Elizabeth Swados '73


Image of Elizabeth Swados

Elizabeth Swados was a composer, writer, and director who fashioned a unique style of socially engaged musical theatre, drawing on a global menu of musical styles and a street-level engagement with the politics of the dispossessed. She started her career in theatre while still a student at Bennington, when she provided the music for Andrei Serban’s adaptation of Medea at La MaMa, the downtown Manhattan avant-garde theater.

Perhaps best known for her Broadway and international smash hit Runaways, for which she earned four Tony nominations, Elizabeth Swados has composed, written, 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, which was optioned by Milos Forman for a film. 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 has also composed highly acclaimed dance scores for well-known choreographers in the United States, Europe, and South America. Ms. Swados created issue-oriented theatre with young people for her entire career, culminating in a project titled The Reality Show, about the trials and tribulations of college in New York City. The piece uses rock and roll, dance, and edgy humor and is performed each summer by NYU students at Madison Square Garden.

Swados published numerous critically acclaimed novels, nonfiction books, children’s books, and poetry, and received the Ken Award for her book My Depression. My Depression was also made into an animated film short that was a selection of the Tribeca Film Festival in 2014 and was later aired on HBO. Over the course of her storied career, Swados won 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.

Photograph © Jack Mitchell (New York Times)