Chicago Comedy Institution iO Theater Will Reopen After Sale

More than a 12 months after it was introduced that the Chicago improv mainstay iO Theater was closing completely due to the monetary pressure of the pandemic, the theater’s constructing and model have been bought to native actual property executives, the establishment’s founder mentioned Monday.

Charna Halpern, who began iO 4 many years in the past, mentioned the theater would reopen underneath the possession of Scott Gendell and Larry Weiner, who each run actual property corporations within the Chicago space. The closure of the theater — which performed a vital half within the careers of Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Stephen Colbert — was a serious loss for the town’s neighborhood of improvisers, a lot of whom studied, carried out and socialized there.

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

In an announcement, Gendell and Weiner, who describe themselves as lifelong associates, mentioned that they deliberate to “continue the cultural gem that is this iconic theater.”

In June 2020, three months into the pandemic, Halpern introduced that she was closing iO for good, saying that the strain of mounting payments, with none revenue in the course of the shutdown, had develop into untenable. “At this point in my life, I can’t continue the struggle to stay open,” Halpern mentioned then.

The announcement got here on the similar time that performers related to iO known as for main efforts to enhance range and fairness there. In a petition, they mentioned they’d refuse to carry out at iO until its management met a collection of calls for: they requested Halpern to “publicly acknowledge and apologize for the institutional racism perpetuated at iO,” in addition to rent a range and inclusion coordinator.

About per week after the petition was revealed and Halpern had agreed to work towards assembly the calls for, she introduced that iO would shut for good, beautiful performers. She mentioned in an interview this May that if iO had been on higher monetary footing, she would have met with the protesters and addressed their considerations, however that she couldn’t achieve this when the theater’s prospects had been so bleak.

In the months since Halpern put the constructing, at 1501 North Kingsbury Street, available on the market, her hopes that somebody would step in to save lots of the establishment brightened and flickered out repeatedly. She mentioned not too long ago there had been not less than three patrons, together with a Hollywood expertise company. At one level she contemplated reopening the theater herself, however a leaky roof launched one other monetary roadblock, she mentioned.

For the time being, the closed theater seems frozen in time, with indicators pointing audiences the place to line up for reveals that had been scheduled for March 2020.

Now, the duty of constructing the theater's 4 phases operational once more will probably be as much as the brand new house owners, whose deal was finalized final week, Halpern mentioned. She declined to reveal the worth.

With this sale, in addition to that of one other storied comedy theater, Second City, Chicago’s improv scene seems very completely different than it did a 12 months in the past. Second City had confronted its personal accusations of institutional racism and requires reform, and new leaders there pledged to “tear it all down and begin again.” In February, it was bought to a personal fairness group, ZMC, run by Strauss Zelnick, and in May it resumed dwell performances.

Though it’s unclear when iO will reopen, the sale will assist the town develop into a comedy “mecca” once more, Halpern mentioned, after months of darkened theaters.

For Halpern, who has run the theater from the start and — alongside together with her accomplice Del Close — helped remodel improvisation from a marginal artwork kind right into a bustling enterprise, it’s unclear what her function will probably be going ahead, although she says, “I’m happy to return in some capacity if they want me.”

“The other day I turned over the keys,” she added, “and when they walked me out and said, ‘Thank you, Charna,’ it was the first time I cried. It really hit me.”