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Chicago’s famed Second City improv theater is up for sale

October 9, 2020

Following a social-media tumult sparked by a series of racially accusatory tweets posted by former performer and employee Dewayne Perkins, Second City’s co-owner, Andrew Alexander, told staffers last June that he was apologizing for his “many failures as a steward of an important cultural institution” and stepping away from one of Chicago’s most famous and internationally influential theaters, The New York Daily News reports.

In particular, the Daily News said, Perkins had criticized Second City prior’s reluctance to fundraise for the Black Lives Matter movement without also financially supporting police-related causes.

Three onths later, on October 6, a Los Angeles-based investment bank has put the whole institution up for sale, the Chicago Tribune states. Second City is a mainstay of Chicago’s famed theater scene but also is a for-profit, live-entertainment operation devastated by a forced closure.

What we are seeking is critical re-investment in the business that will allow us to continue to grow in the right ways and with the right resources while remaining an oasis of speaking truth to power and providing vital human connection in an increasingly complex world,” Alexander said in a statement released by the bankers, Houlihan Lokey.

 “I do think the plan to sell the whole company presents the opportunity for Second City to continue to succeed well into the future, ensuring financial stability,” he told the Tribune.

Stability has hardly been Second City’s byword, of late. In June, a group of alumni and former staffers took to social media and released an “open letter” to the comedy theater that issued a series of demands—mostly relating to issues surrounding Second City’s relationship with racial equity, diversity and inclusion.

Alexander’s exit was part of the theater’s coordinated response to that letter, although he also had many supporters among Black alumni of the theater, some of whom said they had not been heard. In recent weeks, the theater has cast itself as having learned from past mistakes. The statement put out in support of the sale reflects such language.

Privately held throughout its 61-year history and located at 1616 N. Wells St., Second City is co-owned by Alexander and D’Arcy Stuart, although its president, Steve Johnston, also has a small equity share.

In essence, Alexander and Stuart have decided that rather than try to sell about half of the institution, it makes more sense to market the entire operation, especially since Alexander has exited the business and moved out of state.

A source close to the theater said that such an arrangement was logical, given the theater’s ongoing closure due to the pandemic and the consequent total collapse in box office revenue (and many continued expenses) now falling on one main owner. It remains possible, the source said, that only Alexander’s share will sell. But that would depend on the desires of buyers.

No price has been formally mentioned but a source said informal internal conversations have focused on the region of $50 million.

Research contact: @chicagotribune