Share This Page

Revamped Rex Theatre ready for a range of acts

Ben Penigar doesn't have a lot of money or resources. The 28-year-old Bloomfield resident doesn't have a lot of business experience, and his civil engineering degree from the University of Pittsburgh is gathering dust.

But Penigar is confident his new venture at the Rex Theatre on the South Side -- Grey Area Productions -- is going to be an effective player in the competitive arena of Pittsburgh concert promotions.

"We're running the venue now, and bringing a lot of love," Penigar says.

While the Rex is a work in progress, there already are notable improvements. The lobby has been completely refurbished via "sweat, time, motivation and paint," featuring paintings by John Ross, an artist who is affiliated with the Meter Room, a gallery and performance space in Sheraden. New lighting and sound systems have been installed, transforming the stage from a stodgy, archaic throwback into a state-of-the-art space. The permanent seats have been removed, and the 300 person-capacity room looks infinitely larger -- and much cleaner.

Penigar's expectations are muted by the current economic climate.

"It's ridiculous to think I'm going to make good money at this, because I'm not," he says."But when the economy makes a swing, goes back up ... "

Penigar's deep bass voice elevates with excitement at the thought. He speaks excitedly of developing a jazz and funk scene (he manages Jazzam, a Pittsburgh-based funk and jazz group), but plans on bringing a range of acts to the Rex, from indie rock to bluegrass to folk to reggae. Punk and metal bands, traditionally the strongest draws locally, are probably out for now, he admits, because they entail extra security.

Grey Area's first show, a Sept. 17 concert featuring Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes, a New Orleans jazz group, was a success, Penigar says, because he made "$100, and no one makes money on their first show." He's plans to book approximately 16 national acts per month, with local bands featured four to eight times monthly. Scott Forsyth, who used to book acts for Opus One Productions, will serve in that capacity for Grey Area; Hannah Heaney will be box-office manager, and Penigar will be production manager.

While the cosmetic improvements are important, Penigar insists the biggest change will be in the attitude patrons encounter when they enter the Rex.

"Everyone is going to be greeted with a smile," he says.

And while he realizes concert promotion is often a cutthroat business, Penigar insists he's not going to fall into that mode of operation.

"I'm not going to play ball that way," he says. " I'm going to bring the best music I can to Pittsburgh, and it's going to speak for itself."

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.