Susan V. Booth, leaving Alliance Theatre to lead Chicago’s Goodman

For 21 years Booth nurtured major growth of Atlanta’s flagship theater

Credit: Joe Mazza

Credit: Joe Mazza

After leading the Alliance Theater through two decades of significant growth and achievement, artistic director Susan V. Booth is leaving Georgia to return to her midwest roots.

Booth has been named the new artistic director of the Goodman Theatre, the largest non-profit theater in Chicago. Chicago is the city where Booth’s career began, and in 2001 she was serving as director of new play development at the Goodman when she was hired to take the Alliance into the new century.

“Susan has been nothing but a tremendous asset to the Alliance,” said Hala Moddelmog, president and CEO of the Woodruff Arts Center, which includes the Alliance, the High Museum and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. “She definitely brought her vision to that place; not only her artistic vision, but just her vision for accomplishing things in this crazy world we live in.”

Booth joins the Goodman after 21 years at the Alliance Theatre, a time when she doubled the theater’s annual budget to just under $20 million and tripled its endowment.

During her tenure at the Alliance, Booth has focused on building bridges to the community through summer projects for teens, a national playwriting competition, the Reiser Atlanta Artists Lab (which yearly provides developmental resources for three projects from Atlanta artists) and the Spelman Leadership Fellowship.

Credit: Joe Mazza

Credit: Joe Mazza

Booth has made it her special mission to champion new work from local and national playwrights. The Alliance produced 85 world premieres during her tenure, including six world-premiere musicals that went on to open on Broadway.

She established the Alliance/Kendeda National Graduate Playwriting Competition. That program seeks entries from graduate students and provides development assistance to four finalists and one winner.

Among the playwrights whose careers were kickstarted by Kendeda are Tarell Alvin McCraney, whose play “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue” inspired the 2016 Academy Award-winning film for best picture, “Moonlight,” and Jiréh Breon Holder, whose competition-winning play “Too Heavy For Your Pocket” opened off-Broadway in 2017.

Under Booth’s leadership the Alliance conducted its largest capital campaign ever, raising $32 million to completely rebuild the theater, from the dirt up. The new facility, including the Coca-Cola Stage and improved production facilities, opened in 2019.

While the Midtown theater building was closed during construction, the Alliance took its show on the road, producing 12 shows in 14 different venues, from the 210-seat Dad’s Garage Theatre to the 2,750-seat Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.

Moddelmog was co-chair of the Alliance’s board during that “on-the-road” 2017-2018 season. Said Moddelmog, “there were a handful of people who thought we probably were crazy for doing it, but (Booth) had no fear in this area. She was bound and determined to get out in the community and do these plays where people could see them. It turned out to be spectacular.”

Of the season, Booth said, “I am so proud of us and and the organization for doing that. You only get chances like that once in a generational life of an organization. The notion of safely hunkering down in one location for close to two years would have been a missed opportunity.”

Booth, 59, is a native of Youngstown, Ohio. She graduated from Denison University in tiny Granville, Ohio, and earned a graduate degree from Northwestern University, outside Chicago.

Chicago, she said, “is one of the great American theater cities. There is this eco-system, from storefronts up to the Goodman.” Theater, she is said, “is profoundly and deeply valued by the city. And all of that is appealing.”

Part of the attraction of her new post is “pure sentimentality” she said, but, added, “I have an opportunity to take on another big adventure, and I like big adventures.”

Booth will become the first female director of the Goodman in its 97-year history. The Goodman is the first theater in the world to produce all 10 plays in August Wilson’s “American Century Cycle.”

Like the Alliance, the Goodman has pursued a goal of community connections, through its Education and Engagement programs that target Chicago’s underserved young people.

Founded in 1925, the theater was endowed and named by lumber tycoon William O. Goodman in honor of his son Kenneth, who died in the 1918 influenza pandemic.

In a press release from the Goodman, Booth described the Chicago theater as “deeply committed to bravery, authenticity and muscular aesthetics.”

Booth’s last task in Atlanta will be directing a new production of “Everybody,” a modern take on the 15th-century morality play “Everyman,” which opens in previews Sept. 2. Her last day on the job will be Sept. 16.

Pearl Cleage, the Alliance Theatre’s distinguished artist in residence said, in a statement, “Susan Booth’s impact will be felt for as long as there is an Alliance Theatre, but what I will miss most as a playwright, is her presence in the rehearsal hall where she is unfailingly generous with the many gifts she brings to each and every collaboration as an artist and as a human being.”