The stage of Pocket Sandwich Theatre, our neighborhood’s very own dinner theater, has hosted comedies, popcorn-tossing melodramas and romances — but not the scripted type. We’re talking real-life romances. The Pocket, as it is affectionately known, has been the scene of many a budding romance and marriage.
Little Forest Hills neighbors Max Overton and Sydney Daly Overton know a little something about that love connection. They met in 2015 during the production of “Laserfinger,” a James Bond-type spoof. “It was my first show at the Pocket,” Sydney says. “I had never done a melodrama before, let alone ever had popcorn pelted at me while I was acting.”
For the uninitiated, here’s a little Pocket primer. PST, which is the brainchild of Rodney Dobbs and Joe Dickinson, has been around since 1980. The original location was a former sandwich shop in a sketchy Lower Greenville area, thus the name. The theater would eventually move to its current location, tucked away in the corner between Whole Earth and Jason’s Deli on Mockingbird near Central.
After trial and error, the theater’s founders settled on their current format, alternating comedies and occasional dramas with over-the-top melodramas, where the audience is encouraged to boo and hiss the bad guys, cheer the heroes and heroines, and throw theater-provided popcorn at the actors (and other patrons).
Back to Max and Sydney. They expected the popcorn, not Cupid’s arrows. “There was undoubted chemistry between us, on and offstage,” Sydney says. “But we kept things professional during the production.”
It was, after all, her first show there. And it was Max’s first big role.
“I really wanted to do well in the show and be professional, but she was a huge distraction for me backstage,” he says.
Their paths had almost crossed previously: at a wedding five years prior and a birthday party the summer before.
“But the Pocket brought us together,” Max says. “The melodramas run seven weeks, so we had a lot of nights backstage and after the show where we would flirt but keep it ambiguous enough to not reveal our feelings.”
The couple married last summer. Sydney teaches performing arts at Dallas Academy, and Max teaches technical theater at St. Mark’s School of Texas. Both continue their work at the Pocket, and Max, especially, stays busy there as an actor, carpenter and lighting designer. They recently auditioned for an upcoming show and hope to share the stage again.
Romantic connections are nothing new for the Pocket. When it first opened in the original location, Shawn Dickinson was on staff at the theater when she met the late Hal Finley, whose “dashing good looks and charm” she fondly recalls. They became acquainted when he was cast in the lead for “Catch Me If You Can.”
They were soon a couple and often went to Ships Lounge next door. But it was a production in 1986 that would prove most memorable. “We were married onstage on the set of ‘You Can’t Take It With You.’ A bridal veil was put on the moose head on the wall, and flowers were put on the set and tables,” Dickinson says. “We had a live performance with a full house of friends and relatives. It was a warm and wonderful wedding.”
Finley continued acting, directing and stage managing at the Pocket until his death in 2015. A portrait of him remains on the wall at the theater.
“Our 33-year story closed, but damn, what a wonderful run,” Dickinson says.
An online discussion among Pocket alumni reveals more memories. Floyd and Robin Eggen met during the 1992 production of “Scrooge” and will soon celebrate 25 years of marriage. David and Elaine Grant met during the 2004 show, “Trailer Trash.” Their courtship involved a post post-show party that lasted until dawn, a case of mistaken identity and chicken at Plucker’s.
The Pocket during 2004 must have been especially romantic because another couple, Matt and Kate Doden, met that year. Matt was in “Fu Manchu,” and Kate waited tables at the theater. They married and had two children. Matt sells real estate in the neighborhood.
Daniel and Jocelyn Tiner met during the run of “Star Trip.” They started dating the weekend after it closed and later married. Daniel and Abigail Frank connected during “Laserfinger” and “Zorba,” then were married two years ago.
Even patrons who had first dates at Pocket Sandwich Theatre orchestrated marriage proposals onstage and return to the Pocket each year on their anniversaries.
So what is it about Pocket Sandwich Theatre? Max Overton says the Pocket is special because it is family owned and operated, with an emphasis on fun. The shows’ relatively long runs, seven weeks, also create friends for life. “And sometimes,” he says, “you find a mate for life.”
Patti Vinson is a guest writer who has lived in East Dallas for more than 15 years. She’s written for the Advocate and Real Simple magazine.
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