Goodman’s new artistic director will be first woman to lead the theater

Susan V. Booth of Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre will succeed Robert Falls, bringing her back to the Chicago company where she worked in the ’90s.

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Susan V. Booth was director of new play development at the Goodman Theatre from 1993-2001.

Joe Mazza

The Goodman Theatre announced on Monday the appointment of Susan V. Booth as its new artistic director. Booth, the first woman to lead the 97-year-old theater, will assume her new position on Oct. 3.

Booth succeeds Robert Falls, who is stepping down after 35 years as artistic director.

Leader of Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre for the past 21 years, Booth is no stranger to the Chicago theater landscape. She attended Northwestern University and, in addition to directing at many area theaters and teaching at Northwestern and DePaul University, she was the Goodman’s director of new play development from 1993-2001, where she worked with playwrights including Luis Alfaro, Rebecca Gilman, Regina Taylor and Jose Rivera.

“It feels so incredibly delicious and full circle,” Booth said in a phone conversation from Atlanta. “The Goodman is a place where I cut my teeth professionally; it’s where I learned a lot of the things I believe to be true about the artwork and about cultural organizations. And to be able to go back, having spent some years learning some more, it feels deeply satisfying.”

She will jump into planning the 2023-2024 season and also plans to absorb as much as she can from the upcoming season. Falls will direct two productions in the 2022-2023 season: “The Cherry Orchard” and “Swing State.”

Falls refers to Booth as “an inspired choice” who will bring “leadership, energy and fresh ideas” to “an exciting new chapter” at the Goodman.

At the Alliance, Booth, among other things, doubled the theater’s annual operating budget and endowment, raised the theater’s national profile with a Regional Tony Award and six world premiere musicals that later went to Broadway (including “The Color Purple” and “The Prom”) and completed a multi-year campaign to build a new mainstage theater and rehearsal studios.

Booth, 59, admits that despite her past tenure at the Goodman there will be a learning curve in her new position.

“What the Chicago theater scene was when I left it and what the Chicago theater scene is now I suspect are very different things,” she says.

A deep commitment to civic engagement and social issues grew during Booth’s time in Atlanta, a city she calls “a fantastic American stew” and a place “that talks about race in all its complexity.”

“Seismic moments of change, if you are not afraid of them, are actually the best thing in the world for organizational growth, personal growth, artistic growth,” she says. “You just have to lean into what is as opposed to getting sentimental about what used to be or getting too restrictive about what it ought to be. We’re confronting that as theater artists everywhere and every day in this country.”

Booth says she marvels at the range of programming the Goodman has undertaken in recent years.

“I’m a firm believer in theater as a means to an end as opposed to an end in and of itself. I believe that it’s an incredibly powerful catalyst for community conversation and growth and the development of empathy and compassion. I’m super interested to see how the Goodman is now focused on those goals.”

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