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The founders of iO were instrumental in the creation and development of longform improvisation. Through this collaborative artform, iO seeks to create a community that makes space and creates new pathways and entry points for performers of all backgrounds and abilities.

iO is committed to creating an inclusive incubator for performers and ensembles to explore this art form and develop new and exciting works.


Chicago’s iO Theater was founded in 1981 by Charna Halpern and David Shepherd. Following Shepherd’s departure, improv specialist Del Close came aboard and helped turn iO into one of the country’s premier comedy theaters and a launching pad for some of America’s most promising comedic talents. Following the theater’s pandemic-related closure in 2020, Halpern sold iO the following year. Now in the care of new owners and a new management team, the restored theater is once again at the epicenter of long-form improvisation.


Upon rebuilding the new iO, one of the first priorities was to institute a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) board to advise the theater’s new owners and management team. Comprised of community members, the board serves an instrumental role among iO’s current leadership to ensure the theater’s business operations, workplace culture, and social environment are safe, positive, and equitable.