Second City owner Andrew Alexander to exit after accusations of institutionalized racism
Chicago — Following a social-media tumult sparked by a series of racially accusatory tweets from a former performer and employee, Second City’s co-owner, Andrew Alexander, told staffers on Friday 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 exit of Alexander, 76, the accomplished producer of SCTV, a longtime kingmaker and an iconic figure in sketch comedy, came after accusations of institutionalized racism were leveled on Twitter by Dewayne Perkins. In particular, Perkins criticized Second City prior’s reluctance to fundraise for the Black Lives Matter movement without also financially supporting police-related causes. Commenters amplified Perkins’ remarks and extended them to other improv theaters in Chicago.
Attempts were made Friday to reach Perkins for further comment.
“The Second City cannot begin to call itself anti-racist,” said Alexander, in a long and profoundly self-deprecating statement. “That is one of the great failures of my life.”
“The irony is that what attracts so many people to Second City — myself included,” he continued, “is that it gives a public platform to a group of people to speak truth to power and use the undeniable power of comedy to force a recognition of injustice. Over the years, Second City has never shied away from talking about oppression. On stage, we have always been on the right side of the issue and of that, I am very proud. On stage, we dealt with the absurdity of the equal opportunity narrative that society uses to oppress BIPOC. We dealt with the double standard that rationalizes violence against people of color. We dealt with the cynicism of the liberal pact with capitalism. Offstage, it’s been a different story.”
Alexander also said he had “failed to create an anti-racist environment wherein artists of color might thrive.” saying he was “deeply and inexpressibly sorry.”
He said that he was “fully removing himself from overseeing The Second City’s operations and policies” and that he would “divest himself from the company as it stands.” He also said that the next executive producer of the company would be a member of the (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) community.”
in an interview with the Tribune Friday, Alexander, who owns 50% of Second City, said he would look for a buyer for his interest. “I want to find the right person,” he said, “who will move the theater forward.”
Alexander took over Second City’s Toronto outpost in 1974 after buying the Canadian branch of the theater from Bernie Sahlins. going on to launch the careers of Gilda Radner, John Candy, Dan Ackroyd, Eugene Levy and Martin Short and inarguably providing the inspiration for the NBC show “Saturday Night Live!”
He became owner of the Chicago flagship in 1985, serving as executive producer for hundreds of revues. He was given the League of Chicago Theater’s 2009 Artistic Leadership Award and was named 2009 Arts Chicagoan of the Year by the Tribune.
Second City, a for-profit company that has been forced to remain closed since March, has been roiled by the COVID-19 crisis, resulting in scores of layoffs and an uncertain economic future, especially given its high rent bill in Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood.
In recent years, conflicts over racism, diversity and equity have been frequent at a highly competitive theater that was birthed with white, male-dominated casts from its University of Chicago roots and traditionally did not limit its audience’s suggestions or comments, even though some performers, especially performers of color, have complained in recent years that they had been made to feel unsafe.