Andrew Alexander, co-owner of The Second City, steps down amid accusations of racism

His departure followed accusations of institutional racisim within the company, one of the most high-profile improv troupes in the world.

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The Second City at 1616 N. Wells in Chicago.

The Second City in at 1616 N. Wells in Chicago.

Sun-Times File

Andrew Alexander, co-owner and executive producer of The Second City improv hub in Chicago, is exiting the company amid accusations of institutional racism.

In a letter to Second City staff, students, alumni and audiences, Alexander wrote, in part:

“After the fallout from the closure of the groundbreaking ‘A Red Line Runs Through It,’ The Second City tried to begin to grapple with the institutionalized racism in our society and within our own walls that allowed such a traumatic event to fester and has created lasting pain for our employees and artists. However, we failed.

“The Second City cannot begin to call itself anti-racist. That is one of the great failures of my life,” he continued.  ... There are so many things we didn’t do, but one of the things we did do was to engage facilitators in the field of anti-racism. I bring this up to acknowledge that it didn’t work.

“White employees of the Second City, myself included, participated in regular sessions taking place over months which outlined in detail the inherent biases in white society, and how those, consciously and unconsciously, oppress BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color). ... On stage, we have always been on the right side of the issue, and of that, I am very proud. ... Offstage, it’s been a different story.”

Accusations or racism within the company were made by actor and writer (“Brooklyn Nine-Nine”) Dewayne Perkins, who took to Twitter on Thursday to call out the iconic improv company: “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,” he wrote, in part.

Following Alexander’s resignation, Second City on Friday tweeted a statement of its own titled “How The Second City Will Do Better,” outlining some of the steps it will be taking in the wake of the fallout, including naming a member of the BIPOC community as its next executive director.

In addition, the company said it is committed to “reviewing internal hiring, casting and student recruitment practices to ensure we are actively identifying and removing barriers to access and opening the doors to BIPOC in every area of the company, and to company-wide anti-racist training and education.”

“As an administrator, I have not always had good instincts,” Alexander wrote in his letter. “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. The damage for this failure is done, and it’s part of the legacy of the institution I love.”

Andrew Alexander attends and event at e.t.c. theater in Chicago in 2017.

Andrew Alexander attends and event at e.t.c. theater in Chicago in 2017.

Sun-Times File

In a Facebook post Friday addressing the news of Alexander’s departure, Frances Callier, who created the Second City Training Center’s Outreach Program in 1992, wrote: “Chickens say hello to the Roost. I am not surprised, Andrew Alexander has been tortured by American racism since I met him over 30 years ago. Yes, the Owner MUST own the ENTIRE history. Well done.”

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