Arts + Culture

Theater Historian, Professor, Folklorist Beverly Robinson Dies

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BeverlyRobinson, theater historian, folklorist, UCLA professor, producer, writer anddirector, died May 5 of pancreatic cancer at Santa Monica UCLA Medical Center.She was 56.

A well-loved professor inthe UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, Robinson began teaching on theWestwood campus in 1978. A pioneer in her field, she ushered in a climate ofintercultural exchange with her African American Theater History course, whichbecame a magnet for generations of students as well as international guestscholars and lecturers. She received several achievement and teaching awardsduring her tenure at UCLA, including the Outstanding Teaching and CulturalContribution Award in 1978. As a faculty member, she wrote, directed andproduced several Department of Theater productions.

"Professor Robinson's passionate commitmentto socially conscious theater has inspired thousands of UCLA students," saidRobert Rosen, dean of the school. "She was a great teacher, a significantscholar and a life force for her colleagues."

An authority in the field of AfricanAmerican theater and performance, Robinson was frequently hired as a mediaconsultant, working on such films as "The Color Purple," "Coming to America"and "Miss Evers' Boys." Her professional theater activities have includedworking with the Mark Taper Forum, the Goodman Theater, the Ahmanson Theaterand American Conservatory Theater.

A producer in her own right, she createdthe speaker series "Black Speakers in the Arts Forum at UCLA," which ran from1978–81 and featured artists and scholars such as Maya Angelou, James Baldwinand John Bubbles. Robinson's dynamic public speaking skills led to numerouspresentations as guest speaker, panelist and moderator. She was engaged as ascholar-in-residence at universities across the United States as well as inFrance, Ghana and Ethiopia.

"Eachhuman being is unique, perfect and irreplaceable," said poet/author Angelou."While I know that is true, Beverly Robinson's life and work and devotion anddeath make me know just how true that is. There never was anyone like BeverlyRobinson, yet she was like everybody in the world — ordinary and extraordinary.The silence of her voice, her intelligence and her laughter will haunt usforever. Yet that we knew that voice and were informed by that intelligence and uplifted by her laughter makesus grateful that we knew her and that we had her, even as she had us."

As a folklorist,Robinson had a wide range of accomplishments. She maintained long-termrelationships with several museums, including the Smithsonian National Museumof American History and the Folklife Center of the Library of Congress, whereshe produced and curated exhibitions on black folk arts that highlighted herspecialization in black dolls and puppets.

Robinson was also anaccomplished photographer and her photographic works became part of the Libraryof Congress Traveling Photographic Exhibitions "Sketches of Southern Folklife"and "Generation to Generation — Sharing the Intangible."

Robinson's numerous published works examine expressions of AfricanAmerican heritage and folk culture. Among her better-known publications are"Aunt (Ant) Phylis" (Regent Press, 1988), a study of the history and role ofwise women in African American communities; and a 1987 Afro American Museumjournal article, "Home and Yard: Black Folk Life Expressions in Los Angeles,"which theorized that the arrangement of African Americans' backyards in LosAngeles display vestiges of their African cultural heritage. She recentlyco-edited "The Life and Work of Oscar Micheaux: Pioneer Black Author andFilmmaker" (Khafra K. Omrazeti/KMT Publications,2002).

Robinson earned a degree in computerengineering and came to UCLA in 1968 to work as a technician. It was veteranactress Madie Norman's "History of Black People's Theater in America" classthat inspired her to change the focus of her career. She enrolled full-time inEthnic Arts at UCLA and later was named Phi Beta Kappa, Danforth Fellow,Chancellor's Marshal and Outstanding Senior, earning her B.A. in 1974. TheEthnic Arts major later became World Arts and Cultures at the UCLA School ofArts and Architecture.

Robinson earned an M.A. in Folklore in 1976from the University of California, Berkeley, and a Ph.D. in Performing Arts andHistory from the University of Pennsylvania. She returned to UCLA in 1978 whenNorman, her mentor, asked her to take over teaching her course until apermanent replacement could be hired. Robinson taught the course for more than20 years.

Born in Los Angeles, Robinson was aresident of both Oakland and Los Angeles. She was a member of the NAACP, theBlack Actors Guild and the National Task Force on Folk Arts in Education. Sheis survived by her father, five sisters, and several nieces and nephews.

A celebration of Robinson's life will takeplace at 11 a.m., Friday, May 10, at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in the HollywoodHills.

In honor of Robinson's courage, creativity and dedication to herstudents, the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television has established a scholarshipin her name. The award will recognize students who demonstrate creativity andpromise on projects related to African American culture, in the areas ofhistory, criticism or directing.

To make a contribution, write a check payable to The UCLA Foundation/BeverlyRobinson Award and mail to Rosalee Sass, Director of Development, UCLA Schoolof Theater, Film and Television, Box 95122, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1622.

-UCLA-

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