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SAN ANGELO, Texas — San Angelo Standard Times

January 19, 2012

By Ami Mizell Flint

photo by Lakeith Kennedy

TAKING LIFE TO THE NEXT STAGE

-Mother of 3 decides to ‘be’ theater owner

A word with just two little letters means the world to Elena Kent.

Be.

Be enlightened. Be empowered. Be yourself. Just "be."

The concept of "be" was developed several years ago, when Kent and some of her friends worked to promote youth theater.

"But we never did anything with it," Kent said.

After seven years as the youth director at Angelo Civic Theatre, Kent decided it finally was time for her to "be" on her own. "I have three kids, and my life is getting busier," she said. "I have so much creativity in my head, I can't sleep at night."

Kent started her business, Be Theatre Company, in September so her creativity could be harnessed in the direction she desires. Theater is "the air that I breathe," she said. Growing up in San Angelo, Kent said she did not have opportunities to participate in theater until she went to Central High School. "Now there are so many opportunities (in San Angelo) for kids," she said, with several youth theater productions taking stage each year by different companies.

Kent's face lit up when she spoke about working with youth. "Everybody's got art in them," Kent said, "It's a matter of telling them, 'Yes, you can.' "

"People take for granted the extreme intellect and talent of young people," she said. "Kids can do anything that adults can do, sometimes better."

It's a great gift for children to work in the arts, Kent said. Participating in theater gives them a sense of self-control, self-discipline, tools to solve problems and teaches them how to set goals.

"It teaches ability to see that things are constantly changing, and you have to adapt," she said.

When Kent decided to start her own theater company, some people questioned her reason for doing so.

"People have asked me, 'Why do you want to compete?'  with the others youth companies in San Angelo” Kent said.

"I didn't start this to be competitive," she said.

For a small town, San Angelo offers "a lot of performing arts opportunities," she said, "There is always so much going on."

Instead of creating a theater company to compete with the others in San Angelo, Kent hopes Be Theatre Company will enrich the arts that exist locally.

"With this 'be' concept, you can be anything," said Kelsey Samsel, business manager of Be Theatre Company.

"We really value everybody's opinion," Samsel said.

"Our focus is not just on what we want to do, but what the community needs," she said.

Kent has assembled an advisory panel made up of friends and supporters who have worked in theater, which "gives another perspective," Samsel said.

In addition to youth theater performances, Kent plans to use her company for education and outreach, both to children and adults.  Kent is planning BTC's first outreach program, which she is calling the Literature Alive Project. Guest director Ron Morse will direct a cast of actors, seventh grade and older, in a free performance of "Raggedy Ann and Andy." Set to run in April, the play will have minimal sets, lighting and stage design, Kent said, and will be marketed to children ages 3 to 9.

"Our goal is to give every kid a book after each performance of 'Raggedy Ann and Andy,' " Kent said. " I hope that it reaches a whole market of kids that don't typically see theater."

Kent also touts her faith-based acting troupe, called The BeLievers. Made up of youth ages 12 through college, the group is offered the opportunity to study performing arts as they explore faith and spirituality.

The next big thing for BTC, however, is its first main stage production, "The Somewhat True Tale of Robin Hood," set to run this month.

Acting as assistant director for the play is BTC's music director and Kent's longtime assistant, Jane Lewis.

"We work so well together," said Lewis, who also is the children's minister at Emmanuel Episcopal Church.

"What keeps us working so well together is that we have the same hopes and dreams for these kids," she said.

Lewis said one reason she enjoys working with Kent is her ability to draw the best out of the children.

 

"She knows how to get the most from the people she works with, in such a nurturing way," Lewis said.

After performances of Robin Hood, Lewis said she is looking forward to directing Be's version of "Godspell."

"It's not going to be the usual 'Godspell,' " she said, "Nothing Elena does is usual."

With the assistance of several guest directors and instructors, Kent is offering classes for all ages and will stage three productions through April.

Having another theater company in town gives people choices, she said, "and pushes you as a business to strive for excellence."

"It's my calling in life. I've been called by God to do this," Kent said. "But I needed to do something that works around my life, my schedule. It made more sense for me to branch off on my own."