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Mercury Theater On Southport Avenue Going Out Of Business Due To COVID-19 Pandemic

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The Mercury Theater on Southport Avenue announced Tuesday night that is going out of business due to a loss of revenues from the coronavirus pandemic.

The stage theater has been open in its current incarnation since 2011, and has hosted 25 productions in that time. Most recently, the Mercury Theater productions of "Shear Madness" and "Priscilla Queen of the Desert" had to close early in March due to the pandemic.

The theater has maintained an online presence over the past 16 weeks with video showing past performers as well as the cast of "Priscilla Queen of the Desert." But due to an uncertain future and the financial hardship that has come as a result, the Mercury Theater will close permanently at the end of this month.

"A theater is more than bricks and mortar; it is the people, the artists and the audience who call it home," Executive Director L. Walter Stearns said in a news release. "Until people are safe, there is no theater."

The Mercury Theater dates back to 1994, when theatre producer Michael Cullen purchased the onetime nickelodeon at 3745 N. Southport Ave. The Mercury opened in 1996 with a production of "Pope Joan," and went on also to stage "The Irish and How They Got That Way," "Over the Tavern," and "His Way," a tribute to Frank Sinatra, the Footlights performing arts guide recalled.

The Mercury was later purchased by a group of private investors and "reopened" in 2011 under Stearns' leadership. In more recent years, it has hosted the world premiere of "The Man Who Murdered Sherlock Homes," the Broadway musical "Avenue Q," "Spamalot," and "Little Shop of Horrors."

In all, the Mercury has hosted four world premieres and four productions that were extended to more than 100 shows. The Mercury has also raised and donated $100,000 to Seasson of Concern, the charity that provides emergency care to Chicago artists, and has also produced benefits for cancer, ALS, and HIV/AIDS charities as well as other theatre companies.

But those in charge said there is no way they can keep going under the circumstances.

"We cannot plan for an imaginary future," business manager Eugene Dizon said in a news release. "Closing is painful but necessary."

The Mercury Theater building opened in 1912 as a silent film nickelodeon called the Blaine Theater. Around 1928, as "talkies" were growing more popular, the nickelodeon became obsolete. Down the street, the larger New Blaine Theater, which soon became the Music Box Theatre, opened down the block at 3733 N. Southport Ave.

For most of the 20th century, the building that became the Mercury Theater housed various retail operations, including a carpet cleaning facility that used the rake of the seating area to drain water from rugs.

The four-lot city facility will go dark until its next purpose is determined.

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