Elizabeth Swados

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Elizabeth Swados
Born(1951-02-05)February 5, 1951
Buffalo, New York, United States
DiedJanuary 5, 2016(2016-01-05) (aged 64)
Occupation(s)Writer, composer, musician, theatre director

Elizabeth Swados (February 5, 1951 – January 5, 2016) was an American writer, composer, musician, and theatre director. Swados received Tony Award nominations for Best Musical, Best Direction of a Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score, and Best Choreography. [1] She was nominated for Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding Director of a Musical, Outstanding Lyrics, and Outstanding Music, and won an Obie Award for her direction of Runaways in 1978. [2] In 1980, the Hobart and William Smith Colleges awarded her an honorary doctorate in Humane Letters. [3]



Swados was born February 5, 1951 in Buffalo, New York. [4] Swados' autobiography, The Four of Us, A Family Memoir, was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 1991. [5]

Her father, Robert O. Swados, was a successful attorney who helped Seymour H. Knox III convert the local Buffalo Sabres hockey club into a full National Hockey League team. [6] [7] His autobiography, Counsel in the Crease: A Big League Player in the Hockey Wars, was published by Prometheus Books in 2005. [8] Her mother, an actress and poet, struggled with depression. Her older brother and only sibling, Lincoln, had schizophrenia. Swados' mother committed suicide in 1974 and Lincoln died in 1989. [9] Swados also suffered from depression, which she discussed in her book, My Depression: A Picture Book , which was published by Seven Stories Press in 2014.

Swados died from complications following surgery for esophageal cancer on January 5, 2016. [10] She was 64.


Swados studied music and creative writing at Bennington College in Vermont, receiving her Bachelor of Arts degree in 1973. While at Bennington, she was introduced by professor Franz Marijnen to Ellen Stewart and became involved with Stewart's La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club in New York City.

Working with Ellen Stewart and Andrei Serban, and with Peter Brook, Swados worked to develop a new sensory language of sound, rhythm, and movement that transcended traditional verbal speech. [11] Swados' musical compositions for Fragments of a Greek Trilogy (Medea, Electra, and Trojan Women) during the early 1970s at La MaMa and for Peter Brook's Conference of the Birds in the later 1970s laid the groundwork for musical innovation in both American and international theatre.

She was profiled by filmmaker Linda Feferman in the 1977 short documentary The Girl with the Incredible Feeling, a title drawn from a 1975 children's book which she wrote and illustrated. The documentary blends performance footage, home movies, testimonial, and an animated dramatization of the title book, narrated by actor Kenneth McMillan, with her illustrations animated by Carol Ehrlich. [12]

Although many of Swados' works were musicals, her work drew from folk and world music rather than exclusively from musical theatre. Much of her work dealt with issues such as racism, murder, and mental illness.

Her first Broadway success, Runaways , was intended to be a community service piece with a short run. However, after appearing at The Public Theater, [2] the show transferred to Broadway in May 1978. [1] Swados' first musical with Garry Trudeau, Doonesbury , opened on Broadway at the Biltmore Theatre in November 1983. [13] In 1984, Swados composed the music for Garry Trudeau's satirical musical Rap Master Ronnie. [10] In 1985, Swados' musical The Beautiful Lady, concerning the life and works of six Russian poets who lived, composed and performed in St. Petersburg at the time of the Revolution, won the first Helen Hayes "Best New Play" award. Swados also composed music for film ( Four Friends, 1981 [14] ) and television (Seize the Day, 1987 [15] ), and performed live at Carnegie Hall. [16]

Swados made guest appearances on eleven soap operas, four on ABC Daytime ( Loving , All My Children , One Life to Live , and General Hospital ), three on NBC Daytime ( Days of Our Lives , Another World , and Santa Barbara ) and four on CBS Daytime ( The Young and the Restless , The Bold and the Beautiful , As the World Turns , and Guiding Light ).

She published three novels, three non-fiction books, and nine children's books. Her later books included My Depression: A Picture Book , Sidney's Animal Rescue, and At Play: Teaching Teenagers Theater. My Depression: A Picture Book (2005), was made into an animated short film that was an official selection of the Tribeca Film Festival in 2014. [17] The film includes voices by Sigourney Weaver and Steve Buscemi. [18] In June 2016, Swados' final novel, Walking The Dog, was posthumously published by The Feminist Press. The narrative follows a former child prodigy painter and rich-girl kleptomaniac as she struggles to reintegrate into society following a botched heist which left her incarcerated for two decades. [19]

Swados was the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Ford Fellowship, a Covenant Foundation Grant, an International PEN Citation, a Cine Award, and a Mira Award, among others. [16] She taught in the drama department at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts [20] and at The New School's Eugene Lang College of Liberal Arts as a visiting artist. Her articles were published in The New York Times , The New York Times Magazine , Vogue , O , and numerous other publications. [16]

Shortly after Swados' death in 2016, the actress Diane Lane honored her by establishing a grant for arts educators. [21] The two had a personal connection that dated back to the 1970s. Swados provided the music for Lane's acting debut in Andrei Serban’s 1972 production of Medea, and collaborated with the actress again on Runaways. [21]

Runaways was revived in July 2016, after Swados' death, by the New York City Center as a part of its Encores! Off-Center season, a series that explores rarely-revived Off Broadway shows. [22]

Selected works

Selected bibliography

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  1. 1 2 "'Runaways' Broadway" Playbillvault.com. Accessed January 6, 2016.
  2. 1 2 Runaways Archived 2007-10-24 at the Wayback Machine Internet Off-Broadway Database. Accessed January 6, 2016.
  3. "Honorary Degree Recipients Archived 2016-03-04 at the Wayback Machine ." Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Retrieved 2016-07-03.
  4. Grattan, Virginia L. (1993). American Women Songwriters: A Biographical Dictionary. Greenwood Press. ISBN   9780313285103.
  5. 1 2 Kirkus Review. 'The Four of Us'. KirkusReviews.com, May 20, 2010 (online), August 1, 1991 (review issue). Accessed January 6, 2016.
  6. The Sports Network (November 23, 2012). "Sabres founder Swados dies." Retrieved from Fox News website, July 3, 2016.
  7. Warner, Gene. "Robert O. Swados, who helped bring the Sabres to Buffalo, is dead at 93" Buffalo News, November 23, 2012.
  8. Synopsis/review of Counsel in the Crease, Barnes and Noble.
  9. Simon, Jeff. "Reliving One Family's Unhappiness Elizabeth Swados' Memoir, An Unsparing Horror Story" Archived 2016-04-25 at the Wayback Machine Buffalo News, September 18, 1991.
  10. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Grimes, William (January 5, 2016). "Elizabeth Swados, Creator of Socially Conscious Musicals, Is Dead at 64". The New York Times.
  11. La MaMa Archives Digital Collections, "Individual: Elizabeth Swados". Retrieved March 20, 2018.
  12. https://archive.org/details/elizabethswadosthegirlwiththeincrediblefeeling
  13. Rich, Frank (November 22, 1983). "Stage. 'Doonesbury'". The New York Times.
  14. "Swados Overview" TCM.com, accessed January 6, 2016.
  15. Seize the Day TCM.com, accessed January 6, 2016.
  16. 1 2 3 "Elizabeth A. Swados." Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale, 2016. Accessed via Biography in Context database, July 3, 2016.
  17. Gordon, David (January 5, 2016). "Elizabeth Swados, Downtown Theater Icon and Creator of Broadway's 'Runaways', Has Died" TheaterMania.com.
  18. My Depression: The Up and Down of IT Archived 2016-07-27 at the Wayback Machine HBO.com, accessed January 7, 2016.
  19. "Walking the Dog". The Feminist Press. Archived from the original on 2016-03-01. Retrieved 2016-02-17.
  20. Green, Allyson (January 7, 2016). "Remembering Liz Swados." New York University Tisch School of the Arts. Retrieved 2016-07-03.
  21. 1 2 Chow, Andrew R. (February 17, 2016). "Diane Lane to Honor Elizabeth Swados With a Grant for Arts Educators". The New York Times . Retrieved 2016-02-17. Print version appeared February 18, 2016, titled "Grants From Diane Lane Will Honor Swados".
  22. Paulson, Michael (January 6, 2016). "'Runaways' to Be Revived This Summer". The New York Times . Retrieved 2016-02-17.
  23. La MaMa Archives Digital Collections, "Production: 'Shekhina' (1971)". Retrieved March 20, 2018.
  24. La MaMa Archives Digital Collections, "Production: 'La Celestina, Or, The Spanish Bawd' (1971)". Retrieved March 20, 2018.
  25. La MaMa Archives Digital Collections, "Production: 'Medea' (1972a)". Retrieved March 20, 2018.
  26. La MaMa Archives Digital Collections, "Production: 'Trilogy' (1974)". Retrieved March 20, 2018.
  27. La MaMa Archives Digital Collections, "Production: 'Crow' (1974)". Retrieved March 20, 2018.
  28. La MaMa Archives Digital Collections, "Production: 'Jilsa' (1974)". Retrieved March 20, 2018.
  29. La MaMa Archives Digital Collections, "Production: 'Good Woman of Setzuan, The' (1975)". Retrieved March 20, 2018.
  30. La MaMa Archives Digital Collections, "Production: 'As You Like It' (1980)". Retrieved March 20, 2018.
  31. La MaMa Archives Digital Collections, "Production: '3 Travels of Aladin with the Magic Lamp, The' (1982)". Retrieved March 20, 2018.
  32. La MaMa Archives Digital Collections, "Production: 'Jerusalem' (1983)". Retrieved March 20, 2018.
  33. La MaMa Archives Digital Collections, "Production: 'Jerusalem' (1984)". Retrieved March 20, 2018.
  34. La MaMa Archives Digital Collections, "Production: 'Mythos Oedipus' (1985)". Retrieved March 20, 2018.
  35. Gussow, Mel (February 24, 1988). "Stage: 'Esther: A Vaudeville Megillah'". The New York Times.
  36. Children's Book Review: THE ANIMAL RESCUE STORE by Elizabeth Swados, author, Anne Wilson, illustrator. Scholastic/Levine $16.95 (48p). ISBN   978-0-439-55476-3