Chicago’s iO Theater is shutting down permanently

Tribune Content Agency

CHICAGO — Chicago’s iO Theater will shut down, owner Charna Halpern has told the Tribune, and the theater building will be put up for sale. Halpern said she has no official closing date yet, but like all Chicago theaters, iO has been closed since late March by the pandemic.

The reasons for the closing are financial, Halpern said. She and the theater recently were charged with racism via a petition posted on; the petition made a series of demands for changes in ownership and practices at the theater. Halpern said those events were not the deciding factor.

She instead pointed to looming property taxes bills of close to $100,000 that would have had to come out of her personal savings.

“I’m 68 years old,” she said Thursday. “It’s scary for me. We’re in a pandemic right now and there’s no end in sight. Even if we were able to open at half capacity it was not going to work.”

Halpern said she had previously had an interested buyer for the building and she first contacted that buyer before the petition, created by five performers with connections to the theater and comedy training center, was published.

“I need this to be clear,” she said. “If it were not for the pandemic I would not be closing. I would be meeting with the protesters.”

Halpern made a statement June 10 with a personal apology and vows to change iO in response to the petition. The long-lived Chicago comedy theater once known as ImprovOlympic — the training ground for the likes of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler — was co-founded and owned by Halpern and the Clybourn Corridor building, which iO moved into in 2014, is in her name.

She said the business has often narrowly gotten by; as recently as the start of this year she occasionally dipped into her own savings to make payroll. She said she wanted to meet the petition’s demands before closing, “but one of the demands was me to hire advisers, with a salary, and I wasn’t going to be able to do that.”

She says she hopes members of the younger generation of improv performers in Chicago will create something new in the wake of iO’s closing. “It’s time for me to pass the torch,” she said.


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