Robbie McCauley, Stage Artist Who Explored Race, Dies at 78

Robbie McCauley, a efficiency artist, author and director who typically put race at the middle of performs and different works that sought to change views and foster dialogue, died on Thursday in Silver Spring, Md., the place she had been dwelling together with her sister, Anita Henderson. She was 78.

Her household mentioned the trigger was congestive coronary heart failure.

Ms. McCauley’s résumé included reimagining basic American performs by way of various casting and a stint within the ensemble of Ntozake Shange’s groundbreaking 1976 Broadway present, “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf.” But she was finest identified for reveals she wrote and carried out at venues just like the Kitchen in Manhattan and Franklin Furnace in Brooklyn, wherein she used her household and private tales to confront common points.

“My Father and the Wars,” first carried out within the mid-1980s, drew on her father’s time within the army, and on her relationship with him. “Sugar,” considered one of her most up-to-date items, used her expertise as a diabetic — she would take an insulin shot onstage — to look at the historical past and racial facets of the illness, in addition to Black individuals’s lengthy mistrust of the medical system.

Her most well-known, and possibly most searing, work was “Sally’s Rape,” whose title refers to her great-great-grandmother. The piece, first carried out at P.S. 122 in New York, started with Ms. McCauley and her performing companion, Jeannie Hutchins, a white lady, exchanging ideas on race, their upbringings and different topics, then constructed to an unsettling scene wherein Ms. McCauley stood bare on an public sale block whereas Ms. Hutchins goaded the viewers into becoming a member of within the auctioneer’s slave-auction chant “Bid ’em in” — successfully turning the tables on the viewers, particularly its white members, confronting them with the discomfort of historical past.

“I think what I most admired about her as an artist was her honesty and fearlessness and courage,” Ms. Hagedorn said of Ms. McCauley in a phone interview. “Her willingness to take a risk.”

Many of the racial themes she was broaching 30 years ago anticipated today’s race-related debates.

“She was so ahead of it,” Ms. Hagedorn said.

Ms. McCauley also helped people find and tell their own stories. In 1990 she wrote and directed “The Buffalo Project,” working with local residents and artists in Buffalo to create a site-specific performance that revisited that city’s race-related riots in 1967. In a series of multimedia performances produced by the Arts Company from 1990 to 1994, she worked with residents in Mississippi, Los Angeles and Boston to examine the history of voting rights, desegregation, the Black Panthers and other subjects.

“She believed in people’s capacity for liberation,” Mr. Jones said, “and knew her gift as a performer was to demonstrate in real time that we can in fact face traumatic histories, move testimonies through our bodies, and remember our whole being in community with others. Our nation is starving for the kinds of courageous conversation that Robbie and her work engendered.”

Ms. McCauley taught at various colleges over the years, including Emerson College in Boston from 2001 until her retirement in 2013.

At nearby Roxbury Community College some 15 years ago, she and Marshall Hughes reimagined American classics. Reginald Rose’s “Twelve Angry Men” became “Twelve Angry Jurors,” with the jurors no longer all being white men. Tennessee Williams’s “A Streetcar Named Desire” took on new elements of race and class when the Stanley Kowalski character was played by a Black actor. “The Crucible,” Arthur Miller’s play about the Salem witch trials, was staged to emphasize the character of Tituba, a slave from Barbados.

“We are not reinterpreting the play,” she told The Boston Banner in 2007, when “The Crucible” was staged. “We are looking for larger possibilities by extending our imaginations.”

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