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Katy Richardson has led an eventful career as a musical director and supervisor. A client of Bronia Buchanan’s BBA Management, Katy has worked on successful productions like Death Note, Rent, and Bonnie and Clyde. She’s also been part of “musical theatre history” as a member of the smash-hit show SIX the Musical’s original creative team.

Here, Katy opens up about her experience of working on SIX and Death Note, her journey into the arts, and how she’s supporting women and the LGBTQ+ community in the theatre industry.

Katy’s Experience Working on SIX the Musical

Katy is the UK musical supervisor for SIX, a show that has won 23 awards, including the 2022 Tony Award for Best Original Score. She was also the original musical director for SIX on the West End.

“I think that the original creative team was a stroke of fate, to be honest,” Katy says. She shares that creating SIX was “a really special process” as each member of the creative team’s “intentions were so aligned.”

Katy knew the show was special right from the start, though she had no idea it was going to be such a hit.

“I remember listening to the demos before I agreed to do it and then being in rehearsals and thinking, ‘God, I think this is really good. It’s really clever…’”

Sold Out Shows in Edinburgh and London

Katy says SIX’s rise to success was so “gradual and organic that none [of the team] realised it was happening.”

The first production of SIX took place at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2018. The preview show sold 50% of its tickets, but Katy describes the audience’s reaction as “insane.” After that, ticket sales increased and the rest of the shows at the Fringe quickly sold out.

After the Fringe, SIX moved on to a three-week run at the Arts Theatre in London. Like Edinburgh, all the London shows sold out.

“It was really surreal,” Katy says. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen that happen before. I’m not sure I’ll ever see it happen again.”

Katy knew the musical was here to stay when she performed with the stars of SIX at the 2019 Olivier Awards at the Royal Albert Hall — she calls this “the most terrifying thing [she’s] ever done.” Katy explains that “the crowd reaction was a real moment where we thought that we had definitely succeeded.”

Katy’s Journey Into the Arts

A Musical Childhood

Katy always knew she wanted to work in music. During childhood, she learnt to play various instruments (she started playing the piano when she was five), sang in the school choir, and took part in youth theatre and drama classes.

The creative credits her parents for inspiring her love of music. “They’re massive Queen fans, massive David Bowie fans, but [they] also listen to a lot of Frank Sinatra, things like that,” Katy shares. Her parents also took Katy and her sister to see the girls’ favourite bands live.

University, Urdang, and Beyond

Katy achieved a BA degree in Music with First Class Honours from the University of Leeds. She then graduated from Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts with a Professional Graduate Diploma in Musical Direction.

From there, Katy went to work at Urdang, a performing arts academy in London. She worked as a rehearsal pianist with the academy. She also taught ensemble singing before the academy asked her to musically direct one of its final-year shows.

The final-year show at Urdang led to a valuable opportunity for Katy. The academy’s head of musical theatre asked Katy whether she would be available to work as the musical director for a final-year show at the Institute of the Arts in Barcelona. Katy said yes.

While working on the show, Katy met Luke Sheppard, the show’s director. The two “became friends very quickly.” Luke went on to direct Rent at the Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester, for which Katy was the musical supervisor.

When Katy got back from Spain, she received an email from Joe Beighton, the international supervisor of SIX. The email said: “‘We’re looking for a musical director for SIX at Edinburgh Fringe. Are you free?’”

Katy On Being a BBA Management Client

Katy had also invited the established musical director and supervisor Mike Dixon to watch the Urdang show. Impressed by Katy’s work, Mike set up a meeting with his agent, Bronia Buchanan of BBA Management. Katy is now also a BBA Management client.

Katy decided that BBA Management was a “really good fit” for her based on the talent agency’s reputation.

“Bronia Buchanan’s reputation precedes her,” Katy says. She adds that many know BBA Management as an agency that “really looks after creatives.”

Katy also notes that Bronia Buchanan’s knowledge in the “specialist area” of musical directors and supervisors “was really helpful.” Plus, Katy appreciates having “a female agent who knows what it’s like to be a woman working in leadership roles and the challenges that come with that.”

Managing Commitments With BBA Management

Katy often has a busy diary, juggling various roles in teaching and musical direction and supervision. Different organisations and companies will need Katy in varying capacities, for anywhere from several weeks to a year. Sometimes, these projects can overlap.

BBA Management helps Katy balance her commitments by managing her bookings and finding compromises on any clashes in availability. Katy shares that BBA Management’s industry knowledge is “really useful.” She adds: “I think [BBA’s agents] definitely have helped my career trajectory.”

Katy’s Favourite Things About Working With BBA Management

Something that Katy loves about being a BBA Management client is that “it really feels like a partnership.” She adds that the team is “always working” for her: BBA Management “is a fierce agency and they look after me. They get me good deals.”

“I know that Bronia Buchanan’s always saying my name to people,” Katy adds. “It just feels like you’ve got someone else on your side.

But one of Katy’s favourite things about working with BBA Management is the agency’s attention to detail.

“Whenever I get flowers for press night… [BBA Management] always matches the branding of the show,” Katy shares. For instance, her bouquet for Death Note was all red to match the red apple in the show’s posters and branding.

“I don’t know how many people notice that, but I’ve always noticed,” Katy says. “And I love that. It’s so detail oriented and it shows that attention has been paid to it.”

Supporting Women and the LGBTQ+ Community

As a female creative and an ally of the LGBTQ+ community, Katy is a vocal advocate for supporting under-represented demographics in the theatre industry.

Currently, few West End productions have female musical directors. And while the theatre industry is generally accepting of members of the LGBTQ+ community, Katy says there’s still work to do, especially for trans artists.

“For an industry that’s been so forward in accepting LGBTQ+ people in principle, I don’t think that is [always] the case when it comes to trans and non-binary people,” Katy says.

As a result, Katy endeavours to “make sure people feel comfortable” when they’re rehearsing with her.

“If you’re going to have trans artists in your rehearsal room, you have to support them,” Katy emphasises.

Championing Women in Musical Directing

Katy is passionate about improving equality for women in theatre, especially in leadership roles. The industry “is so male-dominated, particularly in musical directing,” she explains.

To address the imbalance, Katy co-created the Musical Director Mentorship Scheme in 2021. The annual scheme invites aspiring musical directors to apply for nine months of free mentorship with an established musical director. Most of the participating mentors work in the West End or on UK tours.

Katy says the scheme was an instant hit: “We had a massive response… And every single year [the percentage of applicants has] been at least 55% female.” For Katy, this shows that there are women who want to become musical directors, but “they’re not getting the opportunities.”

The Musical Director Mentorship Scheme has already made an impact on the number of female musical directors in the industry. The scheme has led to work shadowing and job opportunities. Thanks to these opportunities, many past female mentees of the scheme have been hired.

Katy recommends that women interested in becoming musical directors also look into Ladies of the Stave. The networking session for female musicians takes place once a quarter and the evenings often feature female musical directors as speakers.

Another avenue to investigate is Maestra, a U.S.-based, international organisation for female and non-binary musicians in the theatre industry. Maestra shared its mentorship scheme resources with the Musical Director Mentorship Scheme Katy helped found.

Advertising For Positions

Katy has also been vocal about productions advertising vacancies for musical director positions and similar roles. She explains that “if you hire closed book all the time, then the same problem [of men hiring other men] reoccurs.”

Thankfully, “the message is starting to spread.” Katy says Moulin Rouge recently advertised all of its band positions and MJ: The Musical advertised for its musical director position. In addition, SIX has committed to always advertising vacancies.

For anyone interested in finding job vacancies in musical theatre, Katy suggests keeping “an eye on social media” and following the Musicians’ Union. Plus, productions will sometimes post vacancies in The Stage jobs directory.

Job Sharing for Women

Another strategy to retain and support female creatives in the theatre industry is to implement job sharing: “Musical directing is the perfect job to [share] because a musical director doesn’t conduct all the performances per week anyway. They usually conduct six or seven,” Katy explains.

Katy adds that musical directors in the West End usually “start to get higher-level positions” in their thirties, which is when some women tend to leave the industry to have children. When these women want to return to their careers, “they can’t get back in or they come back in as [an] associate [or an] assistant. So it’s essentially a demotion.”

Katy believes that job sharing “is very actionable in the next two to five years and would make a massive, massive difference.”

Katy On Death Note: The Musical

Most recently, Katy has been the musical supervisor for Death Note: The Musical. Tickets for the show’s two nights at the London Palladium sold out in just three days. The show also ran for four days in early September at the Lyric Theatre.

Death Note is a musical based on the bestselling Japanese manga series of the same name. More than 30 million copies of the books have been sold worldwide. The manga also became a popular anime TV series.

Katy first saw Death Note: The Musical in Seoul, South Korea, while she was in the city working on SIX earlier this year. Going into Death Note, Katy wasn’t too familiar with the world of manga and anime, but she found the experience “really interesting,” noting the “enormous audience reaction” to the show.

“Having seen it [in Seoul], I did have an inkling of what it could be like [in the UK], but I think I still underestimated the size and the popularity of the brand and the market… It’s huge.”

Katy says that Death Note has attracted a “market of people that don’t typically go to the theatre.” It’s “really awesome that they’re coming to see our show,” she adds.

Working on a production with such a dedicated fan base was a new experience for Katy: “You don’t want to let people down. That’s a different sort of pressure. But I think because [the musical] had already been on in Japan and [South] Korea, that allowed a little bit of confidence because we knew it was a big hit there.”

Katy Takes on True Crime Punk Rock Musical LIZZIE

What’s next for Katy? The talented creative has a “few secret things coming up” that she can’t share. But her next immediate role is as the musical supervisor for LIZZIE The Musical at Hope Mill Theatre.

Billed as a “true crime punk rock musical,” LIZZIE is about Lizzie Borden, a historical U.S. figure who was accused of murdering her father and stepmother with an axe. Though Lizzie was acquitted — and the murder remains unsolved — a famous nursery rhyme immortalised her story.

The musical opened at the Hope Mill Theatre on 1 Sept. 2023 where it is running for four weeks. Next, LIZZIE will move to the Southwark Playhouse in London for dates in October, November, and December.

About Bronia Buchanan’s BBA Management

BBA Management is a talent agency that represents dynamic actors and creatives working in theatre, film, and television. Bronia Buchanan founded the agency in London in 2001. BBA’s team of expert agents specialise in providing personalised management and support that covers all areas of their clients’ careers.

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