Photography by Emil Lippe.

Just to be clear from the get-go: Our neighborhood’s beloved Pocket Sandwich Theatre (PST) is not closing, merely moving.

Where to remains to be seen, but count on The Advocate to keep you informed. And count on Shanon Dickinson and Brad Dickinson, daughter and son of Joe Dickinson, one of the theater’s founders, to keep the theater alive. They are determined to preserve their father’s legacy.

Now about this move.

As if keeping a dinner theater afloat during a pandemic wasn’t challenging enough, the Pocket, as it is affectionately called, received word a few months ago that Mockingbird Central Plaza, the shopping center the popular theater has called home for 31 years, had been sold. The new owners informed them that their lease would not be renewed because the theater does not fit their vision for the shopping center’s future, and they would need to vacate by year’s end.

“We can’t wait to see what that vision is,” the theatre website says, presumably wryly. 

Despite an exhaustive search for just the right property, the future home of the Pocket is uncertain as of press time. Shanon Dickinson, the theater manager, described the hunt as an “ordeal,” citing the difficulty of finding a space to accommodate a dinner theater — and one that won’t break the bank.

Shanon says they prefer to remain in East Dallas, but “real estate prices aren’t friendly for ‘mom-and-pop’ operations like ours.” But she adds, “We’ve been approached by numerous smaller towns, centrally located, that recognize the value we bring to the area.”

The Pocket has been a fixture in the neighborhood for 41 years, and Shanon and Brad detail their father’s involvement from the early days. He and good friend Rodney Dobbs had worked together at Dallas Repertory Theatre back when it was located at NorthPark. One day they met for lunch in a little sandwich shop on Lower Greenville and became buddies with the two young owners. When the struggling sandwich shop closed, they decided to open a theater there, despite its then-sketchy environs. In 1980, The Greenville Avenue Pocket Sandwich Theatre was born. Ten years later they moved to the larger location on Mockingbird.

The Pocket is the third-oldest theater in Dallas and the second-longest continually operated theater in Dallas. It has produced more than 350 shows, many spoofing horror stories such as Sweeney Todd and Jekyll and Hyde or great/bad science fiction, during which audience members are encouraged to boo and hiss and toss popcorn at the villains.

They’ve also entertained audiences with more traditional fare, alternating melodramas with comedies such as Arsenic and Old Lace and Barefoot in the Park. They’ve even tossed in the occasional drama: Think Inherit the Wind or Camelot.

Shanon and Brad grew up watching their father, Joe, perform in local theater in every town where they lived, and when the theatre was established, it became a family affair. Over the years, Shanon has waited tables, toiled in the kitchen and is now manager. Brad has acted, directed shows and co-written melodramas with his dad.

The Mockingbird location they’ll have to leave soon is saturated with fun memories. Brad laughs as he recalls the time an actress had an emergency and couldn’t make it on closing night of Dracula. She played a vampire who dressed in a wedding gown and high heels and sang with Dracula.

“I had directed the show and my dad was the assistant director,” he says. “We were the only ones that knew the lines and blocking. I looked at him and said, ‘I’m the director. You’re going on.’ He looked at me and said, ‘I’m your daddy, get in the damn dress.’ Thankfully the audience had a really good sense of humor as I did my best to sing — not my forte — in that very tight dress.”

But some of the memories are bittersweet. “As we get ready to depart (get kicked out), I remember the period of time when we built out the current location 31 years ago,” he says. “Rodney Dobbs is something of a technical/construction wizard and we did almost all of the build out — walls, elevated seating, stage, etc. It’s not just having been there for so long, but also that almost everything associated with the space was created by us.”

The Pocket family has grown over the years to include not just blood relatives but appreciative actors and patrons. Shanon and Brad tell of their father’s memorial service at the Pocket in 2010. “There has never been that many people at the theater. It was completely packed inside and dozens of people were outside,” he says. “Everyone remembered dad in a jovial manner as he would have wanted and toasted him with a shot of cheap whiskey.”

As Pocket Sandwich Theatre gets ready to take its final bow on Mockingbird with its 39th production of Ebenezer Scrooge, written by Joe Dickinson, Shanon and Brad are haunted by ghosts of theaters past, present and yet to come. But they remain optimistic. “In 1990 we moved here from another location on Greenville Avenue, and 2022 will be the start of another move and a new adventure,” Shanon says.

“The story is not over.”

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