Chicago’s Goodman Theater announced Monday that Susan Booth, Goodman’s former literary director and currently artistic director of Atlanta’s Alliance Theater, will be the new artistic director of Chicago’s most prestigious theater company.

Booth, 59, will replace Robert Falls, who announced in September that he was stepping down after 35 years on the job.

Booth, who directs the season opener at The Alliance, will take over at The Goodman in early October, though she said she has already begun speaking with members of Goodman’s staff in preparation for her new role.

“There’s so much to figure out,” Booth said in a phone interview Monday. “This is a time of seismic change, both in Chicago and in the American theater as a whole. It’s actually a very attractive time to step into new leadership. Past practice is not prescriptive.

That said, Booth is as close to an inside hire as the Goodman could have gotten without making one.

She remained close to Goodman staffers and other Chicago arts leaders during her roughly two decades in Atlanta.

Even in 2001, with Falls firmly entrenched at the Goodman, her departure after eight years in the theater was seen as a smart, strategic move to gain more experience running a large institution and change her personal brand image as director. literary to artistic director, maybe even come back one day.

Clearly, that trajectory unfolded, spurred on by Booth’s highly successful and social tenure at the Alliance, where she became known for producing numerous pre-Broadway essays (including “The Prom,” “Bring It On” and “Tuck Everlasting”) while promoting greater visibility for local playwrights.

During her years in Chicago, Booth was Goodman’s first point of contact for playwright Rebecca Gilman, who went on to produce most of her work in theater. She also worked extensively with Regina Taylor, who is still part of the art collective, and was known as a champion of quality new work.

For Goodman’s board, well aware of the fiscal challenges facing major regional theaters in the protracted recovery from the pandemic, Booth surely represented a desire to find an artistic leader who also had direct experience running a theater. a great and sometimes controversial institution. Booth’s hiring is quite different from the one a former Goodman board took in 1985 when it took the risk of hiring the maverick 33-year-old artistic director of a small style theater Chicago called Wisdom Bridge. Falls had rave reviews in his pocket from this journal and elsewhere for his artistic work, but had no experience running a major arts institution.

Similar candidates, sources said, were in the diverse pool this time around.

But in addition to this successful bet for the Goodman with Falls, Booth is much safer.

“The Goodman has a long tradition of artistic excellence and maintaining that was very important to us,” said Board Chairman Jeff Hesse, who led the process with Goodman President Maria Wynne. “Susan brings her Chicago experience early in her career and also now a long history of community involvement and outreach in two very diverse cities.”

Hesse said the committee decided Booth was “someone who would really engage our community at a difficult time.”

“Once we got to know her,” Wynne said. “Susan quickly became the number one candidate.”

For her part, Booth (who was born in Youngstown, Ohio and raised in Canton) said there were very few American theater jobs that would have tempted her to leave Atlanta, but that was the top of his very short list.

Part of the appeal, she said, is being once again part of a major theatrical hub where no single theater really dominates, as it does in Atlanta. “Being part of this community again makes me more excited than I can say,” she said.

Predictably, Booth has generally been reluctant to offer specific plans for his next role, saying, “I need to know what Chicago wants and expects from its flagship theater.” She also talked about how she could work with the artistic collective of directors and writers that Falls has created. But she said she already knew their value.

“I need to know what the members of the artistic collective want their relationship with the Goodman to be,” she said. “But you’d be foolish to walk into this place and not appreciate the value of artists like Mary Zimmerman and Henry Godinez. They are part of a group of rock stars.

Booth is married to popular former Goodman technical director Max Leventhal, who she says successfully proposed at Booth’s going away party with Goodman in 2001, left with her for Atlanta and is now returning in Chicago.

“Max says he likes to lead a life of leisure,” Booth said dryly. “We’ll see how long it lasts.”

Chris Jones is a reviewer for the Tribune.

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