Susan Booth leaves Union Theatre

After 21 years as Artistic Director of the Union Theatre, Susan Booth is heading to Chicago to take over the top job at the Goodman Theatre.

During Booth’s long tenure, the League hosted 85 world premieres and became the go-to first stop for musicals destined to hit Broadway. Under her leadership, six musical productions that debuted in theaters continued on Broadway, including The Color Purple, an adaptation of Georgia-born Alice Walker’s 1982 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.

The popular adaptation of Walker’s novel was nominated for 11 Tony Awards and ran on Broadway for three years from 2005 to 2008. A film version of the musical is scheduled to be released next year. Booth credits its success to helping the league become the go-to venue for Broadway tryouts.

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“You have your first chance at success, right? And ‘Purple’ is ours. Our production crew is doing so well that the producers make sure word gets out. If you want one that takes care of you and A theater that can work with you, you should look at the league.”

“The Shrine Bombing” was produced by the Union Theater to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the establishment of the Shrine. // Photo by Greg Mooney at Union Theatre

Booth oversaw the world premiere of 2017’s “Temple Bombing,” based on Melissa Fay Greene’s book of the same name. The stage recounts the events leading up to the 1958 bombing and its consequences for the Hebrew Mercy Congregation as the downtown temple was officially named at that time.

The play helps commemorate the 150th anniversary of the congregation that year. Booth says it’s a work she’s most proud of because it’s the result of what she calls a “true community partnership.”

“We were contacted by representatives from The Temple and they said, ‘We have a commemoration and we wanted to find a way that it would resonate in our city and be embraced by the cultural community.’ Coincidentally, right here in our The opening comes amid a spate of synagogue attacks up and down the East Coast. The fact that we can create a safe place in our city to talk about what that means, it means the world to me. If The Temple hadn’t been found And we said, ‘Can we work together?'”

Susan Booth and her husband, Max Leventhal, oversaw the full redevelopment of the Union Theatre, which was completed in 2019.

Booth’s ties to the Jewish community here include renaming the Union’s 200-seat Experimental Theater Hertz Stage in honor of Atlanta’s prominent business leader and Temple member, Jennings Hertz.

The theater’s national graduate screenwriting competition is supported by the Kenda Fund, named after three of Diana and Arthur Blank’s children – one of whom, Kenny Blank, took over the successful development of the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, Began her work at the league with Booth.

Booth’s husband, Max Leventhal, was general manager of the Alliance Theatre from 2001 to 2012 and was chairman of the AJFF board. He also managed a massive $32 million, 15-month renovation of the Woodruff Arts Center Theater, which was completed more than a year before the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Booth credits her experience directing theaters during the pandemic to her reassessment of how she views performer-audience relationships.

“During the pandemic, we’ve lost institutions, and institutions that we previously thought were untouchable are struggling,” she noted. “We need to listen to our audiences about how they want to come together and what options are attracting them. The being together factor. I feel like this pandemic has changed the way we think about how we spend time together.”

The 59-year-old will return to Chicago and the Goodman Theater, where she began her career and where she first met her husband after graduating from Northwestern University. Booth will be the first woman to serve as an art director when she officially begins her new role on October 3. The Goodman Theater has long been considered the premier non-profit theater in a city known for its passionate support of the arts.

Booth’s final Atlanta production will be co-directed by young African-American playwright Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins, who was selected for the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship in 2016.

The show is a modern retelling of the 15th-century morality drama “Ordinary People” – one of the first English-language series. “Everybody” is a finalist for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in Drama, which runs from September 2 to October 2.

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