iO Theater leaves Wrigleyville location for Lincoln Park


Courtesy of Kaitlin Hetterscheidt

The iO Theater moved from its former location at 3541 N. Clark St. to a new Lincoln Park theater this month.

By Assistant Arts & Culture Editor

The iO Theater has laid the groundwork for some of the most renowned comedic actors and writers in the entertainment industry, such as Tina Fey, Chris Farley and Mike Myers.

The theater will now make its next big move when it leaves its former Wrigleyville location for a spacious new theater in Lincoln Park, located at 1501 N. Kingsbury St.

The woman behind the theater’s big relocation plans is Charna Halpern, the artistic director and founder of iO. Halpern is widely known for her book “Truth In Comedy,” which she wrote with her comedy partner Del Close.

“I was doing this short-form improv theater and I was getting so bored with it,” Halpern said. “When I met Del, I said to him, ‘There’s just got to be something more for improv,’ and he was very excited to hear me say that.”

With help from Close, who died in 1999, Halpern invented the Harold style of improvisation, includes games and crowd suggestions. Halpern said the Harold is now used in almost every modern day training center andperformance theater.

“The idea behind long-form improv is that we are an ensemble,” Halpern said. “We are not backstage smoking cigarettes while people are on stage. We are responsible for everything here. We wear 20 different hats.”

Halpern has been responsible for discovering several successful entertainers, including Fey and Amy Poehler. She said she knew they were gifted as soon as they stepped on the stage.

“It still happens,” Halpern said. “I saw a young woman just the other night, and I pulled her off stage and said, ‘What is your name?’ I know that she’ll be a star one day. I see it all the time.”

The theater, which shortened its name from Improv Olympics, has already benefited from the move, Halpern said. The performers are already excited about the new facility, which features bigger green rooms, an all new air conditioning system, an outdoor beer garden and newly renovated stages.

“These young kids come in the theater and they can’t believe it,” Halpern said. “They say, ‘I feel like I’m on Broadway.’”

Not only are the iO performers excited about the new location, but Near North Side residents are anticipating the booming comedy scene that the theater will bring to the area as well, said Andrew Alexander, co-owner and executive producer of the Second City.

“You’ve got Steppenwolf and Red Door, and it’s almost like a theater corridor now,” Alexander said. “The point I love to stress is that Chicago has become the worldwide epicenter of this type of work, improv and ensemble comedy, and this is only going to strengthen that.”

The Second City has a long-standing relationship with the iO Theater, as they both help train up and coming comedic performers.

Alexander said the theater’s new location will only strengthen the relationship between the two.

“We look at iO as one of our children,” Alexander said. “Everything emanated from The Second City starting in 1959. Del Close used to work at The Second City for two decades, then he moved on to create the long-form, which became the basis of iO, so there’s obviously been a continued relationship with them.”

Padraic Swanton, the Lincoln Park Chamber of Commerce’s director of marketing and communications, said he thinks the new theater will have a positive impact on the neighborhood. He said the publicity for the theater will benefit Lincoln Park and its cultural spirit.

“Lincoln Park has a soaring reputation in Chicago as being a destination neighborhood for cultural entities in the city,” Swanton said. “The iO Theater is going to add to the comedic portion of that reputation, and that’s going to be a great thing for the neighborhood in general.”

Even after more than nineteen years in Wrigleyville, Halpern said she was ready for the theater’s grand opening which took place on Aug. 30.

“I really do not miss [the Wrigleyville location] that much,” Halpern said. “Even the last night we were at the old theater, it was a packed house and I figured that we would all be really sentimental. Then the air conditioning broke down and it was 90 degrees and I was like, ‘You know what? I can’t wait to get out of this place.’”