Industry Spotlight

Ben Penigar, Grey Area Productions

Written by Sam Stratton

Photo by B. Hockensmith at The Mad Tea Party Jam

The owner of Grey Area Productions and the Rex Theater in Pittsburgh PA, as well as the stage manager for the Mad Tea Party Jam, Ben Penigar hails from a rural part of western Pennsylvania. Ben, who is thirty five, has been working in event management since 2006.

What was the first show you managed?

Ben: The first show that I managed was the first show that I put on, which was BoomBox with Jazzam at The Rex on March 20, 2008.

Was there a specific moment where you realized you wanted to work with music? What was it?

Ben: I was managing and bartending at a bar/hookah bar in Pittsburgh’s South Side in 2005 that hosted live music.  Mostly smaller traveling acts and local acts.  My good friend Anthony Fugate booked the acts that performed there.  One of the bands that performed there invited me to come to a music festival with them to act as their “tour manager”.  It was at this festival that I first discovered the now-defunct Funk/Fusion/Jam act Jazzam.  I immediately fell in love with their sound, and after that, it wasn’t long before I was learning how to manage and book them.

From your experience, what are the do’s and don’t’s of owning a music venue?

Ben: The answers to this question could fill a book.  But to keep it short and simple, don’t cut corners and always care about what you are doing.  If you are going to do something, do it right.  If you don’t care about your project, how can you expect other people to?  Treat people the way you want to be treated.  That is not only a great way to live your life, but to run a business as well.

What are the essentials of opening one?

Ben: Figure out all of the costs involved with properly retrofitting an existing space into a live music venue.  This includes electrical, mechanical, sound and lighting, bars, etc.  Once you have determined that cost, double it.  Then plan on having enough operating capital to make it through at least two years before you are fully up to speed.

How did you get involved with The Mad Tea Party Jam?

Ben: I met Taco and Elise at The Werk Out many years ago. They worked with a lot of the same artists that we bring to Pittsburgh, which are all very talented, but not always the most popular.  I find myself gravitating towards people that give a home to the same type of music as we do, as they often have very similar value systems and likes.

What was the most challenging part of reaching this point in your career?

Ben: Getting through the tough times and not giving up.  There have been times where I just wanted to quit, but knowing how many people have helped us to get to where we are has kept me going.  Between Grey Area Productions and The Rex Theater, we have more than fifteen full time employees who we count on to do a great job and never let us down.  I can’t let them down.

What’s your #1 pet peeve when acting as a stage/production manager?

Ben: Tour managers that refuse to compromise in any way.  We are all on the same team and trying to make a show happen.  You can either be part of the problem or part of the solution.  I hate it when they refuse to be part of the solution.

Do you have any favorite bands or artists to work with?

Ben: I love working with almost all of the acts we book.  Many of these acts started out small and have grown along with us over the past seven years.  I can’t really name favorites, as I really love working with most of these acts.

Do you have any advice or tips for other people looking to get into event management?

Ben: Unless you are 100% comfortable with the idea of working endless hours for crappy pay, then don’t consider it as an option.  If you are sure that you are alright with long hours and low pay, and giving a home to live music is what makes you happy, then go for it.  I wouldn’t recommend it for most people, but it seems to be working for me.