About The iO Theater

Chicago's Best Improv Comedy

Widely considered to be the premier venue for long-form improvisational performances and classes, the iO Theater (formerly known as the ImprovOlympic Theater) was founded in 1981 by Charna Halpern and the late great improvisational teacher and director, Del Close.

The History of the iO Theater

Using theater games created by Viola Spolin, David Shepard created the ImprovOlympic to put up competing improv teams against each other in friendly and funny competitions. At the time, performances were being held at The Players Workshop in Chicago, where Charna Halpern was an improv student and assistant to David Sheperd. She later would become the producer of the competitions, and eventually took over operations and ownership of the ImprovOlympic name.


The ImprovOlympic is Born

As the theater began to become popular amongst the improv troupes being formed in Chicago, Charna Halpern began to think  that there could be more to improvisational performances. She believed that improv was capable of more than the short games and competition-style shows that dominated the scene through the 1970s. It was then that she met legendary Second City director and improv luminary, Del Close.

She approached Del about teaching classes at her theater and he agreed. Del quickly became a constant source of inspiration to Charna and her students,and their shared vision for a deeper, more robust form of improvisation – based on trust and agreement, would be rounded into shape and with Del leading the way, the true nature and mission of the ImprovOlympic began to take place.

With Del serving as the mentor and Charna the guide, “longform improvisation” was born and the two would eventually help change the face of improvisational comedy.


First official home

io-before-afterThe Improv Olympic moved from space to space before eventually landing at their permanent home in Chicago’s Wrigleyville neighborhood in 1995.

With Del leading the way, the ImprovOlympic theater quickly became the mecca of improvisation and it’s approach to the art of improvisation and comedy in general, began to shape and influence the minds of many of today’s most iconic and influential comedic entertainers.


ImprovOlympic West is born

io-west-before-afterIn 1997, iO alum and instructor Paul Vaillancourt convinced Charna and Del to allow him to open a companion theater in Los Angeles for all the alums that were now out west. Originally named “ImprovOlympic West”, the theater is now known at the “iO West Theater”.


Improv loses a legend

del-closeFive days before his 65th birthday, Del Close passed away leaving a huge void in the improv community and the iO Theater itself. Charna Halpern promised Del that she would continue his mission and to try to make longform improvisation a true art-form that could not only benefit one on stage, but in their personal life as well.


ImprovOlympic becomes "iO"

In 2001, the ImprovOlympic (somehow) caught the attention of the International Olympic Committee, mostly because the word “Olympic” was part of our name. The IOC eventually threatened the theater legally over the use of the name “ImprovOlympic” and the theater was forced to change it’s name.

Since most of the ImprovOlympic’s students and performers always affectionately referred to the theater as “iO” (ie. “I’m heading to iO, wanna come?”), the theaters’ name was subsequently -and appropriately- changed to simply “iO.”


iO moves to new -and bigger- location

io-1501-outside-smAfter almost 20 years in Chicago’s Wrigleyville neighborhood, Charna Halpern bought a building in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood and moved the iO Theater to it’s new home at 1501 N. Kingsbury st.

The new iO Theater now boasts 4 theaters, an expanded Training Center, 2 bars, a beer garden, a kitchen, and Event spaces.

Considered to be the Mecca of improvisation, the iO Theater (formerly known as The ImprovOlympic)  boasts a full Training Center that has helped train and develop the talents of an entire generation of America’s best and brightest comedic entertainers. Make iO apart of your professional journey, and leverage your honed skills in pursuit of your career goals.

Alumni of the iO Theater

Inside iO

After almost 20 years in Chicago’s Wrigleyville neighborhood, Charna Halpern bought a building in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood and moved the iO Theater to it’s new home at 1501 N. Kingsbury st.

The new iO Theater now boasts 4 theaters, 2 bars, and an expanced Training Center, a kitchen, and an Events space.

Meet the Staff at iO

Charna Halpern

Owner and Artistic Director

Along with her partner, the late Del Close, Charna is the creator of "long-form" improvisation and wrote the books "Truth in Comedy" and "Art by Committee".

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Rob White

Training Center Director

Rob has been the iO Training Center Director since 2013. He is also a teacher and performer at iO.

Kevin Knickerbocker

Creative Director

Kevin been the Creative Director of The iO Theater since October 2018. He's also a teacher and performer at iO, most notably with the iO Harold team, "Meridian".

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Steven Plock

Operations Manager

Stacey Malow-Williams

Operations & Events Manager

Brooke Hartnett


Brooke has been working at iO since August 2018. She loves Google Calendar. She also performs regularly with the Chicago Improv Den team "Pappy". Email her to book rehearsal space at iO or with any box office questions.

Tim Lyons

Marketing & Design

Tim has been writing and performing comedy in Chicago for the past 6 years. He's been involved in two NYTVF officially selected series including 2017's "Gentle Dan" and 2016's "Curfeud". ...

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Adam Kurschat

Tech Director

Cesar Jaime

Training Center Assistant / Webmaster / Social Media Director

Cesar has been a proud member of the iO family since 1996.

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Kyle McCabe

Bar Manager

Stefan Kovalik


Stefan has been working at iO since March 2016, after starting as student in the improv training program. He's a writer, performer, product designer, and loves the communication skills and tools improv has provided him.

Val Agnew

The iO Comedy Network Creative Director

Val has been involved in Chicago comedy since she took her first improv class at iO in 2014. Since then she's completed programs across the city in...

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Brittany Bookbinder

iO Podcast Network Executive Producer

Brittany is a comedy writer, performer, and filmmaker. She first got involved at iO as an intern and student, and now performs weekly in...

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