Call Answered: Penny Landau Interview: Celebrating 40 Years of Maya PR

actress broadway cabaret film movies musical theatre off-broadway play producer regional theatre television theatre tv writer Apr 11, 2024
Call Me Adam Title Page. Call Me Adam logo is on the left side. Penny Landau's headshot is on the right side. In the top center of the page is an orange circle with jagged edges that says Featured Interview. Between our photos it says Celebrating 40 Years of Maya PR. Below the title and in between our names there is an auburn circle that says

For the past 15 years, Penny Landau has asked me to interview so many of her clients. From Tony Award winning actors/actresses to producers, directors, and cabaret stars, I have been lucky to be able to share their stories.

Now, Penny is in the midst of celebrating her 40th year of owning her own PR company, Maya PR. This seemed like the perfect time for Penny to come out from behind-the-PR-Curtain, and be put in the spotlight, like she has done for all of her clients.

From acting to teaching to writing to stage managing to PR, Penny has experienced every aspect of the entertainment industry. For as much fun as she has had, Penny has had her fair share of challenges including battling leukemia.

As a cancer survivor, Penny continues to thrive in remission!

In this interview, Penny answered my call for her to reveal:
  • How she got into PR
  • The challenges in owning her own PR firm
  • What to look for in a PR firm/rep
  • How her cancer journey changed her outlook on life
  • So much more

1. You are celebrating 40 years of running your own PR Firm, Maya PR. What does this milestone mean to you? The fact that I’ve managed to keep my business alive for 40 years, especially since Covid almost killed it, is a gift. No shows, no performers, no nothing. So, I drove for Lyft in the middle of the pandemic. It was interesting & I got to meet a lot of people I never would have met if not for driving.

2. Let's take my audience back to the beginning. How did you first get into PR? Actually, it was quite by accident. I was an Equity stage manager & the late playwright Jane Chambers (Last Summer at Bluefish Cove) mentioned to me that she had some friends who were doing a show & they needed some help. I went to the auditions to meet with the producers & the first person I met was Estelle Getty. I was hired as the production manager for the original Glines production of Torch Song Trilogy in 1981. Then, when Jane died in 1983, her publicist, Francine Trevens, asked me to come into her office to handle the press.

I had also been a writer & was the New York theatre critic & feature writer for The Advocate, at that time the only national Gay publication & had written a piece on Jane. Francine told me that she’d like to hire me, but I wanted to be a stage manager. That couldn’t have been farther from the truth. So, after many Off-Broadway & Off-Off Broadway shows, I went to work for Francine, who taught me the business. Then in 1984, I opened Maya Associates, later to become Maya PR.

3. What has been your biggest challenge in owning your own PR firm? One of the hardest things was getting my name out there & signing clients. Almost everyone I have worked with came through someone I had repped. When I was a stage manager I worked on the show Corkscrews, written by Tony Lang & Arthur Siegel & directed by Miriam Fond. By the time Tony & Arthur wrote Tallulah starring Helen Gallagher, I was a publicist so they came to me.

BarBara Luna led me to Julie Budd, who led me to Marilyn Michaels & Sal Richards, who then led me to Renee Taylor & Joe Bologna. Through John Glines, I met comic & Gay activist Robin Tyler & through Robin, I met musician & Lesbian icon Carol MacDonald, founder of the  ground-breaking rock band Isis. See where I’m going with this?

I actually met two of my favorite clients, MAC Award-winners Michael Garin & Mardie Millit, when I did the PR for Provincetown’s CabaretFest in 2019. Mardie’s up for a MAC Award for Female Vocalist for her Sondheim show, Sorry Grateful. Drama Desk Award-winner Michael Garin (Song of Singapore) has created a wonderful musical based on Ed Sorel’s book, Mary Astor’s Purple Diary, with the book written by Mardie. BabrBara Luna also introduced me to producer Mike Carbonaro & the Big Apple Comic Con. I guess all roads lead back to Luna.

(left to right): Joan Rivers, Jan Wallman and Penny Landau

4. What advice would you give to someone who wants to get into PR? It’s not an easy gig. There are a lot of ups & downs, but when the Broadway show you’re repping wins a Tony, there’s nothing that compares to that. But in reality, let’s put it this way, I went from stage managing where you’re the first blamed & the last thanked, to PR, where you’re the last thanked & the first blamed. But part of that is what PR people do; we take the hit for our clients so they don’t look bad.

5. If someone was looking to hire a press rep, either for themselves or their show, what do you feel are the top 3 things they should look for in a press rep or agency?  First is their track record – Who did they rep? Are they still repping them? Then talk with people who worked with them. For every 3 happy people, you’ll get one who hated you. Some blame the bad reviews on you. I tell them that if I had such control over the press, I’d be the most popular PR person on the planet. As with any working relationship, you have to know who you’re getting into bed with.

6. How do you decide which clients or shows you want to represent? I’m very particular about who or what shows I represent. My feeling is that if I put my name to something, I need to believe in that client. I’m always honest with the press. Lie to them once & they’ll never trust you again. It’s just easier to tell them the truth.

Penny Landau as Gratiano
The Harlem Shakespeare Festival all female production of Othello

7. Outside of being a press rep, you have been an actress, stage manager, writer - both for magazines & scholarly publications, and have your own production company. How do you feel all these other endeavors helped you in your PR journey? Most everything, other than writing, acting & stage managing, came after I went into PR. I started to do some small producing with the New York Fringe Festival & that just morphed into more Fringe shows, being an associate producer on some Off-Broadway shows & bringing in producers & investors to readings.

Being the associate producer for Edge, starring the brilliant Angelica Page as Sylvia Plath, was one of my favorite shows. The show that really had my heart was We’ll Meet Again starring Vicki Stuart & written by her son, Ivan Menchell (Blended, The Cemetery Club, The Nanny). It was chock full of 1940’s music & recounted the story of Vicki as a child in London during World War II who was sent to the countryside to escape The Blitz. The title song was made famous by Dame Vera Lynn, the British singer & “Forces Sweetheart” who gave hope to England during the war.

As for acting, I hadn’t set foot onstage since my grad school swan song as Queen Aggravain in Mary Rodgers’ Once Upon A Mattress until I was cast as Gratiano in the all-female production of Othello produced by the Harlem Shakespeare Festival. It had been 37 years between shows & with Trezana Beverley (Tony & Drama Desk winner in For Colored Girls…) directing, it was an amazing experience. I started acting again in Florida as the over-the-top Broadway producer in The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940. Lord knows, I had so many examples to cull from!

8. You were the original stage manager for the Glines Production of Harvey Fierstein's Torch Song Trilogy, which starred Harvey Fierstein, Matthew Broderick, Estelle Getty & Joel Crothers. Do you have any backstage stories you can share about working with them? Well, there were those days when Harvey & Estelle would have a “difference of opinion.” I referred to them as the Fierstein/Gettleman wars. They were kind of fun for us & they always kissed & made up. It was a pretty tight company. We all knew that this show was different & ground-breaking.

I’ll never forget the night producer Larry Lane came backstage with a copy of the New York Times. As he handed it to me, he told me not to scream, not to react in any way, just to read the review. It was a love letter from Mel Gussow & as the saying goes, the rest is history.

Estelle Getty and Harvey Fierstein in Torch Song Trilogy
Photo Credit: Ken Howard

9. You also wrote for The Advocate as their theatrical critic & feature writer.

  • What were some of your favorite shows that you got to review? I reviewed everything that was Gay & Lesbian in New York, from Split Britches to singer/songwriter Lynn Lavner to Doric Wilson’s shows with his theatre company T.O.S.O.S (The Other Side of Silence) to Charles Busch’s Vampire Lesbians of Sodom to, of course The Glines productions. Estelle & I remained close. John Glines & I stayed in touch until his death. Harvey & I run into each other, on occasion, but every time I see Matthew he just smiles at me & gives me a big hug. I mean, I’ve known him since he was 19. I also wrote for The Weekly News of Miami, Boston’s Gay Community News, & Bay Windows, Bay Area Reporter in San Francisco, women’s music magazine Hot Wire & some I can’t even remember. I wrote an article on the first LGBT character in daytime, Dr. Lynn Carson played by Donna Pescow on All My Children, one of my favorite shows. Full disclosure: I did extra work on the show & I was in daytime heaven. I have watched General Hospital since the day it went on in 1963.
  • Were there any you were glad when the curtain came down? There was one show that was so offensive that I left during intermission. It was anti-Semitic. They gave me a kill fee.

10. Beyond PR, you are also known as The TV Junkie. How did you start writing this column? I’ve always been a TV junkie, ever since I can remember. My parents had a television before me & I still have the hassock that was my TV chair as a kid & is way older than me. I was still doing reviews & feature stories & decided to turn my love of the tube into a TV column on a whim. The TV Junkie is currently on hiatus, but will eventually return when I find the proper publication. Ok, when someone wants me back. Do I have to beg?

11. As The TV Junkie, what 3 shows would you recommend my audience watch? Abbott Elementary, Star Trek: Brave New Worlds & Wednesday. For fun, watch the delightful Carrie Preston in Elsbeth. Then there’s Resident Alien starring the brilliant Alan Tudyk as Harry, an alien who comes to Earth to kill all the humans & learns to love them.

12. Since it's Cabaret month, we must talk about your work with the cabaret community. You are a Founding Charter Member of the Manhattan Association of Cabarets. What made you want to help create this organization? In 1983, when I started to work in PR I had already stage managed & done tech on some cabaret shows. I knew most of the club owners & they were talking about founding an organization to replace NACCA (National Association of Cabaret & Concert Artists), so we got together at Don’t Tell Mama & began to organize what eventually became the Manhattan Association of Cabarets. There were antiquated cabaret laws in the city & things needed to be changed. The city restricted how many musicians could be onstage, which we thought was absurd. We fought & we won. Then Equity wanted to get into the act. As a member of the Cabaret Committee at Equity, we tried to write a contract that would work for both the union & cabaret performers.

Penny Landau and Aubrey Reuben
The 2 surviving founding charter members of MAC
American Theatre Theatre Awards

13. How do you feel that MAC has helped keep cabaret thriving in NYC and beyond? In the beginning, MAC was a business organization. We changed some laws about live music & how many musicians could legally play in some clubs. In that respect, we put cabaret back in people’s minds. No publicity goes unnoticed & the genre exploded on the scene.

14. In addition to all these accomplishments, you are a cancer survivor. How do you feel your cancer journey changed you and/or your outlook on life? Well, Betty Rollins was right. First you cry. Then you curl up in the fetal position for a few days. Then you say, “Fuck!” Then you get on with it. I learned one important thing: I’m not afraid to die. Nobody was more shocked by the realization that I was.

15. What is something you didn't do or a dream you had before your cancer diagnosis, that now as a survivor, you have chased after? Peace of mind & putting things in perspective. I’ve learned to pick & choose my battles & be more forgiving. There are some “friends” who never called to find out if I was dead or alive & you just have to feel saddened by that. But the people who were there for me were amazing. I’m blessed to have a wonderful family & incredible friends & that got me through it. I’ll also sell anyone on the Cleveland Clinic in Weston, Florida & the Maroone Cancer Center.

Penny Landau

More on Penny Landau:

Penny Landau saw her first Broadway show, West Side Story, when she was 9 years old. Since then, she has produced, performed, stage managed, directed & instructed, while running her public relations firm, Maya PR, for the past 40 years. She was introduced to the world of PR as a work/study student, by Long Island legend & former New York Daily Mirror editor, Sam Sesskin, then head of public relations for Nassau Community College. Her first major PR job was with another legend, John Scanlon, on Richard Brooks’ film Wrong Is Right, with Sean Connery & Robert Conrad. With the Jacksina Company, she repped Grand Hotel, the musical (with John Schneider), The Will Rogers Follies (with Keith Carradine) & the touring companies of Grand Hotel & Bye Bye Birdie (with Tommy Tune & Ann Reinking), The Baby Dance (with Stephanie Zimbalist & Linda Purl) & The Ridiculous Theatrical Company. With FLT, she repped David Zippel’s It’s Better With A Band (Scott Bakula, Nancy LaMott, Jenifer Lewis & Catherine Cox), Tallulah! (starring Helen Gallagher), Night Club Confidential (with both Fay DeWitt & Eileen Fulton) & John Ford Noonan’s All She Cares About is the Yankees, as well as The First All Children’s Theatre, Theater of the Open Eye, The American Center for Stanislavsky Theatre Art & the Sonia Moore Studio.

As a stage manager, she is proud to have been the original PSM for the Tony Award-winning Torch Song Trilogy with Harvey Fierstein, Matthew Broderick, Estelle Getty & Joel Crothers. She is also proud to have stage managed Kurt Vonnegut’s Happy Birthday, Wanda June, for the venerable Equity Library Theatre. She was a member of the original Stage Managers Association & is fondly remembered for hawking Moon Pies & Goo-Goo Clusters dressed in a waitress uniform, in the audience of the Broadway show Pump Boys & Dinettes

Penny has served on the Board of Directors of The League of Professional Theatre Women as Vice President of Communications, is currently on the Advisory Board of T.O.S.O.S. (The Other Side of Silence) & is a Founding Charter Member of the Manhattan Association of Cabarets.

She is also the Executive Producer of the film An Affirmative Act, the first feature film about Gay marriage. Her production company, EMP Theatricals LLC, produces solo shows & presented Now That She’s Gone, in both Los Angeles & New York, Shooting Stars in Jordan at the NY Fringe Festival & was the Associate Producer of Edge, starring Angelica Page as Sylvia Plath (New York, Los Angeles & London) & Siren’s Heart: Norma Jean & Marilyn in Purgatory, in NYC, starring Louisa Bradshaw as Marilyn Monroe.

As a General Manager, Penny Landau & EMP have GM’d Siren’s Heart & Edge & was the Associate GM on the multi-award-winning Jelly Roll starring Vernel Bagneris as Jelly Roll Morton & We’ll Meet Again starring Vicki Stuart, both Off-Broadway & produced by the husband & wife team of Michael & Barbara Ross.

She holds a BS in English Lit & Poetry from Bowling Green University, an MA in Theatre History & Criticism from Brooklyn College & a PhD from Bowling Green in 19th Century American Theatre History & Directing. She taught theatre at Bowling Green University, Montclair State University, University of New Hampshire & Kingsborough Community College, as well as Special Education in public schools in both New York & New Hampshire. She is published both professionally & academically & is the columnist known & loved by all, as “The TV Junkie.” 

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