Following allegations of institutional racism from former performers, CEO Andrew Alexander has stepped down from Chicago’s Second City and acknowledged that he failed to address the improv theater’s racist culture under his tenure. “The Second City cannot begin to call itself anti-racist. That is one of the great failures of my life,” Alexander said in an lengthy letter posted to the organization’s website on Friday.
“As a theater producer, I like to think I have good instincts, not just commercially, but also as it relates to what is right,” the SCTV producer wrote. “As an administrator, I have not always had good instincts. While diversifying the theater artistically, I failed to create an anti-racist environment wherein artists of color might thrive. I am so deeply and inexpressibly sorry.”
On May 31, Second City tweeted a pro-Black Lives Matter message in support of this week’s ongoing protests against police brutality, a sentiment former black performers like comedian Dewayne Perkins responded to with some surprise, considering their own experiences at the theater.
“You remember when the black actors wanted to put on a Black Lives Matter Benefit show and you said only if we gave half of the proceeds to the Chicago PD, because I will never forget. Remember when you would make black people audition for job you simply just gave to white people?,” the Brooklyn Nine-Nine writer tweeted in a thread Thursday. “Remember when you sent a bunch of your black actors to speech therapy because you said white people didn’t understand us? Remember when you told me to my face I wasn’t getting hired for main stage because I wasn’t ‘nice’ enough and kept speaking out?”
Other performers of color described similar experiences on Twitter, including Space Force writer Aasia LaShay Bullock, who tweeted about the theater’s alleged failure to address her assault by a white actor, pressuring her to perform alongside him until she was forced to quit.
In his exit post, Alexander claims he will divest himself from the organization entirely and that a BIPOC Executive Producer would replace him. “If you want to know what the institution of The Second City stands for, come see a show,” he concludes. “No matter what happens from here, that will be the truth. I am sorry for my many failures as the steward of an important cultural institution. Black stories and black artists matter. Black lives do matter.”