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Illinois Theatre Center’s future in limbo

Etel Billig's (right) last onstage appearance was 2008's 'Suddenly Last Summer' which also starred KatrinKuntz Peter Robel.  |

Etel Billig's (right) last onstage appearance was in 2008's "Suddenly Last Summer," which also starred Katrina Kuntz and Peter Robel. | Supplied photo

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Updated: May 9, 2012 8:13AM



For nearly four decades, the Illinois Theatre Center in Park Forest has given Southlanders an alternative to heading downtown for professional theater.

But the theater’s run may be coming to an end with the recent death of its founder, Etel Billig. Her son, Jonathan Billig, one of the principals of the theater, sounded pessimistic about its future last week.

“We have to look at the situation and see if it’s possible to continue and how to continue,” he said. “There are a lot of factors, including financial factors. My mother was doing the work of several people for no salary, and I do the work of several people for little salary. I can’t do everything I do — and she did — by myself.”

Billig said the spring session of acting classes scheduled to start this week has been canceled.

The last scheduled show of the 2011-12 season, the musical revue “Showtune,” will open April 18 and complete its two-week run.

“The theater’s board of directors will meet to discuss the future of the theater after the show opens,” he said. “The priority right now is getting the show open.

“Nothing is decided. As soon as the board meets, we’ll decide then.”

Billig said that even if the theater receives substantial financial backing, it may not be enough to keep it open. The theater has been a community staple since opening in 1976.

“It’s more than a financial thing,” Billig said. “Etel was a personality. A figure. A symbol. I don’t know how the theater holds up without her. She had a connection to the audience. I don’t have that personality. I like to be behind the scenes — in the background.”

The theater, 371 Artists’ Walkway, is billed on its website as an “intimate 179-seat theatre.”

Park Forest officials apparently feel a connection. Mayor John Ostenburg said the village is willing to offer the theater the necessary support to keep it open.

“We would be supportive and work with them,” he said. “From the village’s perspective, we see the ITC as a major asset to the community. When we did the restructuring of the downtown, we made sure the ITC, the Tall Grass Arts Association and the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra offices remained a part of our community because we consider them assets.”

Ostenburg said Park Forest owns the building that houses the ITC, which is a tenant. The theater company belongs to the Billig family and is overseen by an advisory board.

“ITC is a family business,” said Ostenburg, who is hopeful the theater will remain open. “The Illinois Theatre Center has been a part of the community since 1976 and we want it to continue to be a part of our community.”



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