The Emily List Fund for Performing Arts Therapy has been established by Emily's family to honor her memory as an actor, a dancer, a reviewer and a lover of the performing arts. The Fund will be used to support theater, dance and music projects aimed at helping the sick and disadvantaged in the interest of making their lives better and brighter through the performing arts.

Emily's Story

Emily List lived a beautiful, sparkling life filled with love for and from family and friends, theater and dance and a heartfelt commitment to making the world better for her presence in it.

Emily, who was 26, lost her life early on Thanksgiving morning, at home with her family who dearly loved her.

This is Emily’s story.

In fall 2007, Emily was working in London for the Pascal Theater and as Personal Assistant to famed theater critic Blanche Marvin. Emily accompanied Blanche, who was then 85, as she reviewed shows in theaters throughout London, wrote for her website, handled her personal correspondence and assisted with her annual theater awards. She had spent her junior year at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom and had returned to the UK after her graduation from Randolph Macon Woman’s college in 2007

When she came home for the holidays, Emily fell ill. In spring 2008, she was diagnosed with a rare form of pediatric sarcoma, which she was too old to get. Emily was treated at Massachusetts General Hospital, where she had seven weeks of daily proton beam radiation and 10 months of chemotherapy. During this aggressive treatment, she appeared as Martha Cratchit in eight performances of Old Deerfield Production’s “A Christmas Carol” at the Academy of Music in Northampton.

That was Emily’s way:  she never let a little thing like reality interfere with her dreams.

Her treatment ended in February 2009 and she was cancer free.That spring, she appeared as Mistress Paige in “The Merry Wives of Windsor” at the UMass Renaissance Center, in the Center’s dinner theater and in “The Last High Queen of Ireland” in Old Deerfield. She then left again for the UK, where she earned her master’s degree in Theater and Media for Development at the University of Winchester.

The cancer recurred in June 2010, and Emily returned home to begin treatment again, determined to continue living every day of her life to the fullest. She resumed reviewing theater and dance for In the Spotlight and other local publications, and she appeared in two shows in summer 2011. She stepped into the major role of Tranio in Hampshire Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew” a few weeks before the production opened at the Renaissance Center. She also appeared as a Cadillac saleswoman and an Elvis impersonator in Ja’Duke’s “All the King’s Women.”   

Through this October, she continued to review shows at Jacob’s Pillow, the Bushnell in Hartford and the UMass Fine Arts Center—her dad pushing her wheelchair to the shows and for drinks after.

She also finished her master’s thesis on how education, outreach and especially the performing arts can be used to bridge cultural gaps in terms of medical treatment. Not only Emily’s research, but her own experience proved to her the vital role that the arts can play in healing and how important it is that these efforts be funded.  “The arts are too often the first programs cut,” she wrote, as was recently the case at Mass General. “If leaders need inspiration to shore up their own commitment [to these programs], they need look no further than the artists who bring their work to the sick and those in pain to help them heal.”

Emily was born on January 28, 1985, in Columbia, MO, to Jay and Karen List. She moved with her parents to their cottage in South Amherst in 1988.

Theater and dance were her passions. She started dancing at 3 and spent many years with Carol Butler and then at Amherst Ballet Theater Co. One of her signature roles was dancing as the “Glimmering Girl” in a pink confection of a dress in Rosie Caine’s “Wilde Irish Women” at many venues, including the International Maytime Theater Festival in Dundalk, Ireland.

She, her mom and her little sister, Madeleine, also danced every day at home. Emily was fond of saying “There’s no problem so big that dancing in the kitchen won’t help.” And she never walked anywhere: she danced. She especially loved dancing down the beach in Ogunquit, Maine, drawing hearts in the sand with her toe.

She also acted from an early age, and her grace as a dancer deeply informed her work on stage. She appeared in all but two of the Amherst Leisure Services Musical Theater productions, from her third grade appearance in “Annie” through her turn as Liza, the March family maid, in “Peter Pan,” in which she literally flew across the stage suspended by cables. In between were many other shows, including “Anne of Green Gables,” “Bye Bye Birdie” and “A Secret Garden,” which also was performed in Ireland.

Emily was in the first class of the Hampshire Shakespeare Young Co., with which she performed for years, and as she got older, she appeared in many mainstage productions as well. She had a special facility for Shakespeare, especially his comedies, which was apparent from her very first performance as Sir Andrew Auguecheek in “Twelfth Night.” Some of her favorite roles were as Mopsa in “The Winter’s Tale,” Celia in “As You Like It” and The Player King in “Hamlet.” In later years, she worked as choreographer and stage manager with the Young Company and taught HSC workshops for children.

Emily graduated from Amherst Regional High School in 2003 and was a member of the National Honor Society. She worked as an intern for two summers in State Senator Stanley Rosenberg’s office. She won several college scholarships based on her academic and theater work. 

At Randolph Macon Woman’s College in Lynchburg, VA, she majored in theater and starred in many shows, including “The Importance of Being Ernest,” “How She Played the Game” and “Uncommon Women.” One of her most accomplished performances was as Ida, a 60-something Irish American woman from Buffalo, in “Paddy’s Pot,” a play written by her theater professor, Tom Stephens.

During her junior year at Reading University, she acted with the Reading University Drama Society and took acting workshops at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and the Central School of Drama in London.

Her other activities at RMWC included working as a docent at the Maier Art Museum and as a Gold Key Guide, conducting tours of the wisteria covered campus she loved so much. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa and Magna Cum Laude in 2007.

Emily was a committed Anglophile, and she traveled to England with her family almost every year from the time she was 10. She loved English literature, art and history, and she read the Horrible Histories of England in the backseat of various rental cars as she and her family travelled off the beaten path over the entire country from Land’s End to London to Liverpool.

She loved English music too, especially the Rolling Stones. She sometimes started her chemotherapy sessions with the Stones’ “Start Me Up,” and one of the last books she read was Keith Richards’ autobiography. Keith remembered everything, and so did Emily: she was the repository of her family’s history and traditions.

During her years in England, Emily traveled with her friends all over Europe, from Amsterdam to Paris to Prague to Barcelona. She saw Mt. Aetna erupting in Sicily. She had a tremendous sense of adventure, a love of new experiences and an interest in everything. When visiting a museum, as she often did, she looked at every exhibit. Her family became accustomed to finding a bench at the exit to wait for her to make her way through the National Portrait Gallery or the Tate Modern or the Fan Museum.

Those who knew Emily often described her as “an old soul.”  Although she appreciated Facebook, she was an inveterate writer of letters to her friends all over the world, and she loved receiving letters from them in return. From an early age, she enjoyed attending concerts and performances of all kinds, often being the youngest person in the audience. She read the complete works of Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott—twice. 

Her favorite music was 60s rock, and she and her mom saw many concerts together, including the Stones. She often told her mom she wished she had grown up with her in Iowa, so Karen’s high school class made Emily an honorary member.

Though she appreciated much about the past, Emily was thoroughly engaged with the present. She read the New York Times every day and was especially interested in news about the arts, women’s issues and British politics. She was closely following the current Occupation in the courtyard of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, rooting for the protestors. She went through proton radiation treatment with Teddy Kennedy, the two of them sharing touching moments as well as a liberal outlook on the world.

Emily leaves behind many who are broken-hearted: her parents, Jay and Karen, and her sister, Madeleine, of South Amherst; her godfather, Tom Mitchell, of Northampton; her godmother, Debra Noell, of Belleville, WI; her grandmother and aunt, Nancy and India List, of Fredericksburg, VA; her aunt and great-aunt, Brenda Anderson and Virginia Kupferschmid, of Mediapolis, IA, and her many friends around the world.

She also leaves her medical team and beloved second family at MGH, including her doctor, David Harmon; her infusion nurses, Bonnie Strudas and Lee Herderhurst, and her music therapist, Lorrie Kubicek, among many, many others.

Just before she became ill again, Emily was working in Bournemouth, England, using theater to reach disadvantaged children. When her students didn’t respond to the Hansel and Gretel play on which they were working, she transformed it into a rap, which they loved. She believed in the power of the performing arts to foster communication and to heal, and had she lived, she would have continued her work with children through theater.

Emily would not want the hard reality of her passing to interfere with her dream. So in her memory, her family has established the Emily List Fund for Performing Arts Therapy to provide grants to others who are fortunate enough to be able to do this work.