Sad drama: ITC’s final curtain falls
SouthtownStar editorial May 14, 2012 10:08PM
Updated: June 16, 2012 8:12AM
For those in the Southland who love the arts, these are dark days. The Illinois Theatre Center in Park Forest, which for 36 years gave us an option to downtown Chicago for professional theater, has closed, leaving a large void on the area’s artistic scene.
As sad as it was, the recently announced closing was not a surprise. It had been foretold with the March 27 death of Etel Billig, the theater’s founder, artistic director and the driving force behind it until the day she died.
In many ways, Etel Billig was the Illinois Theatre Center, and there was no way to replace her — not within the center’s struggling budget, which was hit hard by the economic recession, fewer corporate donations and less funding from the Illinois Arts Council. The estimate was that it would need about $125,000, including overdue rent and taxes, to be able to keep its doors open.
“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,” her son, Jonathan Billig, said in elaborating on why the show could not go on.
Etel Billig and her husband, Steve, opened the Illinois Theatre Center in 1976 with a production of Eugene O’Neill’s “Ah, Wilderness!” and it closed May 2 after a two-week run of the musical revue “Showtune.”
In the decades between, ITC staged many professional productions, offered acting classes, launched and sustained acting careers and brought joy and entertainment to countless theater lovers.
Among the successful actors who got their starts at ITC are Michael Shannon, an Academy Award nominee for his role in the film “Revolutionary Road;” Frankfort native Sally Murphy, who just starred in Steppenwolf Theatre’s “Time Stands Still;” and Crete native Colin Egglesfield, who stars in the new Lifetime drama “The Client List.”
But the real star at ITC was Etel Billig, whose passion and tireless dedication created a special place that will be sorely missed.