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Lincoln Park, Old Town

iO Theater Closing For Good Because Of Financial Strain From Coronavirus Pandemic

The theater and comedy venue The Second City have grappled with accusations of creating racist environments.

The iO Theater will not be reopening due to financial struggle caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
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LINCOLN PARK — The iO Theater, a North Side hub for improv performances and classes, is closing for good.

“This pandemic has made the financial struggle too difficult, and I can’t even see the light at the end of the tunnel at this point,” iO owner and co-founder Charna Halpern told employees in an email that was leaked on social media Wednesday.

“Over my 40 years, I have met many struggles to keep going and I did it to keep a place for my community to have stage time, but at this point in my life, I can’t continue the struggle to stay open,” Halpern said. “I have taken the work this far and I now feel like you are all a community where you are strong and united enough to find a way to take the work further.”

Halpern did not respond to a request for comment, but she told the Chicago Sun-Times the decision to close the theater was strictly financial and due to a looming $100,000 property tax bill, and she’s in discussion with potential buyers for the theater’s site at 1501 N. Kingsbury St.

Halpern said the theater’s closure is unrelated to a recent Change.org petition alleging systemic racism at the famous theater, which has given rise to stars like Tina Fey, Mike Myers, Chris Farley, Amy Poehler and Stephen Colbert.

The petition, which said it was seeking accountability and not punishment, called on iO to decentralize its theater’s decision-making to better include Black, Indigenous and people of color to make the space “genuinely inclusive” for people of color, LGBTQ and differently abled people.

Halpern apologized to staff, students and performers of the theater in an open letter last week.

“I realize now that despite my goal to foster an environment of support and positive embrace, I have not been engaged or active enough in supporting the BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ members of our community,” Halpern said. “The world has changed greatly in my time and only I am responsible for my lack of adapting with these changes.”

The petition at iO came days after another legendary comedy venue, The Second City, also was accused of fostering a culture of racism.

Andrew Alexander, co-owner and executive producer of Second City, resigned June 5 and apologized to employees for his “many failures as a steward of an important cultural institution,” the Chicago Tribune reported.

On June 11, The Second City posted an open letter on its Facebook page agreeing to demands from employees and alumni to address its alleged culture of racism, abuse, pay inequity and more.

“We hear you, and we apologize for the extraordinary pain, trauma and erasure that you have experienced,” vice chairman D’Arcy Stuart and vice president Steve Johnston stated in the letter.

“The Second City has long defended itself behind the excuse of upholding ‘tradition.’ That ends now.”

Read all of Block Club’s coverage of businesses closing because of coronavirus.

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