Gorilla Tango Theater to Close

Owners of Gorilla Tango Theater and the 1919 N. Milwaukee building it is housed in, are closing the theater and looking for a lessee.

The news comes after a pay dispute between the theater and Gorilla Tango Burlesque performers, who were weeks behind in pay and were offered a new revenue split that would have them only getting paid after the theater pays its other expenses. “If everyone had waited for the calculation to be done, it would have been about [the amount of money] everyone had wanted,” said co-owner Dan Abbate to dnainfo.com, though performers say the calculations had been made, and that after Abbate applied past expenses, they were told nothing was left over.

Abbate originally told PerformInk in an email last Wednesday that “Gorilla Tango Burlesque is still at Gorilla Tango as always (it is a Gorilla Tango production). We just recently parted ways with many of our current cast members. GTB shows will be back in the coming months after a planned upgrade and remodel of the venue.” But he told dnainfo.com five days later that the statement we printed [in its entirety] was “not true” and “out of context.” He now says he will not be returning burlesque to Gorilla Tango, and would like to get out of the theater business altogether.

Abbate had told employees and performers of the forthcoming remodel, but listed the building for lease on a real estate website in late June. Asked for clarification, he told PerformInk that he is “planning on signing a lease with another group to run it as a new performance venue or a restaurant or a bar or whatever they would like. There will be a renovation associated with whatever type of new concept goes into the space. The thing I know for sure is that I will not be in the theatre business anymore. I will just be a landlord for that property.” He says he is already in talks with interested parties.

Now a Florida resident, Abbate opened Gorilla Tango as an improv comedy theater in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2003. He met his wife and co-owner Kelly Williams there, and in 2006 they moved the company to 1919 N. Milwaukee in Chicago. The business model was to offer theater producers performance and rehearsal space at no base cost — ticket revenue was split between owners and the show’s producers. Gorilla Tango began self-producing parody burlesque shows in 2010, which quickly became the theater’s primary productions.

In 2012, Abbate and Williams bought the vacant Skokie Theater for $420,000, and operated it under the Gorilla Tango umbrella. Just over a year later they sought to sell the venue, and eventually unloaded it in 2014. Abbate owns a company called Robotaton, which buys struggling businesses and flips them for a profit by replacing “human labor with digital labor.” He is the inventor of the world’s largest commercially available hot dog.

About author

Jason Epperson

Jason is a producer, manager, and designer with 17 years of experience in Chicago, New York, and in the touring market. In 2015, he founded Lotus Theatricals - the publisher of Performink, and an independent commercial producing company - with Abigail Trabue.