29 January 2016

Liz Swados - musician, playwright & puppetry activist dies

Rachel Stern, director/ screenwriter Elizabeth Swados, and Sigourney Weaver attend HBO's "My Depression: The Up And Down And Up Of It" Premiere during the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.
It feels very strange indeed to be writing a piece about a family legend, music composer, writer, theatre director and puppeteer who I never personally met, even though she was my cousin.

Elizabeth Swados made her mark on the New York theatre scene very early in her career, probably when she was employed by Peter Brook, to accompany the African expedition of 'Conference of the Birds' across the continent in late-1972. In 1980, Julie Taymor (of 'The Lion King' fame) designed scenery, costumes, puppets and masks for Swados’ adaptation of the Passover story in The Haggadah, which she staged and composed music to a text by future Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel. Jerusalem was an oratorio using poems by the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai.

You can certainly read a wealth of information on the life and work of couz Liz online and there is a really great film interview with her called 'Women in Theatre' here.

But I would really like to discuss briefly my own journey and how I discovered my far-away cousin, Elizabeth Swados, the woman I never met. 

When I was a young boy of about eight, living under the shadow of Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa, I was already performing puppet shows for the neighbours and doing charity performances. One evening I remember so well, my late-Uncle Louis arriving for dinner at our home with a guest from New York. He turned out to be a mutual cousin and a well-know author of many books on the Alexander Technique and Tai Chi, which apparently he also taught to students at the New York City Ballet.

After dinner, I was asked if I would perform a short puppet piece for Edward, which I believe I did. He then informed me about our mutual thespian cousin, Liz Swados and her work. And my fascination had begun. When I found myself in New York quite a few years later, working with the late-Jim Henson who assisted me set up our 'Puppets Against Aids' trust and raise some initial funding, I did try get hold of Liz, but was never successful. Over the years I tried again on various occasions, but still never managed to make the connection. 

The Swados and Maisel family 

And now you has left us dear Couz Liz. Although I am so sorry I never got to personally connect with you, I was still a great fan from afar and will remain so during my limited visit to this physical world and I still do hope to reconnect at some point in some distant galaxy.

The New York Times wrote a great obituary for Liz, which you can find here.

No comments: