The thought of a world without Tricia McCauley is at complete odds with the abundance of life and positivity that she exuded every day.
When news that Tricia was missing spread via Facebook after Christmas, the D.C. theatre community mobilized. We made calls, started a social media campaign, even combed the streets, looking for her. The thought of losing her—the kindest, most gentle, and the most positive person we knew—was unbearable. Few of us slept well that night.
The theatre community in D.C. is uniquely tight-knit. The cliché is that there’s “one ensemble,” and there’s real truth to that. Artists move up and down the spectrum of theatres, and many companies here began at the same time, with lots of personnel crossover. The early ’80s and the late ’90s/early 2000s were times of growth, and so many of us “grew up” with one another, developing close bonds. Everyone knows everyone. So when we finally received the news that Tricia had in fact been killed, a tear ripped through the community. Our collective heart was broken.
Tricia was one of the first people I met when I moved to D.C. in 2003. (This is a refrain I am seeing often in Facebook posts: “Tricia was one of the first people I met in DC.” I think this is significant and telling; she was a welcome to the community for many.) One night, after a performance, she invited me to the weekly Thursday theatre get-together at the Playbill Cafe. In those days, everyone dropped by for drinks, to catch up, and to sing some karaoke. On our walk together, I was quick to unload one of those “I’m going to start the Theatre Revolution” rants, in a way that only a 21-year-old recent college grad can. For blocks, I railed against one system or another, against commercialism, against all the barriers I was impatiently trying to sidestep—a diatribe of youth.
After she attentively listened to my absurd plan of lying about my age in an effort to get hired as a director, she stopped me and just said, “Breathe.”
And then she said, “This community is people. It’s not a battle.”
Over the years, we would often return to this topic, and she taught me to think of my community as an interconnected web; to look at my career, my life, and my art as a constant process, not a race with a decided finish line. She taught me how to breathe. Whenever I’d start to veer into another diatribe of negativity, she’d pop that trademark side-smile/eyebrow lift combo and I’d know to slow down.
Any actor in town will tell you that one of the great pleasures of performing was to hear her unmistakable laugh from the audience. She approached life with grace and an infectious joy. She has had a tremendous impact on me, and I miss her terribly. But in her far-too-brief time with us, I believe that she gave us the tools to best cope with the tremendous loss we are feeling since her death.
While we in the theatre community initially knew her as a brilliant performer, often with her creative family at Washington Stage Guild, Tricia was also a teacher, a health coach, and an urban farmer. In her valedictorian speech at her herbal medicine graduate ceremony, she referred to herself as a “plant translator. My deepest joy is introducing plants to people.” Whether it was a recommendation of a detox juice recipe or a list of edible flowers, Tricia made it her personal mission to develop relationships among her friends—human ones and floral ones (I’m actually convinced that Tricia is solely responsible for the recent Brussels sprouts renaissance; you’re welcome).
At some point during every conversation we had in the last 10 years, she’d ask about my diet, how I was feeling, and offer suggestions. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t think of her explanation of which grains were compatible with the blood of Irish descendants. And I was hardly alone in the reception of her wise advice. It wouldn’t surprise me if D.C. has the healthiest theatre community in the nation, simply thanks to Tricia.
Tricia was also a yoga instructor, and through that she nurtured the souls and bodies of another circle of District residents, bringing focus, breath, and peace to hundreds. A vigil was recently held at her regular Tuesday class, which then processed to the garden where she farmed, providing these varied communities of artists, students, and followers the first in-person gathering to mourn her passing and to share stories of how she touched and nourished their lives.
In these fraught days since her tragic death, many of us have been sharing how we’ve turned to the poses and stretches Tricia herself taught us to deal with the grief and anxiety we are enveloped in. Her different communities have merged since her death in a Facebook group to share stories and advice we’ve received from her over the years. I am one of many who visited local markets to purchase the necessary ingredients for Tricia’s cleansing ginger tea in an attempt to quiet our minds and soothe our bodies as we pass through the stages of heartache we are left with in her absence.
In this, we are not simply honoring her legacy. We are benefiting from the many tremendous gifts that Tricia has left us. One of my earliest thoughts upon hearing the news was that she would be someone I would turn to if a friend had died. I would want her healing advice, her insight, her kind spirit. But in the way she lived her life, the interactions over the years, she gave us so much, and that has been a balm as we grieve.
I loved this post that playwright Richard Byrne added to the hundreds of online tributes that have poured in since Sunday: “In Tricia’s spirit, one can observe that a life spent planting and nurturing cannot help but take root and grow in others.”
Tricia: Though you are no longer with us in body, you live on in our striving for more love, more compassion, more light. You have irrevocably changed our lives and we thank you. You were the best of us.
Michael Dove is the artistic director of Washington, D.C.’s Forum Theatre. To honor McCauley’s memory, a fund has been established in her name to help provide health care coverage for actors.
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