Robbie McCauley, performing arts professor emerita, dies at 78

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Photo: Courtesy: Emerson College

Professor Emerita Robbie McCauley

By Bailey Allen, Staff Writer

Former performing arts professor Robbie McCauley, who taught at Emerson for 12 years, passed away last week in Silver Spring, Maryland, according to college officials.

McCauley, 78, came to Emerson in 2001, and initially worked with graduate students in theatre education to teach courses in Theatre and Community. She taught at the college until her retirement in 2013, when she became a professor emerita. 

Prior to her arrival at Emerson, McCauley was an accomplished actor and playwright, winning an Obie Award and a Bessie Award for Outstanding Achievement in Performance for her play Sally’s Rape and performing as an original cast member of Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf

McCauley was diagnosed as a juvenile diabetic at the age of 20, following years of undiagnosed illness caused by the disease. That experience inspired her one-woman play Sugar, which was produced by ArtsEmerson in 2012 and presented at Brown University, the HartBeat Ensemble, and at New York Live Arts in 2018.

“Robbie was such a survivor,” Maureen Shea, co-chair of the performing arts department, wrote in a department-wide email the week of her passing. “She was so strong. Her vulnerability was also her strength, and she was always respectful of and empathic with others’ vulnerabilities.”

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Prior to her passing, McCauley was honored by the Foundation for Art & Healing with a lifetime achievement award. The foundation also gifted the college the Robbie McCauley Self Care Award, a scholarship to be presented to an Emerson theatre student.

McCauley is survived by her daughter, composer and violinist Jessie Montgomery, her partner, Ed Montgomery, and her sister, Anita Henderson.

McCauley’s work is anthologized in Extreme Exposure, Moon Marked and Touched by Sun, Performance and Cultural Politics and other publications. The Theatre Communications Group is also working to publish The Struggle Continues: Robbie McCauley: Scripts, Essays and Reflections, with contributions by noted theatre artists, critics, and scholars.

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