Hip Pocket Theatre is an experimental theatre ensemble rooted deep in the heart of Texas. For the past 34 years co-founders Johnny and Diane Simons have committed themselves to widening the vision and scope of theatre, relying on the imagery of fantasy and fable, original adaptation, and scripts that mainly draw their inspiration from the legends and history of Fort Worth and the Southwest.
The performance focus is interdisciplinary, combining traditional theatrical elements with original score, drama, mime, dance, puppetry, as well as environmental and visual installations.
The Hip Pocket Theatre was founded in 1976 by Johnny and Diane Simons and Douglas Balentine but its “grass roots” origins go back much earlier. Johnny and Diane both earned Masters Degrees from Texas Christian University. While at TCU, Johnny left temporarily to act in New York but returned to school and went to work at Casa Mañana writing and directing children’s plays. He then moved to Houston where Diane was prop master at the Alley Theatre and Johnny put on pantomime performances in public parks.
Douglas met Johnny when he was sixteen and Johnny was a guest director at Casa Mañana for Huckleberry Finn. Douglas went on to work as a stage manager for Casa Mañana and the National Opera Company, out of Raleigh, North Carolina. After moving back to Fort Worth, the two met again while Douglas was performing at a local piano bar called The Red Slipper. Johnny asked Douglas to perform the role of J. Frank Norris, a preacher and rock ‘n roll piano player, in a new play commissioned by the Texas Bicentennial Committee based on Fort Worth’s history - Out Where the West Begins - an early version of Cowtown! The production was to be staged at Casa Mañana for an audience of school children. This meeting brought together some of the founding ensemble members of the Hip Pocket Theatre, Jimmy Joe Steenbergen, Grover Coulson, and Gary Cunningham.
Out Where the West Begins brought together the theatrical and musical talents of the Hip Pocket Theatre ensemble and created a team led by the vision of Johnny Simons that has staged more than 200 productions, including over 150 world premieres during the past thirty years. The first season in 1977 was at a renovated motel on Highway 80 where Diane did the costuming and ran the business side of the theater. Johnny and Douglas did carpentry, roofing and electrical work in addition to their other tasks of writing, directing and composing for each of the plays.
The founding of the Hip Pocket Theatre is also associated with the first production of The Lake Worth Monster, written by Johnny for his Master of Fine Arts degree from Texas Christian University. This landmark production was staged in the Solarium at the Fort Worth Art Museum and began a career for Johnny and Diane Simons that has lasted for 31 years....so far.
At the Highway 80 location the Hip Pocket Theatre put on 21 plays including Cowtown, Tarzan of the Apes, Tommy, In Watermelon Sugar, Peter Pan, Van Gogh/Gauguin, A Christmas Carol, Tartuffe, The Veldt and others. The Hip Pocket Theatre left the Highway 80 location and moved to the Oak Acres Amphitheater in 1980. They remained at this location until 2004 when they once again moved to their current location on Silver Creek Road.
While at Oak Acres, the theater also put on plays at other locations including the Kimbell Art Museum with whom they put on plays for 5 years. These plays included The Impressario by Bernini, the Spanish Brabanter by Bredero, La Fontaine’s Fables in Mime and Song, A Christmas Carol, The Beggar’s Opera and others. The theater also performed plays at the White Elephant in the Fort Worth Stockyards, the Dallas Museum of Art, the Inwood Theater, The University of North Texas, San Antonio and the Dallas Children’s Theater. The theater was invited to perform at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe called “the Fringe” for short, in Edinburgh, Scotland and was the first company to perform in London’s Royal Festival Hall. They took three plays with them and performed in St. Cuthburt’s Church Hall, one of the most popular venues in the festival. They shared the space with Deborah Warner’s London company, the Kick Theatre. Located on King’s Stables Road just off Princes Street Gardens, and is directly at the foot of the Edinburgh Castle, right in the heart of the city.The performances included “Elder Oaks”, “Tarzan of the Oaks” and “Ely Green and the Royal Flying Corps O’ Cowtown!”
The Hip Pocket Theatre has a long history of impressive Outreach Programs and has presented workshops in conjunction with the Arts Council Neighborhood Arts Program, Azle ISD, Bass Performance Hall, Bethlehem Community Center, Birdville ISD, Boys and Girls Club, Cook Children’s Medical Center, Fort Worth ISD, Imagination Celebration, John Peter Smith Hospital, Kid Code Blue Program, Kimbell Art Museum, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Paris ISD, Poly Community Center, RetroFest, Southwest Theatre Association, Texas Boys Choir, Texas Non-Profit Theatre Association, Texas Educational Theatre Association, Wessley Community Center and others.
Funding for the Hip Pocket Theatre has come from private donations along with organizations such as the Citigroup Charitable Foundation, the Meadows Foundation, Burlington Northern, Communities Foundation of Metropolitan Tarrant County, Cap Cities, American Express, Fifth Avenue Foundation, Star-Telegram, the Sid Richardson Foundation, the Amon G. Carter Foundation, Fund for New American Plays, Arts Council of Fort Worth and Tarrant County, Texas Commission on the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, and Imagination Celebration.