Chicago Comedy Institution’s iO theater to reopen after sale

More than a year after announcing the definitive closure of the iO theater, Chicago’s improvisation mainstay due to financial pressure from the pandemic, the theater building and brand have been sold to local real estate executives. , said the founder of the institution. Monday.

Charna Halpern, who started iO four decades ago, said the theater would reopen under the ownership of Scott Gendell and Larry Weiner, who both run real estate companies in the Chicago area. The closure of the theater – which has played a crucial role in the careers of Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Stephen Colbert – has been a major loss for the city’s improvisational community, many of whom have studied, performed and socialized there.

“It’s a huge relief that this thing I’ve been working on for 40 years is going to continue,” said Halpern.

In a statement, Gendell and Weiner, who describe each other as longtime friends, said they plan to “continue the cultural gem that is this iconic theater.”

In June 2020, three months after the start of the pandemic, Halpern announced that it was shutting down iO for good, saying the pressure of growing bills, with no income during the shutdown, had become untenable. “At this point in my life, I can’t continue to struggle to stay open,” said Halpern.

The announcement came at the same time as performers associated with iO called for significant efforts to improve diversity and equity there. In a petition, they said they would refuse to perform at iO unless its management met a series of demands: They asked Halpern to “publicly acknowledge and apologize for the institutional racism perpetuated at iO”, as well as to hire a diversity and inclusion coordinator.

About a week after the publication of the petition and Halpern had agreed to work for responding to inquiries, she announced that iO would close for good, superb performers. She said in an interview in May that if iO had been in better financial shape, she would have met the protesters and addressed their concerns, but she couldn’t do it when the prospects for the theater were so bleak.

In the months since Halpern put the building, located at 1501 North Kingsbury Street, on the market, his hopes that someone would step in to save the institution have brightened and gone extinct again and again. She said recently that there had been at least three interested buyers, including a Hollywood arts agency. At one point, she considered reopening the theater on her own, but a leaky roof introduced another financial hurdle, she said.

For now, the closed theater appears frozen in time, with signs directing audiences where to line up for shows scheduled for March 2020.

Now, the task of making the theater’s four stages operational again will rest with the new owners, whose deal was finalized last week, Halpern said. She declined to disclose the price.

With this sale, as well as that of another multi-story comedy theater, Second City, Chicago’s improv scene is very different from what it was a year ago. Second City had faced its own accusations of institutional racism and calls for reform, and new leaders pledged to “tear it down and start over.” In February it was sold to a private equity group, ZMC, led by Strauss Zelnick, and in May it resumption of concerts.

While it’s unclear when iO will reopen, the sale will help the city become a comedy “mecca” again, Halpern said, after months of dark theaters.

For Halpern, who has run the theater from the start and – along with his partner Del Close – helped turn improvisation from a fringe art form into a bustling enterprise, it’s unclear what his role will be in the future. , although she says: I’m happy to come back to some extent if they want me.

“The other day I handed over the keys,” she added, “and when they took me out and said,“ Thank you, Charna, ”that was the first time I I was crying, it really touched me.


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Mary Moser

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