Chicago Theaters Face Closure Due To COVID-19 Shutdown

While I’m away, read more from social media intern, and smart, thoughtful woman, Jessica Mack

The beginning of 2020 looked promising. Theaters were promoting the newest shows, ice skating in Millennium Park was a must, and Chicago Restaurant Week promoted some of Chicago’s finest dining for tourists. January was a beautiful winter wonderland and Chicago planned to enjoy it to the fullest.

But all of that changed in February with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic. In early March, the U.S. shut down – literally and figuratively. All businesses except for those labelled “essential” closed, leaving them with a big question: When would they be able to open back up for business?

In Mercury Theater and iO Theater Chicago’s cases, the answer is never. It was announced last week that both operations would be closing their doors permanently at the end of June, due to lack of funds.

What does this mean for other theaters in Chicago? Could they meet the same sad end?

Phase Four of Chicago’s post-lockdown reopening began Friday, June 26. According to the State of Illinois Coronavirus (COVID-19) Response page, this means “Gatherings of 50 people or fewer are allowed, restaurants and bars reopen, travel resumes, childcare and schools reopen under guidance from the Illinois Department of Public Health.”

But even with this announcement, it’s not looking up for live performances. Reading Chicago’s Performance Venue’s Reopening Guide, it stipulates that people must stand six feet away from one another – and only 25% of the venue can be filled at a time.

Only 50 individuals are allowed in the building, unless there’s balconies causing separation. But overall seating capacity is limited to 25%, which begs the question of how venues can generate enough revenue.

Financially, it may not be worth it for theaters to reopen under these circumstances. Costs have to be considered, like paying staff among other things. And given that the pandemic in America gives no current signs of being in control, theatergoers may be too concerned about public health to risk a night of entertainment. 

In the end, we don’t know what will happen to Chicago theater, but present trends are not encouraging. Mercury Theater’s demise could be the start of a domino effect. Our artistic venues need our help.

Please consider a donation to the Chicago Theater Workers Relief Fund, sponsored by Chicago Plays. Click here to give any amount.

Jessica Mack has been writing and editing for over two years. She is currently an intern for the Chicago Writers Association and Becky Sarwate/Cubsessions and writes about her daily life and current issues on her blog, Jess Because I Can. Recently she was Section Editor of Flash Fiction for Crook & Folly, DePaul University’s Literary & Arts Magazine and has experience as Co-Editor in Chief of the Joliet Junior College Blazer Newspaper.
Jessica is currently on track to graduate with her Bachelors degree in English with a concentration in Creative Writing at DePaul University in June of 2021. She spends her spare time reading, cuddling with her cats Theo and Nelly, playing video games and bicycling on the Chicago lakefront.