Chicago Comedy Institution iO Theater to Reopen After Sales


More than a year after Chicago improvisation’s mainstay was revealed iO Theater was closing The founder of the institution said that due to the financial burden of the pandemic, the theater building and its brand were permanently sold to local property managers. Monday.

charna halpernHaving started iO forty years ago, he said the theater will reopen under the ownership of Scott Gendell and Larry Weiner, who run real estate companies in the Chicago area. The closure of the theater, which played a pivotal role in the careers of Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Stephen Colbert, was a great loss to the city’s community of improvisers, many of whom studied, performed and socialized there.

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

Gendell and Weiner, who describe themselves as lifelong friends, said in a statement that they plan to “continue the cultural gem that is this iconic theatre.”

Three months into the pandemic, in June 2020, Halpern announced that he was shutting down iO for good, saying the mounting bill pressure had become untenable without any revenue at the time of the shutdown. “At this point in my life, I can’t continue the struggle to stay open,” Halpern said.

The announcement came as artists associated with iO called for major efforts to promote diversity and equality there. in a petitionsaid they would refuse to perform at iO unless his leadership met a set of demands: They asked Halpern to “publicly acknowledge and apologize for the institutional racism perpetuated at iO” and also to hire a diversity and inclusion coordinator.

After the petition was published and Halpern’s agreed to work for meeting the demands, announced that iO will be closing for good and outstanding artists. In an interview this May, he said that had iO’s finances been better, he would have met with the protesters and expressed his concerns, but not when the theater’s future was so bleak.

In the months since Halpern put the building on the market at 1501 North Kingsbury Street, hopes have flashed and flashed again and again that someone will step in to save the institution. He said there were at least three interested buyers recently, including a Hollywood talent agency. At one point he considered reopening the theater, but a leaky roof opened up another financial roadblock, he said.

For now, the indoor theater looks frozen in time, with signs showing viewers where to line up for shows scheduled for March 2020.

Now, the task of getting the theater’s four stages back up and running will now be left to the new owners, whose deal was finalized last week, Halpern said. He refused to disclose the price.

With this sale, and the sale of another story comedy theater, Second City, Chicago’s improv scene looks very different than it did a year ago. Second City faced its own accusations of institutional racism and calls for reform, and the new leaders there promised to “break everything and start over.” Sold in February a private equity group, ZMC was managed by Strauss Zelnick and in May ongoing live performances.

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

For Halpern, who has run the theater from the beginning and turned improvisation into a play with his partner Del Close. marginal art form into a bustling businessIt’s unclear what her role will be, but “I’d be happy to return in some capacity if they want me,” she says.

“I handed over the keys the other day,” he added, “and when they took me outside and said, ‘Thanks, Charna,’ I cried for the first time. It really impressed me.”


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