An Ohio native, Susan V. Booth is a Chicagoan at heart. She first moved to the area to study theater at Northwestern, where she got her master’s, and loved Chicago enough to stay — until, that is, she moved to Atlanta to lead the Alliance Theatre. After two decades there, she returned in 2022 to become the Goodman Theatre’s artistic director, replacing Robert Falls after his 36-year run. (The first full season under her leadership began this month.) As cerebral as theater is, it also requires physical tenacity. Booth, 60, says that “a workout doesn’t count unless I’m sweating like a goat at the end of it,” so she rides a Peloton or runs on a treadmill for an hour every morning — but only after warming up her brain. No matter the sport, from swimming to Scrabble, she loves to match wits, strength, and stamina with those in her orbit.

A cup of coffee and the New York Times' Spelling Bee displayed on a phone.

How do you start your day?

“I get up at 5:30 a.m. and head downstairs for coffee. My husband and I have a routine around the New York Times’ Spelling Bee. We start at the same time; we’re competitive about who gets to Genius level first.”

What’s the appeal of word games?

“Filling in the last square of a crossword or hitting Queen Bee on the Spelling Bee is a finite, achievable thing. And they function as the mental equivalency of a warm-up before a workout. If you think of your day as depending on your brain for high-function problem solving, then you want to get that motor running in the a.m.”

Do you take fitness breaks at work?

“When rehearsing a play I’m directing, during a break, I will plank. Everyone’s invited: the stage manager, anyone in the cast. Day one, we set a bar really low — 30-second plank. Each day we add a little time. If there’s somebody up at the three-minute mark, I have to stay up, too. We’re all weird about our bodies and health. The beauty of planking with a bunch of people is it gets uncomfortable fast, which is very leveling.”