. Their goal was to manage to last long enough – a couple of years, maybe – to produce perhaps a dozen shows which they both had long wished to do. Their venue would consist of unabashedly “entertainment” theatre – comedies and melodramas. They began with the old American chestnut, “The Drunkard,” with hero to cheer, heroine to sigh for, and villain to jeer and toss popcorn at.
Other American “melodramas” followed, such as “No Mother To Guide Her,” “Ten Nights In A Bar-room,” “From Rags To Riches,” etc. These were a challenge to adapt, since they were usually four of five acts long, with huge casts. The writing was florid, the plots pretty ridiculous. They attracted pretty good audiences, but – unfortunately – they were primarily interested in drinking beer and throwing popcorn than they were with watching a play. The popcorn tossing was encouraged, as was the booing, hissing, cheering, and sighing associated with a “melodrama.” It was, after all, what made the melodramas unique – audience-participation. So – to encourage a little more listening, and a little less beer drinking, they decided to try changing the subject matter. They discontinued the old American melodramas, and began spoofing such things as classic horror stories (“Jekyll and Hyde,” “Sweeney Todd,” “Jack The Ripper,” “Dracula,” etc.) or genres (slasher movies, great-bad science fiction, Sherlock Holmes, etc.). They found that when there was an interesting plot, the audience was more likely to pay attention. They still tossed popcorn, hissed and booed, etc., but at least they listened. And still could drink a little beer.
They also decided they were overdoing melodramas – so they adopted their current format – i.e., alternating their popcorn-tossing spoofs with “regular” comedies, such as “The Nerd,” “Arsenic And Old Lace,” “Barefoot In The Park,” etc. They have even tossed in a few “heavier” shows (although still chosen for high entertainment value) such as “Inherit The Wind,” “Deathtrap,” “Vikings,” etc. Their musical adaptation of “A Christmas Carol,” has been performed for 26 consecutive holiday seasons. Their main stage plays are performed four times a week (Thursday through Saturday at 8:00; Sunday at 7:00).
One special main stage show – usually a comedy troupe or musical group – is presented on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday at 7:30 or 8:00. Some of these Special Shows have included “The Dixie Chicks,” “Sara Hickman,” “4 Out Of 5 Doctors,” Michael Gott,” “The Levee Singers,” “The Light Crust Doughboys,” and “Lu Mitchell and Catch 23.”
A late night comedy show, at 11:15 on Friday and Saturday evenings features local sketch and improv comedy troupes. Some of these include “Pavlov’s Dogs,” “Lugo and Long,” Steven Crabtree’s “Dysfunctional Divas,” “The Lollie Bombs,” “Last Call Comedy,” and “The Victims.”
The Pocket is the last of the Dallas dinner theatres (although the food and beverage service is optional). Dickinson and Dobbs are proud of the theatre’s large and faithful patron base, proud of the fact that almost half of their shows are productions of comedies by local playwrights, and are always a little surprised that they lasted longer than two years.
In 1990, just shy of their tenth year of existence, they moved to a larger space in a shopping strip on Mockingbird Lane, and there they have been ever since. Over the years, five additional partners were acquired. Dobbs and Dickinson remain the majority stockholders, but now have some partners/friends willing (and a few unwilling) to share the work.
In its 28 (almost) years, the theatre has produced over 200 shows. Five of its original plays have been nominated for Leon Rabin Awards for Best Play (three have won). In 2000, Dickinson received the Leon Rabin Best Actor Award, and in 2004, Dobbs and Dickinson were given the Dallas Theatre League Standing Ovation Award (“Contribution to the advancement of theatre in the Dallas Area which has been extraordinary and deserving of special recognition.”) It seems that the Pocket may have become a little more acceptable to the theatre community (at least it seems resigned to the fact that it’s not going to go away).
There are still folks around, though, who can’t quite accept it – like the theatre professor who, upon hearing that one of his students had been given a role at the Pocket, shuddered and said: “Good Lord – isn’t that the place where they throw food at the actors?”
A FEW NIFTY FACTS ABOUT THE POCKET SANDWICH THEATRE
In 2008, the Theatre will celebrate its 28th birthday.
It is the 3rd oldest theater in Dallas.
It is the 2nd longest continually operated theatre in Dallas.
It has produced over 220 shows.
It has provided over 2600 roles for actors, over 1500 technical theatre jobs.
It has gone through about 520,000 patrons, about 90,000 pounds of popcorn, and 17 critics.
Shortly after the Theatre was established in November 1980, a noted local Theatre Critic, who honored the theatre with his presence, said: “If the Pocket Sandwich Theatre is ‘The most fun you can have in a Dallas Theatre,’ we must leave the area as quickly as possible...”
The theatre is still here. Don’t know where he is. So there.
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