LAKEVIEW — On Tuesday, music comedy, improv venue and production company MCL Chicago posted a Facebook status announcing it will end programming on Jan. 31 and cease operations at its current location, 3110 N. Sheffield Ave., at the end of its lease on March 1.
The announcement cited financial struggles as the reason for this closure.
"It is sad because the last four years have been instrumental in creating, shaping and fostering a community of performers and creatives who have called MCL Chicago home," the announcement read. "We are grateful because we believe and know that the community will last outside of the brick and mortar of the physical space in Lakeview."
Stephanie McCullough, director of finance and music director for MCL Chicago, said there are a variety reasons for MCL Chicago's closure, but all of them come down to finances.
Because there is a preschool attached to MCL's building, the theater cannot get its liquor license and earn any revenue from selling alcohol. Rent for the space has increased "exponentially" since MCL's founding in July 2014, she said.
They believe paying performers is and should be mandatory. And she and the other three members of the administrative staff have been working without salaries for the duration of MCL's existence. The brick-and-mortar theater model isn't sustainable in this location, she said.
Music comedians perform during one of MCL Chicago's Musical Improv Nights, called MINt. [Provided/Michael Shepherd Jordan]
“Where we find ourselves within the last year is the expenses of running the theater have far exceeded the potential revenue that we can make here on simply ticket sales alone," said executive producer Alex Garday. "The other major revenue source for a lot of these comedy theaters is training centers and classes, and that’s just a program we never developed because that was not our focus. Our focus was elevating the artform of musical comedy. We’re just getting to a certain point where we have no way of keeping up with what is an ever-increasing expense.”
Regular programming, including weekly MINt (Music Improv Nights) and VAMP: A Music Comedy Drinking Show performances, will continue through Jan. 31, 2018. February will be spent getting the theater cleared out and wrapping up business. MCL's lease is up at the end of February, so after a hiatus, the administrative team will come together again to think of a new, creative way to keep the spirit of MCL Chicago alive without a permanent brick-and-mortar location. McCullough said they have every opportunity to do just that because they didn't wait until they ran out of money to rethink their model.
“We’re in a good spot, actually," she said. "I don’t believe in letting something go to the very end. Do it when we have the resources, when we have the community, when we have the strength, when we have the support. That’s going to help us, I think.”
The support was evident in the response to MCL's Facebook announcement. More than 60 comments were posted offering support and thanks.
Michael Shepherd Jordan, MCL managing director and publicity manager, said he is sad to see MCL's time at this brick-and-mortar location end, but he's hopeful for the future because the MCL community isn't going anywhere.
“I hope the lasting legacy of MCL is twofold: One is that we established music comedy's credibility as an entertaining and viable artform within the comedy landscape. I think music comedy has carved itself out a little niche in the comedy world now, and I think Chicago finally respects it. And I personally take pride in that," Jordan said.
"The other part is all the performers and artist who have come through the space, I hope we’ve instilled in them the idea that they are valuable as creators and deserve to be compensated for their work. And as all the people who have walked through here go out in the world, if they can take that with them, then yeah, it may have only been four years that we were in this brick-and-mortar space, but that was a successful four years in my opinion.”