Hip Pocket Theatre had been planning their 46th season for nearly a year, but when a heat advisory was issued before the opening night of “The Diaries of Adam and Eve” warning of a 112 degree heat index, staff realized they weren’t prepared for that level of heat.

The outdoor theater decided to hit pause and push opening night back two days from July 8 to July 10.

“A lot of people just say it’s just Texas, you know, no big deal,” Lake Simons, the theater’s managing artistic director, said. “And I appreciate that … It’s Texas, it’s hot. We’re used to this heat, but this is definitely over the top.”

Canceling performances and pushing back a show’s opening is never an easy call, but Simons said it was the right decision.

“Of course, it’s no fun on our pocketbook,” Simons said. “But that’s health and safety … that’s not something to toy around with … we have to care for people.”

Looking further out in the forecast, Simons said it was clear that the team needed to devise a plan to handle the extreme heat for the weeks to come.

A theater is born

Throughout the theater’s history, Simons said they have canceled shows before due to inclement weather, but most of those calls involved rain.

She grew up in the theater with her sister, Lorca, who is now the producing artistic director. Their parents, Johnny and Diane, built the theater with their friend Doug Balentine after working in other theaters and seeking more autonomy in selecting and staging productions.

Their dad was no stranger to performing outside. 

When he lived in Houston, Johnny crafted a makeshift stage in a park by stringing rope between two trees and using a piece of fabric as a backdrop.

It’s always been an outdoor theater. We had a space off of Highway 80 for a while. From there, we moved over to a space that was behind a barbecue restaurant called Oak Acres not far from where we are now. And then we’ve moved out to this space, which used to be the Fort Worth Gun Club,” Lake Simons said.

The theater is situated near Lake Worth and Brewer High School. Hand-painted signs line the driveway leading an unpaved parking lot. Colorful cafe lights are strung up just beyond the box office connecting the HipCafe with a smaller wooden stage for live music.

The main stage is a multi-level wooden platform that looks out onto three platforms of raised seating with space for about 100 audience members.

Proceeding with caution

Shows start after sunset and patrons are handed cardboard fans along with their programs to help keep them comfortable.

“The audience is one thing and then our performers on stage are another. The audience, they are sitting and maybe fanning themselves … and they’re hydrating as they watch,” Simons said. “But a performer on stage is exerting a lot of extra energy … that’s a whole other story.” 

“It’s not a dance show, but there’s definitely lots of movement,” one of the cast’s three Eves, Aja Jones-Crowe said. “We just take a lot of breaks rehearsal wise. We talk about, ‘Hey, are you or is everyone okay?’”

Running time for the show is about an hour, and the actors have opportunities backstage between scenes to check in with the stage manager, sip water and cool down with cold wash cloths if needed.

The setting, style and costumes in the play help too.

“I went to Shakespeare Dallas a few nights ago and some of them are in capes and coats … I was not envious of their workload,” Jones-Crowe said. “It was beautiful, but I was like, ‘Holy moly, I’m grateful that my costume is lightweight for this show.’”

Hip Pocket’s board includes a former firefighter who helped create small cooling kits — including ice, bottled water and cold wash cloths —  to place around the theater and to come up with a protocol for handling heat exhaustion.

First, staff helps the person get away from the crowd where they can get good airflow and some privacy. From there, they will help them sit or lie down and place chilled washcloths on their neck and under their arms to quickly cool down.

“I’ve offered someone a bottle of water from (the cooling kit) there just because I thought, you need to drink some water, my friend,” Simons said. “But we haven’t had any emergency situations.

At the penultimate performance of “The Diaries of Adam and Eve” it was 96 degrees when the show started at 9 o’clock. By the time show ended at 10, the temperature had only dropped to 93.

Isabel Collier was in the audience with her mother, and the off-duty emergency medical technician made sure they came prepared.

“Mother and I dress to be comfortable. I drank several bottles of water before we came. We use our fan, you know, the best that you can do,” she said. “They work hard at finding when the sun is going to go down and then they plan their start times, so that helps, too.”

Fellow audience member Camille Plemmons came to support her boyfriend, who is one of the show’s Adams. She also made sure to wear loose, light clothing and have water on hand. 

“It’s really unique. It’s not like any other theater I’ve ever been to,” Plemmons said. “It’s very cozy and I feel like everybody knows each other, which is cool. So yeah, it’s just unique and homey and there’s nowhere else like this.”

After the theater’s brief pause of “The Diaries of Adam and Eve” on opening weekend, it hasn’t had to cancel any shows since.

Rehearsals for the next show, “When We Were Very Young,” have already started, but the theater is still making adjustments — even if it’s just bumping back rehearsal times by half an hour.

The play opens on Aug. 5., and though the team has a plan to handle the heat, they’re hoping for slightly cooler weather when it begins.

“We are taking it day by day, you know, kind of weekend by weekend,” Simons said. “Unless there is some really, really bad situation coming up with the heat, I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to make it through the next month … then after August it should be, hopefully, consistently under 100 degrees.” 

Marcheta Fornoff covers the arts for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at marcheta.fornoff@fortworthreport.org or on Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Marcheta FornoffArts & Culture Editor

For just over seven years Marcheta Fornoff performed the high wire act of producing a live morning news program on Minnesota Public Radio. She led a small, but nimble team to cover everything from politics...