The ongoing pandemic has not been kind to Chicago comedy theaters and training centers, and the damage doesn't seem to be letting up. A report from Variety reveals that the current owners of The Second City are putting the Chicago-based comedy institution up for sale, seeking a new owner for the 60-year-old brand and its various theaters and training centers, which have hosted the likes of Bill Murray, Joan Rivers, Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert and John Belushi.
"While all our lives have been affected by the pandemic, The Second City has found green shoots that have further highlighted our growth potential," The Second City president Steve Johnston said in a statement explaining how the brand can be profitable moving forward. With theaters in Chicago and Los Angeles that have been closed since March and another theater in Toronto that has been able to host some shows, The Second City has moved many of its performances and its popular comedy classes online, in an attempt to reach comedy-lovers who are stuck at home.
A sale of The Second City would transfer all of the company's assets to a new owner, including theaters, training centers, touring shows and a more recent expansion into corporate education. The announcement of the sale comes on the heels of accusations of systemic racism within the institution, which prompted The Second City CEO Andrew Alexander to step down in June, admitting in a letter that "The Second City cannot begin to call itself anti-racist. That is one of the great failures of my life."
Back in June, we learned that the iO Theater (likely The Second City's biggest direct competitor in Chicago) would be closing its doors for good, citing "financial issues." The comedy theater also faced criticism for its treatment of BIPOC performers—shortly before iO owner Charna Halpern abruptly announced the business's closure, a group of performers sent her a letter demanding an apology for the institutional racism she allegedly perpetuated.
With iO closed and The Second City's future uncertain, two of the largest incubators for comedic performers in Chicago may have disappeared for good. If smaller theaters like the Annoyance Theatre, the Crowd Theater and CiC Theater are able to reopen when it's safe to host live performances once more, they may have outlived the institutions that once made Chicago a destination for folks looking to break into comedy.
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