You are here
Home > Mobile >

Chicago Comedy Institution iO Theater Is Closing


The iO theater, a mainstay of Chicago’s comedy scene and part of the foundation of modern improvisation, is closing permanently, its owner said.

“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,” Charna Halpern wrote in an email that was posted on her Facebook page on 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.”

On Thursday, Halpern, who created the theater with Del Close, architects of a style of comedy that influenced Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, the filmmaker Adam McKay (“The Big Short”) and legions more, confirmed that she was not planning to reopen iO after the pandemic subsides.

On top of the closure of the theater’s four performance spaces during the coronavirus quarantine, Halpern said, she couldn’t afford the taxes. “The county is continuing to make us pay property tax,” she said in an interview over email. “The mantra from the city is ‘We are in this together’ but the county mantra is ‘You’re in this alone.’”

After developing their improv tenets for decades, Halpern and Close opened iO (then called the ImprovOlympic) in 1995 as a permanent space for a style of performance that prized in-the-moment, supportive honesty and a codified three-beat comedic structure. This vision helped inform comedy troupes and artists ranging from the Upright Citizens Brigade to many stars of “Saturday Night Live.” While Close, who died in 1999, was considered the patriarch of improv, Halpern was, by many accounts, the foremother who helped it grow.

Her tenure was not without its rocky moments; in 2016, female students accused an artistic director at the theater’s Los Angeles outpost of harassment. Halpern’s initial response did not sit well with them, though she later fired the director and created new avenues to report abuse. More recently, performers of color signed a petition demanding changes to make the theater more inclusive and to decentralize decision making. Halpern responded on June 10, apologizing and saying that she would work to meet their demands.

But in that note, too, Halpern, 68, suggested that the theater was in danger of closing. “The future of iO is fragile,” she wrote then.

  • Updated June 16, 2020

    • I’ve heard about a treatment called dexamethasone. Does it work?

      The steroid, dexamethasone, is the first treatment shown to reduce mortality in severely ill patients, according to scientists in Britain. The drug appears to reduce inflammation caused by the immune system, protecting the tissues. In the study, dexamethasone reduced deaths of patients on ventilators by one-third, and deaths of patients on oxygen by one-fifth.

    • What is pandemic paid leave?

      The coronavirus emergency relief package gives many American workers paid leave if they need to take time off because of the virus. It gives qualified workers two weeks of paid sick leave if they are ill, quarantined or seeking diagnosis or preventive care for coronavirus, or if they are caring for sick family members. It gives 12 weeks of paid leave to people caring for children whose schools are closed or whose child care provider is unavailable because of the coronavirus. It is the first time the United States has had widespread federally mandated paid leave, and includes people who don’t typically get such benefits, like part-time and gig economy workers. But the measure excludes at least half of private-sector workers, including those at the country’s largest employers, and gives small employers significant leeway to deny leave.

    • Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?

      So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • How does blood type influence coronavirus?

      A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

    • Will protests set off a second viral wave of coronavirus?

      Mass protests against police brutality that have brought thousands of people onto the streets in cities across America are raising the specter of new coronavirus outbreaks, prompting political leaders, physicians and public health experts to warn that the crowds could cause a surge in cases. While many political leaders affirmed the right of protesters to express themselves, they urged the demonstrators to wear face masks and maintain social distancing, both to protect themselves and to prevent further community spread of the virus. Some infectious disease experts were reassured by the fact that the protests were held outdoors, saying the open air settings could mitigate the risk of transmission.

    • My state is reopening. Is it safe to go out?

      States are reopening bit by bit. This means that more public spaces are available for use and more and more businesses are being allowed to open again. The federal government is largely leaving the decision up to states, and some state leaders are leaving the decision up to local authorities. Even if you aren’t being told to stay at home, it’s still a good idea to limit trips outside and your interaction with other people.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • Should I wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.


A week later, the end had come. “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,” she said.

“It’s a sad time,” she added in the email on Thursday. “I created this community.”

“Chicago has been Mecca for improvisation,” she added. “People came here from all over the world to study and pass down our tenets of agreement, no judgment, and collaboration. Del and I called iO ‘theater of the heart — a theater where people cherish each other to succeed on and off the stage.’”



Source link

Top