A group of longtime friends gathers around the dinner table at Ben Stegmair’s two-story house, which sits on cul-de-sac in Carrollton. With laptops and notes in front of them, they rehearse lines in preparation to take the stage for their upcoming inaugural production of Neil Simon’s The Dinner Party.
Stegmair, head acting director, leads the group. The 19-year-old is the co-founder of Just B.E. Productions, a startup theater company in Carrollton.
Just B.E. Productions will presentThe Dinner Party at 7 p.m. June 28 through July 1 at C Squared Café in downtown Carrollton. The group originally put on the production as theater students at Newman Smith High School in 2016.
“The Dinner Party is a performance that we know very well,” Stegmair says.
One of the reasons the students created Just B.E. Productions was because several of the actors and directors involved in Newman Smith’s production wanted to put be a part of it again.
“We have the same performers we had from two years ago, and it’s very interesting to see them grow and proceed in their acting,” Stegmair says.
Two years ago, the idea of starting an acting company didn’t seem plausible for Stegmair, who was a senior and theater student at Newman Smith. The Dinner Party was Stegmair’s first time directing a full-length play at the school. Elias Gomez, a junior and tech theater student at the time, was technical director.
“I realized that I loved it so much; I love directing so much,” Stegmair says. “We really wanted to do another performance.”
Their theater teacher, however, said it would not be possible to put on another performance and joked they should create their own acting company.
“I laughed, Elias laughed and it was mainly Elias who was spurring the idea all week,” Stegmair says. “He would call me and be like, ‘Ben, we should do this.’”
Gomez, co-producer and head technical director of the theater company, says, “In my mind, I thought it would be a difficult road, but I know I have some great, hardworking people by my side that will help me reach my dream.”
Last year, the two co-founded Just B.E. Productions, which is run by college students experienced in theater.
“The goal for the company is to bring fine arts to Carrollton and have people love it as much as we do,” Gomez says. “This city has given so much to us, and I feel like this is the best was to give back.”
Unlike Dallas, Addison and Farmers Branch, Carrollton did not have a theater company. Now, Carrollton residents will have the opportunity to see theater performances every summer with the help of Just B.E. Productions.
The letters in the name are Stegmair's and Gomez’s first initials, but they also state their philosophy.
“Instead of actors acting as their characters, they should just be their character,” Stegmair says.
Stegmair is a co-producer and actor for the company. He has worked in 24 productions since high school and has directed seven projects since he was 9 years old. He attends Richland College and joined its theater program this year.
Gomez graduated from Newman Smith this month and plans to major in technical theater with an emphasis in stage management at Richland. He has seven years of experience in acting, stage management, lighting and set design. He was 16 when he first served as technical director, for The Dinner Party.
Just B.E. Productions’ board of directors, which consists of eight actors and actresses with at least five to nine years of experience in the arts, blended their interests and skills to start the company. Although members attend different schools in Texas and New York, they try to make their time together during semester breaks count so they can plan their company’s future.
Lauren Rangel, a mass communications major at Stephen F. Austin State University, is the company’s public relations and media representative. Sarah Babick, a theater and dance major at Texas State University, is the movement coordinator.
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Stegmair took the roles of hosting countless meetings and rehearsals in his home, finding venues to perform at and updating members about the company’s changes while many of them were away.
“[Ben] puts himself down, but he actually did a lot of the work, and it was really, really, really well done,” says Eric Talamates, co-music director.
Stegmair says the company will plan building it's finances and putting on performances at the Plaza Arts Center, a 1949 theater remodeled into a modern events venue in downtown Carrollton.
Just B.E. Productions’ board of directors will also perform Among Friends by Kristine Thatcher at the end of July. Stegmair and Babick will co-direct.