Photo courtesy Peanut Butter Factory
The Peanut Butter Factory (PBF), a new theatrical production company that supports independent theater artists with administrative resources and branding, is opening its first show this weekend since incorporating as a for-profit LLC. The production, Gruesome Playground Injuries, is a play by Pulitzer Prize nominated playwright Rajiv Joseph. Folks may remember it, as it was performed last fall by two deaf actresses at Mixed Blood Theatre.
This go-around, the Peanut Butter Factory is producing the play as directed by Natalie Novacek, with an opening on Friday.
Christopher Kehoe, the corporate officer for PBF, says the idea for the company came about when he inherited a 2010 Fringe Festival slot branded the Peanut Butter Factory "somewhat accidentally." There, he produced a solo-performance work. Shortly after that, Kehoe and Natalie Novacek collaborated on a show at Intermedia Arts, and then produced another play under PBF for the 2011 Minnesota Fringe.
"So after all that was behind us," says Kehoe, he, Novacek, and Christian Carter "took stock of this unintentional three-show production history and discussed what our next step should be."
They considered discontinuing the PBF brand or becoming a theater company, staying under the radar, and only producing for the Fringe. "What all three of our shows had in common wasn't an aesthetic or an artistic team, but the sobering fact that under different circumstances we would have needed to start an entire theater company just for a project or two," says Kehoe. "So we began to explore how we could refine an administrative model to the point of being able to offer it publicly."
The Peanut Butter Factory handles all of the administration with no artistic oversight. Their only requirement is that shows be over 60 minutes long, and don't put the audience in physical danger. They retain 10 percent of the show's profits -- if there are profits. "Basically, if a show doesn't perform well, we don't want to kick a down horse-artist," he says.
PBF has no plans to go non-profit at this time. Under their model, independent artists are free to seek their own granting. "Public money will never go towards a development manager's salary," he says. "The business side -- and only the business side -- is treated like a business, and the artistic side -- and only the artistic side -- is allowed room for philanthropy."
Projects are selected based on their "objective viability. It's not for me to impose my personal love of site-specific work or disdain for Tennessee Williams, but I can accurately judge if an artist has crossed their T's and dotted their I's," he says. If an application can list out a full-production team and cast, that's immediately more viable than a daydreaming director with "a really good idea."
Gruesome Playground Injuries was originally pitched by Natalie Novacek last September. "At first, we had a hard time getting a response from the publisher, and then we found out that Mixed Blood was featuring it as part of their Center of Margins Festival. That production took enough liberties with the script -- ASL and a sex-swap -- that everyone felt comfortable continuing ahead with producing the show as written," he says.