She nearly shut it down before it could start. “Let me stop you right there!” The words boomed through the phone, with an edge, when I began to ask Irene Gandy, Tony-Award-winning Press Agent and Broadway producer, about hardships she faced at the beginning of her career. She viewed obstacles not as impediments but critical challenges to be overcome for her professional growth.
As our phone interview screeched to a halt, I turned my head and looked at the other notes and questions on the notepad. It’s the dead of winter, and the sun was shining through the curtains in my office, heating the space up like a warm spring day. It was an intriguing foreshadowing of the rest of the conversation that was about to play out. Then, with power and poise, Irene broke the silence and gave a masterclass on the mindset it takes to be successful.
First, a little background:
“In the 1960s and 70s, everyone wanted to be an actor.” Irene briefly tried acting in the 60s before running into Fred Garrett. Fred was working for the Black Ensemble Company, and they were looking for press agents. The only candidates were white, and being the BLACK Ensemble Company, they naturally wanted to interview African Americans for the job. Irene decided to entertain the idea by meeting Howard Atlee for a press agent position. She left the meeting confident that she wasn’t going to get it. Howard Atlee called her a few days later, asking if she could start working, thus setting the stage for her award-winning career.
As our conversation continued, I began to realize that Irene is a woman who will not make, nor expect, any excuses when it comes to her career. Or, as a matter of fact, anybody’s career. Failure is not a word that she holds in her vocabulary. “I never understood that. It’s like when my mother is trying to teach me to iron a shirt,” Gandy said. She added, “Just because it didn’t work the way she wanted it to, it still worked for me. That’s how I grew up.” Part of Irene’s methodology stresses that one needs to understand their strengths and weaknesses while also understanding how they are the same in many ways. If you start something, you will never fail in Irene’s eyes. “I’m a Press Agent but I do not know how to write a press release, and that’s ok, because I can connect people,” she said. Gandy added that there is no such thing as failure. “Your weaknesses are your strengths and your obstacles are your challenges,” she said.
Her advice applies to everyone, no matter who you are or what you look like. It takes a confident attitude to succeed in a harsh industry, such as Broadway. Irene prides herself in her accomplishments. Besides her decades of hard work, she doesn’t allow for anything else to take credit for what she’s done. Work she started and never failed.
“My Tony Honor was for my excellence in theater. Not because I was black, not because of George Floyd, because I’ve done excellent work in the business,” she said. Indeed, that is why Irene Gandy is Broadway’s longest-running African American Press Agent and Producer.