Actor and daughter of the late ITC Board Member Barbara Manuell, Lynn Manuell wrote the following as a plea to help the Illinois Theatre Center finish its season before its impending closure:
"Colin Egglesfield (All My Children), Sally Murphy (Broadway FIDDLER ON THE ROOF Steppenwolf Theatre) , Anne Arvia (Broadway Les Miz etc.) Miles Phillips (winner of four MAC Awards), Rob Langeder (Buddy Tour), Jennifer Lien (Star Trek Voyager), Michael Shannon (Pearl Harbor, Kangaroo Jack) and I share something that literally hundreds of other actors share - time spent onstage at the Illinois Theatre Center in Park Forest Illinois. A 36 year old institution and the only Equity theatre in Chicago’s south suburbs. ITC, as it is known, has produced 36 seasons of diverse Equity shows, including some Chicago premieres, as many years of summer stock known as Summerfest, provided classes for children each summer in a Summer Arts Marathon (project SAM), and had children, teen and adult acting classes throughout each season. This made it one of Chicago’s most active theatres, and the jumping off point for many New York and Hollywood celebrities.
ITC was founded in 1975. In order to understand how it profoundly affected the lives of those who worked there I will share my personal relationship to the theatre. Before founding International Production Management where I represent artists, before having booked Sarah Brightman, Betty Buckley, Anita O’Day and others, before being on the Board of FACT Theatre and acting, directing or singing in London and New York….I walked in to ITC. I had read in the Park Forest Star Newspaper that an Equity theatre was going to open where the Park Forest Arts Center once was located. Steve and Etel Billig were returning to the area after having run theatres in other places and having come originally from New York. When I walked in the theatre was still under construction. I was 14. I HAD to meet the people who were starting the theatre….picture Rachel Berry of Park Forest.
I had an audition for the teen acting class. Steve Billig came out of his office during my auditon and asked “Who is doing that Androcles and the Lion?” I said it was me…he said I was to go to the adult acting class. I was so thrilled. From that point on ITC was more than a theatre it was my home. Through the acting classes I was given the opportunity to play in THE EFFECT OF GAMMA RAYS with my own mother playing my mother and my best friend Claudia Cumbie playing my sister. We presented THE THREE SISTERS at libraries and did original children’s shows at Freedom Hall.
In summer stock I got to be a part of ANNIE GET YOUR GUN and other classics and of course, there was the summer Shakespeare Festival. ITC even spawned separate acting troupes. In the 1970’s the South Suburban Acting Ensemble was created and ITC allowed members of their acting associates to produce plays like UNCOMMON WOMEN and CHAMBER MUSIC and present them at ITC. The generosity of Steve and Etel to those who had begun their careers under their auspices was unique. The volume of creative opportunities filled my teen years, allowing me to have confidence as I went on in life. There was also the amazing decade of opening nights, post show singing at Savoia’s Supper Club and friendships that enriched each day.
In 1977 I became part of a remarkable school called the ACTIVE LEARNING PROCESS SCHOOL, which allowed students to create their own educational programs and has among its alumni Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil and record producer Bruce Pavitt. One of the strands of learning included internships and ITC opened its doors to the students who wished to pursue theatre. I had my internship at ITC running the box office, helping out at rehearsals and even cleaning the bathrooms. I was there many hours a week. In the middle of the year I was given a role in the Equity production of MEMBER OF THE WEDDING. While I could have gotten my Equity card at that point Etel advised waiting so I could work in non-union college productions. I was encouraged to teach as well. I have taught throughout the course of my life and this began at ITC. Project SAM, the children’s art program needed a dance teacher and I was brought in. I choreographed FREEDOM from Shanendoah and discovered a student who showed exceptional dance skill and ended up in a San Francisco Ballet as an adult.