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Remembering Liz Swados

Thursday, Jan 7, 2016

Jan. 7, 2016

Dear Tisch Community,

It is with great sadness that I write to tell you that beloved Elizabeth Swados – composer, writer, director, poet and Arts Professor in the NYU Tisch Department of Drama – passed away on Jan. 5, 2016. Liz’s remarkable and original voice created experimental work that inspired people of all ages. I am especially grateful that she taught and directed our students with such joy and dedication in the Tisch School of the Arts

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Perhaps best known for her Broadway and international smash hit Runaways, Liz composed, wrote, and directed for more than 30 years. Some of her works include the Obie Award winning Trilogy at La Mama, Alice at the Palace with Meryl Streep at the New York Shakespeare Theater Festival, and Groundhog, performed at the Manhattan Theater Club. Her work has been performed on Broadway, off-Broadway, at La MaMa, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Carnegie Hall, and locations all over the world. She composed highly acclaimed dance scores for well-known choreographers in the U.S., Europe and South America. During her career, Liz earned five Tony nominations, three Obie Awards, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Ford Grant, the Helen Hayes Award, a Lila Acheson Wallace Grant, PEN Citation, and others.

Recent productions include Kaspar Hauser: a foundling’s opera, and The Nomad at the Flea Theater; Atonement, a theatrical oratorio presented by the Cathedral of St. John the Divine; Spider Operas at PS122 (with Mabou Mines); and Political Subversities, a political revue that was presented in two Culture Project festivals as well as at Joe's Pub.

Liz created issue-oriented theater in collaboration with young people for her entire career. As Vice Chancellor Linda Mills notes, "Given her unique expertise in this area, NYU recruited her in 2005 to assist in responding to a contagion of suicides on our campus that had occurred in 2003-2004. Liz created The Reality Show, with an initial cast of 10 Tisch students, that focused the attention of freshmen on their health, wellness and safety. This show has been transformative to the NYU experience, informing students of 24/7 resources and decreasing stigma in accessing mental health care. The collaborative process imaginatively incorporated the contributions of the NYU student cast members each year, setting college life issues into original music and dance vignettes with edgy humor. It has been a required component of the university’s orientation every year since 2005, and now includes versions created specifically for NYU Abu Dhabi and NYU Shanghai. Liz's imprint on both the actors who have performed in the Reality Show and on the entire student body will always endure."

In 2004, Liz joined the faculty of the Tisch School of the Arts as an Associate Teacher, and earned the rank of Arts Professor in 2012. In the Fall of 2015, she directed the Department of Drama StageWorks in her original musical theater production of The Golem: A Horror Opera.  She also created several political-themed, self-devised cabarets that were performed at Joe’s Pub, and other notable productions at Tisch were an adaptation of S. Ansky’s The Dybbuk, and The Beautiful Lady. She loved creating and wrote to me how grateful she was to work on The Golem and The Nomad this past year ­­– “I'm very lucky to continue to be in touch with young performers whose energy blows the roof off of theaters.”

She published novels, non-fiction books, children's books and poetry to great acclaim, and received the Ken Award for her book My Depression later adapted as an animated short for HBO which screened at the Tribeca Film Festival and aired on HBO in July 2015. Her theater textbook, At Play: Teaching Teenagers Theater, was published by Faber & Faber in June 2006. Her first book of poetry, The One and Only Human Galaxy, was published by Hanging Loose Press. Feminist Press will publish her latest novel, Walking the Dog, on May 23, 2016.

Liz held a Bachelor of Arts from Bennington College and an Honorary Doctorate from Hobart/William Smith College. 

My heart goes out to Liz’s partner of 29 years, Roz Lichter, and to her many friends and colleagues throughout the world. Her artistry and creative passion, which gave so much inspiration to our community, will be sorely missed.

A memorial in celebration of Liz’s life and career will be announced in the coming weeks.

Allyson Green
Dean, Tisch School of the Arts