Robbie McCauley

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Robbie McCauley is an African-American playwright, director, and performer. She is best known for her plays Sugar and Sally's Rape.

Personal life[edit]

Robbie McCauley was born in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1942. She spent most of her younger years splitting time between Washington, D.C. and Columbus, Georgia. She earned her B.A. from Howard University and her M.A. from New York University. It was in New York where she became interested in both experimental and African-American theatre. In 1979 she was introduced to Ed Montgomery, a musician. Together, they formed a group called Sedition Ensemble, a group focusing on political jazz works which married melody with improvised words. The duo were briefly married but split. They still maintain a professional relationship in which Montgomery occasionally writes music for McCauley's plays. She continues to work, perform, and teach.


McCauley is not only a playwright, but also an actor, writer, and director. Her involvement in theater began during the late 1960s, when she worked as an apprentice at the Negro Ensemble Company in New York City. Since the 1970s she has been a working playwright, director, and actor in many New York-based projects, both on and off Broadway, in the US and abroad. Her first, and most successful work, Sally's Rape, won an OBIE Award in 1991 for best new American play and a Award in 1990. Her other major works include Sugar, Mississippi Freedom, Quabbin Dance, and Indian Blood. As an actress, she is known for her performance in Ntozake Shange's for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf on Broadway.

McCauley's work deals with themes of race and racism in the USA. She is eager to confront the hard issues of racism, and her work often facilitates dialogues on race between races in the community.

Outside of the theater, she has taught at City College of New York, Hunter College, Mount Holyoke College, University of Massachusetts, and Emerson College.


Notable works[edit]


Sugar is an auto-biographical piece about McCauley's life as a diabetic. The story is heartfelt, personal and vivid in detail as McCauley tells and shows the audience some of the difficulties and complexities of living with diabetes as a black woman working in the theater and elsewhere. She makes a powerful parallel between sugar and slavery: both have chained her. The premiere performance of the piece was put on by ArtsEmerson, an organization at Emerson College, directed by Maureen Shea.

Sally's Rape[edit]

Sally's Rape is a performance art piece in which McCauley plays the black female subject out of victimization. The piece is inspired by McCauley's great-great-grandmother who herself was a slave. During the play McCauley stands naked on a platform and encourages the audience to bid on her body. The piece was well received and won McCauley the OBIE Award.

Indian Blood[edit]

Indian Blood, like Sally's Rape, weaves McCauley's family history into the piece. The first performance was in 1987. The play is inspired by McCauley's grandfather. He was a part of the 10th Cavalry Regiment (United States) in the Spanish–American War. They were known as the buffalo soldiers, as they also fought Native Americans.

Mississippi Freedom[edit]

Mississippi Freedom is the first in a trilogy of theater works that McCauley created in the 1990s that highlight race relations in the US during the '60s and '70s. In collaboration with Arts Company as well as local artists, the pieces are mixed media, incorporating elements of music, audience participation, and more. Mississippi Freedom is centered on the fight for the right to vote. It toured around the state of Mississippi in 1992, and was presented in New York in 1993, and Texas in 1996.

Turf: A Conversational Concert in Black and White[edit]

Mississippi Freedom is followed by Turf: A Conversational Concert in Black and White, which is centered around the Boston school busing controversy. It was performed in four different neighborhood locations around Boston in 1993.

The Other Weapon[edit]

The last piece in the trilogy is titled The Other Weapon, and tells the stories of the Black Panther Party, community empowerment, and law enforcement in Los Angeles. It was shown at four locations in LA in 1994.

Quabbin Dance[edit]

Quabbin Dance is based upon actual events that took place in Western Massachusetts in the late 1930s when four towns were flooded in order to provide a reservoir, the Quabbin, to provide Boston's water supply. It was performed at Mount Holyoke College.

Critical reception[edit]

Robbie McCauley's work has been well received by most critics. Sally's Rape and Sugar especially have receive high reviews from African American Review, Stage Review, and Bomb. Don Aucoin of the Stage Review describes McCauley as "a skilled performer and raconteur who knows the subtle difference between speaking with—rather than to or at—her audience."[1]

Further reading[edit]

Vicki Patraka, "Obsessing in Public: An interview with Robbie McCcauley (1993)", in Annemarie Bean (ed.), A Sourcebook of African-American Performance: Plays, People Movements, Routledge, 1999, pp. 219–245; and "Sally's Rape (1994), pp. 246–264.


  1. ^ "Stage review: Robbie McCauley tells her own bittersweet tale in 'Sugar'". The Boston Globe. 2012-01-24. Retrieved 2016-11-21.