After 21 years, Alliance Theatre Artistic Director Susan Booth bids farewell to Atlanta

Susan Booth's last day with the Alliance is Sept. 16. (Courtesy of Joe Mazza)

There comes a time when life presents choices, and we must decide to refuse or seize the opportunity. After 21 years as artistic director of the Alliance Theatre, Susan V. Booth will leave Atlanta to become the artistic director of the Goodman Theater in Chicago. Before her upcoming move, she managed to co-direct “Everybody,” the opening play of the Alliance Theatre’s new season, and she joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom to talk about the play and her next major chapter in American theatrical arts.

Interview highlights:

Based on a 15th-century morality play, a play on mortality:

“‘Everybody’ is based, wildly loosely, on the 15th-century play ‘Everyman,’ which is one of the earliest recorded English language plays that is told in the manner of a morality play. And it is about the transience of life, which, as an usher at the theater will tell you when you come to see the show, is really a story about death. But because we know so little about death, we end up talking about life,” said Booth. “It is about our journey when we contemplate our own mortality, and finally, about what we value, why we value it, and how we express our value in a lived way.”

“Joy means different things to different people. When I belly laugh, that’s how I encounter joy. There is a moment where Death is discovered in the audience. God has decided that there have been some errors in God’s plan, seemingly attributable to God’s creation — everybody — and God needs some assistance,” Booth recounted. “God’s dearest assistant is Death, and so God looks out at the audience and says, ‘Death, reveal yourself,’ and this nebbishy accounting-looking guy stands up and says, ‘Over here…’ Time is portrayed by a nine-year-old girl. All of your reverent expectations get turned upside down.”

On leaving important aspects of each performance up to chance:

“The characters include God and Love and Time and Death, and then we have five ‘Somebodies.’ That is how they are identified in your program, in our script. And those five ‘Somebodies,’ every night in front of the audience, draw from a lottery; and from that lottery, one of them is determined to play the role of ‘Everybody,’ and the other four play every other character in a play — everybody’s family and friends and belongings. And it is a device that the playwright put in to make very palpable this notion of universality.”

She continued, “No matter what we believe, no matter what faith we practice or what faith we eschew, none of us are getting out of here alive, and we share that journey and that outcome. And so by making the cast choice in front of the audience be utterly random, the playwright underscores that fact.” 

On Susan Booth’s continuing commitment to diversity in theater:

“Our practice was created to be a democratic exercise of the people’s narrative. That’s what we were created to be, and somehow the American regional theater, over time, moved to a different sort of practice. And it was a practice that became, for economic reasons, exclusive to people who had resources, people who had access, people who had connections,” said Booth. “Quite rightly, our tradition, our field was called on that behavior and called on the structures that had built up at our theaters, that essentially acted as prohibitive gates that kept people out.”

She went on, “Yes, it is about what voices you put on your stage, but it’s also about, ‘Who do you have in leadership? Who do you have in management? Who sits on your board? Who’s backstage, as well as onstage? How are you truly making your work, your practice, your organization, an equitable place?’ And that work is nowhere near done. But it is work that the Alliance takes seriously and will be committed to as long as there is an Alliance Theatre.”

“Everybody,” co-directed by Susan Booth and Tinashe Kajese-Bolden, is on view at the Alliance Theatre through Oct. 2. Tickets and more information are available at