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Curtain closes on Illinois Theatre Center in Park Forest

Illinois Theatre Center Park Forest which closed May socould be home new theater group.  |  File photo

Illinois Theatre Center in Park Forest, which closed in May, soon could be the home to a new theater group. | File photo

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Updated: June 3, 2012 8:15AM



The final curtain has just come down on the Illinois Theatre Center in Park Forest.

The theater company, which is the only equity theater in the Southland, is closing its doors after 36 years, Jonathan Billig announced Tuesday.

Billig took over as artistic director of ITC after his mother, Etel Billig, the theater’s co-founder and artistic director, died March 27.

“We made our decision at last week’s board meeting, but we waited to make the announcement public until our last show, ‘Showtune!’, had closed,” Billig said.

He said that without his mother there was no way the shows could go on.

“She was the face of the theater, and everyone loved her. She was doing the work of three people with no salary. She was the artistic director, the managing director and the box office manager. No person can replace her,” he said.

The board agreed that without Etel Billig, the intimate 176-seat theater would have had a very difficult time finding the $125,000 it needed to continue.

Billig said the theater had undergone difficult times during the last few years.

“The recession that hit everyone hit us, too. Our costs have continued to go up while business has gone down,” Billig said. “Corporate funding and individual donations have been reduced, and even the Illinois Arts Council dropped the amount of its funding. We might have made it with Etel, but after her death we realized that it was becoming financially impossible to continue.”

ITC, which has been a landmark theater in the Southland since it opened with a production of Eugene O’Neill’s “Ah, Wilderness!”, will declare bankruptcy, according to Billig. That will clear the theater of its debt, but there still are taxes to pay, he said.

“We will be raising funds to pay the taxes with a sale of theater items that include furnishings used in our plays, costumes, props, office furniture, artwork, books and Broadway posters,” Billig said.

ITC will offer the items for sale in the theater at 371 Artists Walk in Park Forest from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 9 and noon to 5 p.m. June 10.

The village of 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.

“Park Forest has agreed to write off what we owe in rent if we leave the theater with the lights, sound, seats and furnishings intact,” Billig said. “We will turn the keys over to the village by the end of June.”

Billig is creating a memoir of the theater’s more than three decades by putting photos of ITC’s seasons on Facebook.

“I’ve already posted photos taken from our first year in 1976 through 1990,” he said. “I’m putting more photos and years up every day, and will soon bring our site up to the present so that fans of the theater can find all our shows at Illinois Theatre Center on Facebook.”

Billig said that he is saddened to have to close the theater his mother, Etel, and father, Steve, founded.

“My parents wanted to bring culture to this area, and wanted others to love theater as they had. More than anything, I feel the most sad about our subscribers. I wish I could pay our patrons back for their subscriptions and for supporting us all these years,” he said.

Betty Mohr can be reached at bettybmohr@aol.com.



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