BoHo Theatre announces Elizabeth Swanson as new Artistic Director

John Olson

Elizabeth Swanson

BoHo Theatre has announced the appointment of Elizabeth Swanson (they/she) as the new Artistic Director, succeeding Stephen Schellhardt, who announced his intentions of leaving in September 2021 after six years with the company.

Swanson is a freelance director and graduate of the Lir National Academy of Dramatic Arts at Trinity College, Dublin where they earned an MFA in Theatre Directing. Some of Swanson’s recent Chicago directing projects include the Jeff Award-winning HEAD OVER HEELS for Kokandy Productions, which also earned Swanson a nomination for direction; the Jeff-nominated I KNOW MY OWN HEART for PrideArts, and WHERE ALL THE WHITE SNEAKERS AT? for Second City. Swanson has also worked with About Face Theatre, Underscore Theatre, American Theater Company, Victory Gardens Theater, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, and Princeton University’s Lewis Center for the Arts.

The company, board members, and Stephen are thrilled to welcome Elizabeth into the BoHo family!Swanson is excited to see BoHo continuing to tell compelling stories in line with the legacy Stephen Schellhardt has left with producing shows like BRIGHT STAR and BIG FISH.

Swanson says, “I was first introduced to BoHo through Eli Katz, an outgoing BoHo member. She and I worked together on a PrideArts play in 2018/2019, and Eli spent half of the rehearsal process trying to set me up with BoHo. Eli was absolutely determined that the company and I should meet each other. Stephen Schellhardt then attended a performance of that show and we met for the first time. He just had this wonderfully warm energy that enveloped you in a hug, and that warm welcome was my first impression of BoHo.”

Speaking about their experience of becoming part of the BoHo family, Swanson said, “Everyone in the company since I started applying for this position has been so excited to tell me what a strong family this is. And, that has held true with all of the company and board members I have had the pleasure of meeting and beginning to work with. I am excited to continue the company’s ingrained mission of working together as a family: of spreading love, kindness, and thoughtfulness through every production and story we take on.”

“Once you meet Elizabeth, you are sure to fall in love with their welcoming demeanor, insightfulness, and mission to make BoHo's work accessible for everyone,” says BoHo’s Executive Director Sana Selemon. “While producing theater looks different these days, I am reassured knowing we have Elizabeth as our new Artistic Director to help further Stephen Schellhardt’s vision of inclusivity, while bringing their own ideas of how we can continue to grow and hold onto what makes us special.”

Swanson’s first production for BoHo as Artistic Director will be its first commissioned production: NATIONAL MERIT, by Valen-Marie Santos, to be produced later this year at a venue to be announced. The company produced a virtual reading of the play in May 2021 and is thrilled that Santos will be continuing to develop her work in partnership with BoHo and with mentorship from BoHo’s Literary Manager, Dillion Chitto.

“It’s very exciting to me that we have commissioned our first playwright, the extremely talented Valen-Marie Santos,” said Swanson. “NATIONAL MERIT is a story of the moment. Santos has perfectly captured the later high school experience of applying to college in terms of the pressure placed on this generation, and she has spoken truth about the anguish we create for students throughout the grueling college admission process. To see a playwright reflecting and refracting the current moment with her voice, and telling this story alongside BoHo, is really wonderful. I want to see the company continuing to herald new voices in the future.”

Elizabeth is eager to start the process of choosing the second show for BoHo’s 2022 season with a selection committee of BoHo company members. Elizabeth is dedicated to growing and prioritizing accessibility in the company’s performance venues. “I want to expand our accessibility mission and better communicate what we can offer to guests who come into our space as patrons, season subscribers, and as artists: technicians, performers, and designers,” said Elizabeth Swanson. “We will be offering at least two ASL interpreted performances of each production and incorporating touch tours, as well as thinking more expansively about how we can improve accessibility in every possible way. We are excited to make The Edge Theater our new artistic home with our second production (following NATIONAL MERIT) and to start broadening to more multidisciplinary performance, such as clowning, physical theatre, music, and improvisation. I am also excited to continue the anti-racist work the company has already been approaching thoughtfully: working alongside Sana Selemon to examine pay equity in our budgeting, our casting practices, and how we determine which stories we choose to tell.”

About Boho Theatre

BoHo Theatre tells stories examining and celebrating human relationships — focusing on the Bohemian pillars of Truth, Beauty, Freedom, and Love — using bold, intimate theatrical stagings. Our vision is to create a shared community of artists and patrons in which all members are moved through art to make thoughtful, well-examined, caring relationships the highest priority in their lives.

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