NYU Steinhardt Remembers Nancy Swortzell, A Founder of Steinhardt’s Educational Theatre Program

NYU Steinhardt mourns the death of Nancy Swortzell (1931-2011), associate professor and a co-founder of the educational theatre program , who died at her home in Greenwich Village on July 30th, after a long illness.

In a recent e-mail to the Steinhardt community, Philip Taylor, associate professor of educational theatre, paid tribute to Professor Swortzell. He wrote:

“Nancy and her husband Lowell established the NYU Program in Educational Theatre in 1966, and thousands of students have been the beneficiary of a comprehensive program which privileges art as well as education. Their extraordinary partnership led to a dynamic and innovative curriculum, the first educational theatre program of its kind in the world.

Nancy was a gifted director: she was the first woman to be granted a DFA in directing from Yale and introduced numerous studies in acting styles and play production. But for many she will be remembered as being instrumental in importing groundbreaking ideas in drama pedagogy and theatre in education to American audiences. She pioneered the London youth theatre/drama in education program in the early 1970s and consistently taught on this program until 2003, forging new partnerships with cultural houses, arts agencies, and educational organizations. She brought many world leaders to the NYU campus and the US for the first time, even housing most of them in their gorgeous brownstone in Washington Square, a house in which she and Lowell resided for over 30 years until his death in 2004.

Nancy loved the theatre and it was this sense of a grounded aesthetic, which she often promoted in her teaching. While some privilege content, the Swortzells emphasized studies in theatre form that should power the work. They were absolutely delighted when the Provincetown Playhouse was offered to our students in 1996 as a performance venue. Lowell was a scholar in American drama, and Nancy was very committed to supporting new voices and visions, which was part of the Provincetown Players’ original brief. Their work lives on through the program, the students, the faculty and the alumni, and through the Swortzells’ great and prescient generosity to their scholarship fund and other gifts.”

Donations in Nancy Swortzell’s memory can be made to the Lowell and Nancy Swortzell Scholarship Fund.

Photo: Lowell and Nancy Swortzell in front of the Provincetown Playhouse.