I was shocked to hear Monday that Douglas Balentine, the musical jack-of-all-trades behind a lot of the Hip Pocket Theater’s work, had died. But calls and e-mails produced no response. Then, the other day the Star-Telegram ran this bare-bones obit:
Douglas Balentine, the former Fort Worth composer, musician and actor who helped create Hip Pocket Theatre, was found dead last week in the Davis Mountains. He was 57.
“Doug was a great hiker,” said his father, Bob Balentine of Fort Worth. “He had been hiking in the mountains and was sitting in his van, probably trying to get warm. He apparently dozed off with the motor running. A park ranger found him Thursday.”
A memorial service in Fort Worth will be announced in the near future, said Hip Pocket producer Diane Simons, who founded the theater during the early 1970s with Balentine and writer/director Johnny Simons.
Doug seemed capable of playing just about any instrument and composing in just about any vein of music — whatever one of Johnny Simons’ quirky original musicals required: blues, folk, pop-rock, Broadway show tunes and, of course, gentle spoofs of all of these styles. Whereas Simons is fairly taciturn about his work, Balentine was often jovial and accessible. He always seemed to be enjoying himself onstage.
Balentine, Simons and Simons’ wife Dianne first worked together in the early ’70s on Out Where the West Begins and The Lake Worth Monster, which was Simons’ master thesis at Texas Christian University. Simons had met Balentine earlier while working at Casa Manana, but then encountered him again playing in a piano bar. With the success of Lake Worth Monster and their next, an adaptation of the classic commedia, The Three Cuckolds, the trio pooled their money and established the Hip Pocket in 1976.
The creative output of Simons and Balentine (with Diane providing costume design and business management) was often staggering, with several new musicals and world-premiere dramas being produced each season. The company was eventually invited to play in Edinburgh’s famous Fringe Festival and has staged works at the Kimbell Art Museum, the Dallas Museum of Art and London’s Royal Festival Hall. Balentine provided music for other notable productions in the Fort Worth area, including God’s Trombones at the Jubilee Theater. He left to work at the Caravan of Dreams Theater and then in 1999, moved to his wife Susan’s hometown of Kerrville to establish the theater, Kerrville 2000.