A press agent knows about everything to do with a production—it’s their job to know the secrets. So it’s no surprise the press agent Irene Gandy took that know-how and stepped into producing.
“Producer” is a term that can mean many things. Typically, a lead producer is not only a primary investor or moneyraiser but the creative lead on the show. They put together the creative team for a production, often pairing writers with composer-lyricists or composer-lyricist teams and directors. Most importantly, a lead producer controls the message—how to market and advertise, final approvals on anything to do with the show. Producers at a lower level have varying degrees of creative input and varying degrees of financial commitment, depending on the show. The current demand for more Black (and Indigenous and POC) producers is a rallying cry for inclusion at every level.
Though, there are not enough producers of color on Broadway, there are a select few who have broken down barriers. This interview with Gandy is part of a series Spotlight on Black Broadway Producers. Of course, there are other marginalized communities that also need more representation in leadership positions; the Black community is a place to start. In this series, read these producers’ personal stories, hopes for what theatre looks like upon its post-COVID return, and individual approaches to producing for the stage. Meet: Irene Gandy.
The Broadway Legend Ready for a Reset
Irene Gandy has worked on Broadway for over 50 years. She started out as a press intern with the Negro Ensemble Company in the 1960s and then worked on over 40 shows as a press agent, eventually becoming a producer in 2012 with the Tony-winning Porgy and Bess revival and again with Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill in 2014.
Throughout her time in the biz, Gandy has seen a lot of mistakes being made when it comes to BIPOC voices. “People do not know what to do with productions of color,” she says. “You have to have relationships. From my experience, you have to direct mail to your targeted theatregoers… but they don’t market Black productions in advance; then when [the show] comes, it’s too late.”
Her approach: There’s also a communication breakdown in the creation of work, she says. As she describes, when she walks into an industry room everyone self-segregates. Gandy wants to get people talking. “No one can learn from anybody because of the sensitivity [of getting called out or sent packing],” she says. Gandy pushes for awareness of this so that theatremakers can actively integrate and collaborate, which organically leads to authenticity and inclusion.
Gandy chases what she wants and it shows in the bottom line. “My mission is very simple: pass on what I know, educate people of color about things that I’m privy to, and just keep it moving.”
Her advice: Of the industry’s reckoning with racism, Gandy says, “I was horrified—I didn’t know these things were happening to BIPOC because it doesn't happen to me.” She tells newcomers never let anything slide. “If [superiors or co-workers] start misbehaving, you have to stop it immediately. It’s like raising a kid, you have to start early or it just continues.” Though she recognizes the fear: “You’re the first to be fired and last to be hired—people feel they have to take it because they’re scared of losing their jobs.” Still, don’t tolerate it, she advises. Advocate for yourself and learn. “I don’t just sit at the table, I say ‘pass me the potatoes.’”
Impacting the future: Gandy also sees positive change “I remember I was coming through Shubert Alley, and I saw posters for Eclipsed, The Color Purple, all these Black shows, and I just sat down and cried.”
Along with increasing representation among producers, Gandy wants more inclusive applying and hiring for house managers, stage hands, box office treasurers, and marketing representatives. “If you’re good with numbers, be a company manager,”she suggests. Find your skill and a place it can be useful. The most key ingredients according to Gandy? “The three C’s: Commitment from producers, cash investment, and communication across all parties.”
More Profiles in the Spotlight Series
Stephen Byrd and Alia Jones-Harvey, Front Row Productions