Gorilla Tango buys The Skokie Theatre for $420,000

Gorilla Tango’s Kelly Williams and Dan Abbate

THE SKOKIE THEATRE HAS BEEN PURCHASED by the Gorilla Tango Theatre, which has been operating on a for-profit basis in an 80-seat black box at 1919 N. Milwaukee in Bucktown since fall of 2006.  The former ceased operations under its previous management last New Year’s Eve.

GTT will close on the deal for a purchase price of $420,000 on March 12.  Shows will open by mid-April.

Run by owner and CEO Dan Abbate and marketing and PR coordinator Kelly Williams, Gorilla Tango has focused on offering a range of programming for various demographics –- kids’ shows to late-night — along with rentals to other companies.

Recently they found their greatest success neo-burlesque/pop cultural hybrids such as Boobs of Khan: A Star Trek Burlesque and A Nude Hope: A Star Wars Burlesque.

Abbate and Williams ran an earlier incarnation of Gorilla Tango in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

“Basically, what we’ve been doing, even before we were aware that the Skokie was available, is looking for ways to expand our business model,” says Abbate, 32. “We’ve got this thing that works, so what is the next step that we can take to move forward?”

Theatre renovated for $1.4 million in 2004

The Skokie, located at 7924 N. Lincoln in Skokie, first opened as a movie theater in 1912 and got a $1.5 million makeover in 2004 through a newly created nonprofit, the Skokie Theatre Music Foundation.

The renovation created a 140-seat venue hailed by Chicago Tribune jazz critic Howard Reich as “elegantly restored and acoustically warm.” But the jazz and cabaret shows that were the bread-and-butter of the line-up didn’t generate enough earned income to help the space in a down economy. 

The theatre went into receivership in 2010 and the Foundation finally decided to close up shop.

Abbate says he found the listing for the space online in November of 2011. “I told the realtor about our business model and he said it sounds like what the city wants.”

Will produce own shows and rent theatre

Their business model has two components – the shows they are producing and the outside producer rental agreements that they use, Abbate explains. 

“The latter will be A-number one as far as programming at the Skokie, and for the self-produced, we’re going to push the kids’ and family shows. That was a big part of our market in Albuquerque and that’s what the village is behind.”

There is, he adds, the possibility that a burlesque show might make it up to Lincoln Avenue as an occasional late-night tidbit. But he also points out that GTT has been moving into low-budget film production and will be using the Skokie as a place to premiere those projects in addition to live performances.

Ultimately, the plan for GTT is to put together a licensing agreement for other people to run spaces on the same for-profit model in smaller markets and use the Chicago operation for centralized online box office and public relations support.

AMERICAN BLUES THEATRE Sunday, March 11, joins a global fundraising effort to aid victims of Japan’s devastating earthquake and tsunami and subsequent nuclear disaster last year.

SHINSAI: Theatre for Japan features live readings of ten-minute plays from major American and Japanese artists, including Edward Albee, Tony Kushner, and Japanese and American-Latina writer Naomi Iizuka. 

At the Richard Christiansen Theater at Victory Gardens Biograph, 3 p.m.  Tix are $10, with 100% of the proceeds going to SHINSAI. Call 312/725-4228 for information/reservations.