Last fall, the Buffalo Theatre Ensemble canceled the rest of its season for the current school year at College of DuPage.
Now several students at the Glen Ellyn school say they fear the professional theater group that entertained audiences and influenced aspiring actors for 27 years isn't coming back. So they've started an online petition calling for the ensemble's return.
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But COD officials on Thursday insisted no decision has been made to terminate the group's relationship with the college.
"Nobody has gone away," said Diana Martinez, director of the school's McAninch Arts Center.
"They're on hiatus right now, and we're trying to figure out the best way to bring back some sort of resident company."
In the meantime, the three students behind the petition have collected more than 660 signatures since March 21.
"Collectively, we have been using social media, interviewing former and current students, and spreading the word as much as possible," said Ed Garzaro, 37, of Lake in the Hills.
Garzaro, who works in DuPage County, said the goal is to get a meeting with COD President Robert Breuder.
"Folks who have worked alongside the BTE are shocked to see that the program has up and disappeared," Garzaro said. "Some of the people who have signed the petition said they wouldn't be in Hollywood if it had not been for the BTE. So we're very passionate about bringing it back."
The ensemble had been a staple at COD since 1987. It received half its revenue from ticket sales and the rest through contributions that include support from the college.
But the group's two artistic directors, who also are theater professors at COD, recommended canceling shows because the ensemble was facing the possibility of losing about $80,000 for the season, according to Martinez.
"We honored their wishes," said Martinez, adding the group is in talks with the college to figure out a new funding model that's sustainable and linked to COD's academic mission.
"We're trying to uncover any opportunity we can to make this more financially successful and marketable," she said.
Martinez said officials should know in about three months whether the ensemble will be performing during the fall.
COD student Brian McLeod says he doesn't want to think about a scenario where the ensemble doesn't return.
"It would be a huge loss -- not just for the students who want to pursue acting," the 22-year-old Addison resident said.
"It also would be a cultural loss for the community as well. There are not a lot of professional theater companies in the suburbs."
Christopher Corrigan, another COD student who organized the petition, says the members of the ensemble are role models for aspiring actors.
In addition to watching the ensemble perform, some students work as assistant stage managers or crew members during shows.
"When I'm working with BTE, I'm learning a very strict professional model," said Corrigan, 21, of Naperville. "I get to talk to them and ask them about what they do."
Martinez said the spirit and hope of everyone who signed the petition "is really taken to heart."
Still, she said, there's financial limits on what the college can do to support the ensemble.
"There's lots of great ideas on the table," Martinez said. "There's lots of great intention working toward making this sustainable and making it work. I think they just need to be a little more patient."
The petition can be viewed at petitions.moveon.org/sign/bring-back-bte-to-cod.