Chicago’s Famed iO Improv School Will Shutter After Diversity Activsts Demand Costly Changes

Chicago’s Improv Olympic, or iO theater, will not reopen despite its storied history and position within the Chicago comedy community, in part because of losses incurred during the coronavirus lockdown, and in part, it seems, because of demands made by diversity activists looking to force iO to expand its offerings and fire its owner.
The theater announced late last week that it would not reopen its doors, with the owner, Charna Halpern, telling local media that the building owes a huge property tax bill to the city that it will not be able to pay, given that it has been out of operation for several months during a coronavirus-related lockdown.
Halpern, who did get a Paycheck Protection Program loan to help defray some of her operations costs, says the burden is just too much for the theater, which runs at a narrow profit margin normally.
“I was hoping that maybe the county would say we didn’t have to pay property taxes in the next couple of months. They haven’t. They just moved it a couple months,” she said. “I don’t know when theater is going to come back, so I think selling the building would be the best thing for me to do right now.”
She added that the decision has been “heartbreaking.”
One opinion writer for the Chicago Tribune, though, suggests that there’s more to Improve Olympic’s decision to close than just money troubles. Writing Tuesday, Shaun Cammack says the theater has the been the target of a woke mob who demanded it — and owner Halpern — pay for its sins against diversity. Literally.
“A few weeks ago, five members of the iO improv theater started a petition titled, ‘I Will Not Perform at iO Until the Following Demands Are Met.’ The petition, in addition to the demands, accused owner and co-founder Charna Halpern of having a history of racism and called on her to step down,” Cammack reported.
“The petition, with more than 2,500 signatures, demanded the hiring of a diversity and inclusion coordinator, a rewriting of the entire improv curriculum, and increased funding of the theater’s current diversity program. These, at a time when the theater hasn’t been open for more than three months, are insurmountable demands,” he added.
The petition, on, demands the theater hire diversity coordinators, employ an advisory board of “BIPOC LGBTQIA+ performers and students,” and commit to a board-approved “fully revised and decolonized curriculum in order to create a learning environment where Black students can thrive.”
In addition, the group wants changes and expansions to the theater’s diversity scholarship program, a campaign to hire “diverse” teachers from the minority community, and for Halpern to step down and, presumably, atone for her sins.
The petition’s authors are reportedly recipients of the theater’s existing diversity program, “receiving free classes from the theater.”
Halpern says she agrees with the protesters, in theory, but that the theater’s budget simply can’t sustain such a major change.
“Right now,” she said, “there’s an important movement and they have a lot to fight for.”
“If there was no pandemic,” Halpern told local media, “I would be working with them and I would certainly not be closing.”
She also told both Cammack and other members of the media that she feels personally insulted by the petition.
“The petition hurt me a little personally because people who didn’t know”ow me claimed that ‘Halpern also has a personal history of racism.’ So, that was upsetting,” she said.
Improv Olympic is not alone in facing allegations of racism. The comedy world is rife with such accusations, and Chicago’s other landmark improv training ground, Second City, has faced allegations of its own in recent years. Cammack said on Twitter that he has yet to receive any concrete evidence, though, of racism from iO’s owner.
He has received a considerable amount of criticism for suggesting that diversity activists were the “straw that broke the camel’s back,” forcing iO to shut its doors completely.
“As expected, the piece received a lot of blowback,” Cammack told the Daily Wire in a statement. “Some accused me of actively oppressing minorities by writing this opinion, and there were plenty of personal insults–although one, which said I bore a resemblance to Ned Flanders, definitely made me laugh.”
“Fortunately, after some healthy criticism regarding the details of the theater’s financial situation, Charna confirmed with me that iO received support as part of the PPP program to cover payroll expenses,” he added. “Still, the theater was in a precarious financial situation, and the petition and the accusations were undoubtedly the straw the broke the camel’s back. Investors and corporate clients are fleeing from anything remotely controversial right now, and so the unfounded accusation of racism has sunk the last lifeboat for iO.”
Chicago’s Famed iO Improv School Will Shutter After Diversity Activsts Demand Costly Changes Chicago’s Famed iO Improv School Will Shutter After Diversity Activsts Demand Costly Changes Reviewed by CUZZ BLUE on June 24, 2020 Rating: 5

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