“Atomic cavegirls of island zero turned out to be a four-part trilogy. The first one was Babes in Outer Space, next was Attack of the Zombie Moon Maids, then 20,000 Babes Under the Sea. There’s nowhere left to go. The trilogy is done,” says Rodney Dobbs, a Lake Highlands resident and co-owner/technical director of a neighborhood icon, the Pocket Sandwich Theater.
Sad, to be certain, but on the bright side is that Dallas’ own Off-Off-Off Broadway/Prairie-land landmark was around to give the plays a stage. The name is not an attempt at irony – indeed the theater originated in the now defunct Pocket Sandwich Shoppe – and neither are the productions.
“We unashamedly wanted to do entertainment theater – comedy, melodramas and musicals, occasionally. We had no real interest in doing anything heavy, no Shakespeare or Tennessee Williams,” says Joe Dickinson, elder statesman of the two owners.
Unlike most others with a passion for theater, Joe and Rodney decided to create their own vehicle.
The two men met while working at Texas Instruments in the 1970s and “used to drink beer together after we would work,” Joe says. “I’d regale him with stories about the theater business. Eventually, we decided (we were probably drinkin’ beer that night, too) we oughta try something.”
In order to start a theater, Joe and Rodney needed a space with high ceilings and low overhead. Thankfully, the owner of the Pocket Sandwich Shoppe on Greenville indicated interest in sharing his space with two entrepreneurs.
“We made an arrangement where we could put on shows Thursday, Friday and Saturday with a Sunday matinee (they were only open until 6), and they would take any food profits, and we would take whatever we made from the box office,” Joe says.
“God, the first night we had all sorts of people… can’t remember if anybody came the second night,” he laughs.
“We used to laugh about it, back in the early days,” Rodney says. “We’d have about 40 or 50 people in the audience, and then Joe would say: I have about 10 friends in the audience. And I’d go: I have about 15.
But someone was paying to get in and telling friends it was worth their while to do the same. Business was successful enough for the two entrepreneurs to eventually buy the Pocket Sandwich Shoppe, an idea that originated with the then proprietor, who was seeing more people over time come in to feast their imaginations rather than their mouths.
And 20 years later, the decision has blazed a trail for other “alternative” stage venues for Dallas.
Since those early days, Joe and Rodney have ensconced the theater in its present location inside the shopping plaza on Mockingbird Lane near Central Expressway, where seating capacity is 150, countless pictures of those who have appeared in their plays line the walls, and Joe’s daughters runs the kitchen.
In those two decades, the theater has witnessed “proposals, marriages and turn-downs.” Joe and Rodney have seen customers die of old age, and somehow managed to only have “probably have four or five arguments,” Rodney says, somewhat incredulously.
“That’s what happens when you both like beer,” Joe offers, and then in seriousness adds: “We complement each others.”
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