After 13 years and 80 plays—76 of which were original, the Loblolly Theatre will say goodbye to its unique location in the old Sacred Heart Hospital.
“Yes, it was sudden,” said Yolanda Reed, artistic director and co-founder of Loblolly. “But we could’ve seen it coming 10 years ago. We’re too small, we couldn’t afford rent.”
The landlords have let the theatre keep its space for little to nothing, but as Reed said, they had to make a business decision.
“We always thought, ‘How can they be so kind?’” she said.
Sitting at a small table, surrounded by props, scripts and the theatre cat, Tess, Reed and Patricia Simmons, acting coach and co-founder, bask in the memories that the theatre has provided.
“I don’t think people know the blood, sweat and tears it takes. Pouring ourselves into this,” Simmons said and Reed begins to speak.
“I’m not finished,” Simmons said with a smirk. “We share a vision together that’s pretty powerful. We do still have that.”
“And always will,” Reed said.
Simmons is optimistic about the future of the theatre. It may be homeless by the end of the month, but it’s not dead.
“It’s not the end of the world,” she said. “It’s a stepping stone. Something better will manifest itself.”
There are no immediate plans for future Loblolly productions, but Reed and Simmons feel that they owe it to Pensacola to continue writing and producing plays.
“We’ll need a little time,” Reed said. “We have such a great devotion to Pensacola audiences who have been amazing.”
“Things will be different, but most likely very good,” Simmons said.
And then there are the actors who have been a part of the Loblolly theatre. Simmons and Reed take turns calling out names of actors who performed with Loblolly and moved on to New York and Los Angeles, including Katy Mixon. There’s also the current actors that Reed and Simmons feel responsible for.
“We have to take care of that loyalty,” Reed said.
Reed believes that the theatre’s spirit and energy will just add to the building’s history. Originally, the space was a chapel.
“The spirit of Loblolly is not gone,” Reed said. “It might get stronger.”
It’s evident that Reed will miss having the annual Halloween performance, which is written by a group rather than one person. She and Simmons reminisce about each year’s production looking at the posters that hang on the wall.
“We would just sit around and away we’d go,” she said of the writing process.
Loblolly began around a different holiday season. The first play was December 31, 1999 at 10:30 p.m.
“We had a toast to celebrate the New Year, new decade, new century, new millennium, new theatre,” Reed said. “We’d have a play around midnight every year and toast. So many people said they’re going to miss that.”
It was mid-July and the theatre was just about to open a play when Reed got the sad news.
“I told the owners we can’t end with this play,” Reed said. “Besides Pat needed to say goodbye, so we brought back a play that’s fitting.”
The fitting play is “Interim,” a one-woman show about an elderly woman, Rosa, who’s celebrating her 80th birthday in her beloved cabin, which her family insists she can no longer live in.
“The play originally opened around the time of Hurricane Ivan,” Reed said. “No one saw it.”
The audience learns about Rosa’s family through her stories about them. Even without actors portraying them, the characters are very real and endearing. Especially Rosa’s grandson Harvey.
“I keep a gratitude journal and one night I wrote, ‘Thank you for Harvey,’” Simmons said.
The experimental theatre isn’t widely known, even to longtime locals. Now is the chance to discover the hidden gem.
“People have called and said ‘I always wanted to see one of your plays and now it’s too late,’” Reed said. “Well, yeah…”
Reed approximates that she wrote 47 of the 76 original plays at Loblolly. That’s not including the Halloween group efforts.
“Some people say ‘Don’t you get writer’s block?’” Simmons said.
Reed answers, “No.”
“Or, ‘Don’t you run out of ideas?’”
Instead, Loblolly has always written plays for the available actors, letting their strengths shine.
“We cast, then write to challenge them, to protect them,” Reed said.
And those actors have a voice even off the stage. Simmons recalls many times when she has asked to change a line or scene.
“We have a saying here: ‘Feel free not to do that,’” Reed said.
And even though this is the last Loblolly production inside the old Sacred Heart, Reed does not want to write a new script.
“This is how I’d end it,” she said. “I wouldn’t write a new play, I’m not that kind of writer. I don’t have anything to say I have doors to open.”
It is fitting that the final words of the play are “I leave you now,” which is enough for Reed.
“It’s an interim to something else,” she said.
Of all the emotions that you might feel when something comes to an end, Reed and Simmons feel, for the most part, grateful.
“I just really want to say thank you for all the years,” Reed said. “I have enormous gratitude for the support and relentless loyalty.”
But after the final show on September 30, there won’t be a toast or celebration.
“No, we’ll go quietly,” Reed said. “I keep thinking of T.S. [Eliot], ‘This is the way the world ends, not with a bang, but a whimper.’”
WHEN: 8 p.m. September 21, 22, 28 and 29;
3 p.m. September 23 and 30
WHERE: 1010 N. 12th Avenue, Suite 211
DETAILS: 439-3010 or loblollytheatre.com