Entertainment Theater

Second City plans major expansion at Piper's Alley

Second City, the famed Chicago comedy theater, announced Tuesday that it has acquired the former AMC movie theater inside the Piper's Alley complex at 230 W. North Ave. Second City plans to fill the new space with “student-centered facilities,” including two theaters, classrooms, a student lounge and bar, event space and other new facilities.

The new footprint will represent a significant expansion. Second City currently has 20,300 square feet of leased space inside Piper's Alley. The new lease with Old Town Development Associates LLC of the former movie-theater space adds 25,000 square feet to the privately owned comedy theater.

Second City's announcement comes as its comedy competitor, iO Chicago, is in the process of moving to a new, expanded space of its own on Kingsbury Avenue. That new building — a former warehouse in the Clybourn Corridor — has about 33,000 square feet of available space, twice as big as iO's former venue in Wrigleyville, with multiple stages, classrooms and bars in the works.

Both expansions clearly reflect the growing numbers of students studying sketch comedy and improv in Chicago — students paying these institutions, both of which frequently are gateways to “Saturday Night Live!” and other TV opportunities, to take classes.

In essence, the expansions, which are heavy on facilities for sudents, reflect an increased understanding that comedy students are now not just taking the occasional class, but are following curricula requiring more sophisticated technology, and that they want to spend less-structured time at their host institution, much as they would at a university.

“This will give the opportunity for more student performances in front of audiences, resources to enhance their education, places to work and collaborate, and program-specific materials and technology in classrooms,” said Second City CEO and co-owner Andrew Alexander.

The movie theater, which once had four screens and was one of the most popular in the city, closed in 2011. Second City also said its plans include opening up the bricked-over window arches overlooking North Avenue and Wells Street, allowing for light to spill into the new facility for performers in training.

"We are not just building classrooms, we are building an experience,” said Kerry Sheehan, president of the Second City Training Center. “It is very important for Second City to provide students with a space that is theirs. A space where they can come hang out, work, rehearse as well as study. We want students to be here all the time. Even on days when their regular class doesn't meet."

With the two added student stages, Second City will have six in Piper's Alley, including the existing Mainstage, e.t.c., UP Comedy Club and Skybox. It plans to have the new space open by next spring.

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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