Electra by Nick Payne | The Lir, 2014 Photo by Keith Dixon Photo by Paula Borman and Paul Vriend Hildegard Live Album | Sleeping Village, 2019 Photo by Tracy Adams Harvey by Mary Chase | Three Brothers Theater, 2018 Photo by Somebody's Partner Volunteer Comedians at Sketchfest | Stage 773, 2017 Photo by Katie Stanley I Know My Own Heart by Emma Donoghue | Pride Films & Plays, 2019

Elizabeth Swanson - Theater Director

  • MFA in Theatre Directing
  • Jeff Nominated Director
  • Two-time winner of Chicago DCASE Individual Artist grants
  • Recipient of Princeton University’s Francis LeMoyne Page Award

I develop new plays & musicals with innovative playwrights and composers who are challenging form and expanding our idea of what theater can be. I often tell queer stories that explore our desires and imagine new possibilities for relationships and institutions. I love working in Chicago, and I’m excited to take this show on the road to work at regional theaters around the country.

“Text doesn’t just live in characters’ mouths – actors sustain each line with their breath and bodies.”

So, what’s my whole deal? I moved to Chicago in 2015 after earning an MFA in theatre directing at the Lir National Academy of Dramatic Arts – the theater conservatory at Trinity College, Dublin. Since then, chamber plays and musicals have become my main artistic focus. Chamber plays include Lungs by Duncan Macmillan (Granary Theater, Cork, Ireland), I Know My Own Heart by Emma Donoghue (Pride Films & Plays, Chicago), and Harvey by Mary Chase (Three Brothers Theater, Waukegan). Musicals include Head Over Heels (Kokandy Productions) and a new show about Saint Hildegard that I’m developing with a Chicago-based creative team.

To find the shape and texture of each show, I spend my time in the rehearsal room laser focused on four touchstones: text, movement, character arcs, and tone. I treat text (or book, music, & lyrics in musicals) as architectural bones that give structure to the production and guide acting and design choices. Text doesn’t just live in characters’ mouths – actors sustain each line with their breath and bodies. To that end, I love focusing on movement, and I work with movement and intimacy directors whenever possible. My biggest joy is building a story that unfurls for an audience, with every moment full of life and every sentence bringing characters closer to the people they will become at the end of the play.

Directors who inspire me include Rachel Chavkin, Kwame Kwei-Armah, Deborah Warner, and my tutor at the Lir, Annabelle Comyn. Together, their work constitutes great bravery in form, a sharp focus on detail, a deep trust in their acting ensemble, and a dedication to the story above all else. Like these directors, I strive to fully explore the psychological drama at the heart of each story.

I plan to be part of the change we must see in our industry as theaters start re-opening. I celebrate the expectations named in the Not In Our House document written by members of the Chicago theater community, and I stand in solidarity with the demands set forth by We See You White American Theater. My dream project is full of integrity in its hiring and pay practices as well as its craftsmanship. Stories tell us who we are and who we can be. Let’s tell stories that change the world.

Photo by Collin Quinn Rice
Photo by Collin Quinn Rice

BOOKS THAT SHAPED ME

  1. How did you get in the industry originally? Elizabeth Swanson 4:01
  2. How do you run your rehearsal rooms? Elizabeth Swanson 9:41
  3. What are your dream projects? Elizabeth Swanson 2:46
  4. How do you bring about excellence in talent? Elizabeth Swanson 2:02
  5. How has COVID affected the industry in general and yourself? Elizabeth Swanson 3:59
  6. How did you come to Chicago? Elizabeth Swanson 5:40
  7. Who would you invite to your dream dinner party? Elizabeth Swanson 2:48

Sign up to hear the latest!

    Subscribe to get updates