iO's Charna Halpern discusses her theater's new home.
iO, the legendary improv institution that current owner Charna Halpern co-founded with guru Del Close, has found a new home in the Clybourn corridor at 1501 N Kingsbury St, and will open in late 2013 or early 2014, according to Halpern. Home to established comic fare including TJ & Dave and Cook County Social Club, iO's current space has been in jeopardy since redevelopment plans for the space the Halpern currently leases from cousin Steve Schultz were announced in 2009. We talked with Halpern about the theater's big move and leaving Wrigleyville after more than 18 years.
Did you look at bunch of different spaces before settling on the current one?
Yes, I did. I’m kind of lucky that they didn’t work out now that I think about it. I was trying to buy the Greenhouse on Lincoln but the owner was in a court case with the bar. There was this big fight in court that went on and on. He kept saying, 'it will be done next month, it will be done next month.' After it was going on for a very long time I thought, I can’t sit and wait around.
Then I almost made a deal on Broadway where that Wal-mart is now. We had agreed, he had accepted my letter of intent. But then Wal-mart made him a big offer; they wanted the parking lot and all that stuff and that fell through. It was just so hard to find a big enough [space] to house me that wasn’t near a school. One realtor showed me the building I’m buying in 2009, but the building wasn’t for sale so I was very mad at him. I was like, why would you show me a building that’s not for sale? [In 2012] I went back to see if he was ready to sell. Now the building was for sale and I was ready to buy it.
In what ways will the new building improve over the current space?
In every way. First of all, it’s like two and a half times the size. We believe it could be anywhere between 33,000 to 35,000 square feet. I’m at 15,000 right now. We’re busting at the seams for classrooms, we’re busting at the seams for more theater. I’ve got so many people who want to do different shows and my shows are packed all the time. I have no room for new stages. TJ and Dave are going to be taking one theater for their own and they’re going to be doing special shows, so one of the four stages will be just for them, so that’s exciting. I’ll be able to have a separate bar, a nice big bar. We have a kitchen here. Part of the building is now a bakery and she’s got a 40-car parking lot so I was going to turn that into a beer garden. It's in a really hip area. I’m not going to be near the Cubs. People aren’t going to be peeing on my building.
I wanted to ask you about that. On the one hand, you’re moving to a really great neighborhood but on the other hand you’re leaving a great neighborhood.
It’s not going to be a great neighborhood anymore. Everything’s being torn down. It’s going to all change. Crain’s magazine just did a big story about this new area I’m moving to, that’s it’s going to be like the new Michigan Avenue with a Willaims-Sonoma moving in, Anthropologie, a movie theater, a Target. It’s already built up around there. It’s a great area. We’re not far from Second City and Steppenwolf. I share a lot of the same students and performers with Second City so they can run up and down the block, so that’s really exciting. It’s across from Whole Foods.
This neighborhood [is] really hard at night because when the Cubs are here the parking gets expensive so it’s really hard on all of us and the clientele when there are Cubs around. They’re starting to have concerts and stuff and makes it really difficult to get to the theater. It’s going to be a pleasure to get out of there.
Change is hard. What will be the hardest about letting go of the current space?
There’s a lot of history here. This is where Tina Fey played and Amy Poehler played and Koechner and all those guys; these stages have been trod by very famous people, but you know the new stages will also have that soon too. It was our home since 1995 so we’re going to miss it but we’re going to be excited to get to the new place.
Are you already imagining big grand opening plans?
I’ve already told all my friends from L.A. and New York that attendance will be mandatory and we’ll maybe spread it out over a couple weeks. I’ll have to figure out how to do it because I have four theaters so how do we do it? We can’t have Amy Poehler in one theater and Adam McKay and Neil Flynn in another theater so it might be spread out over a couple of days or a week-long thing.