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

Among Susan V. Booth’s most cherished projects at the Alliance Theater was “Jesus Christ Superstar GOSPEL,” from 2009, a soulful re-imagining of the 1971 rock opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. Photo: Joe Mazza

Credit: Joe Mazza

Credit: Joe Mazza

Among Susan V. Booth’s most cherished projects at the Alliance Theater was “Jesus Christ Superstar GOSPEL,” from 2009, a soulful re-imagining of the 1971 rock opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. Photo: Joe Mazza

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 Theater 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 ecosystem, 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.”

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