Elizabeth Swados ensured that all freshmen and first-year transfer students alike could easily repeat NYU Wellness Exchange’s number after watching the famed Reality Show which she produced. Last fall marked her last show as she passed away on Jan. 5 from complications after a surgical procedure for her esophageal cancer.
Swados studied at Bennington College and had taught at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts since 2004. She was an accomplished writer and artist who created multiple productions including “Guns,” “Runaways” and “The Nomad.”
Sam Finn Cutler, a 2015 Tisch graduate and former actor in NYU’s Reality Show worked with Swados on many occasions, and he said she helped him gain confidence.
“I didn’t really consider myself a writer until I had Liz,” said Cutler, “I considered myself an actor who knew how to play guitar and string a couple of chords together, but she brought out the fearlessness in people.”
He remembered how she looked at people when they presented their work to her, and how she was completely invested in anybody’s new idea presentation from the start to end. Then once she finished watching, she would have something witty or encouraging to say. Her personality showed in her work as well. Swados is a four-time Tony nominee and writes humorous as well as serious works for a wide range of audiences.
Stern freshman Mariano Crivello was saddened to hear of her passing, because he said the NYU Reality Show was not only funny but also very well-crafted for incoming college students.
“It was just a good bonding moment for all of us incoming NYU undergrads as a whole,” Crivello said. “Even though there were over 5000 of us there, it started us off on a positive note.”
Jonathan Coleman, a writer and good friend of Swados, said that vibrancy punctuated most of her life despite her diagnosis of manic depression, more commonly referenced as bipolar disorder.
“I was not part of Liz’s professional life, but I knew her work was all-consuming,” Coleman said. “She held you to the highest possible standard, and she demanded that you be honest. She wasn’t interested in any fakery of any kind. She wasn’t interested in any sort of pretense. And for me, I was with her in a more personal vein, and I was drawn to that.”
Although Swados is only survived by her partner, Roz Lichter, she left a legacy of friendship, encouragement and art behind.
“It was a magic carpet ride with her,” Coleman said. “Everything — everything seemed better. When you’re with her, colors seemed richer and deeper. The sounds you heard, you heard them more clearly. Hearing about her death felt like an incredible blow.”
Tuesday, Jan. 26 at 7 p.m. in the Skirball Center will mark the Reality Show’s first performance without her, and it is set to kick off the 2016 spring semester. Admission is free with an NYU ID. Swados’ final book, “Walking the Dog,” will be released on May 23.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Jan. 25 print version. Email Diamond Naga Siu at [email protected]