Alumni Spotlight: Katy Richardson

Katy Richardson graduated from our Postgraduate Diploma in Musical Direction (now the MA Musical Direction) in 2015. Since graduating, she has embarked on a successful career as a Music Director on the West End and throughout the UK, on shows including Six the Musical and Jersey Boys. We spoke to Katy about her time at Mountview, her professional highlights and her advice for aspiring Music Directors.

What was your pathway to becoming a Music Director?

Throughout my childhood, I played the piano and went to youth theatre. I originally wanted to be a Musical Theatre performer, but realised that I could combine my theatre side with my piano studies as a Music Director. I studied Music at the University of Leeds and MD’d for a lot of the musical theatre societies there, before applying for postgraduate study as an MD.

What are the key responsibilities of a Music Director?

It’s a more multi-faceted role than most people realise. The most visible aspect is conducting the show, but a typical day involves a lot of behind the scenes work such as leading the warm-up for the actors and running notes. I’m also in charge of maintaining the musical quality of the show, upholding the lead creatives’ vision for the show and training the understudies and swings to make sure they are up to speed with their roles. On top of that, there is often a lot of admin and liaison with different departments. You would typically be music director of one show at a time, but can take on other roles such as music supervisor while being a music director elsewhere.

Why did you choose to study at Mountview?

When I was in youth theatre, the MD Huw Evans was a Mountview graduate, so I’d heard about the course initially from him. I received a few offers for postgraduate study and chose Mountview in the end because of its reputation as one of the premier Musical Theatre training institutions. There’s so much going on with different courses and loads of productions each year, so I thought it would offer me the best experience.

What are your highlights from your training?

I was recently reminiscing with fellow Mountview graduate Cleve September about our production of Bonnie & Clyde at Mountview, when I was assisting the external MD and Cleve was a final-year Musical Theatre student. We’re now both involved with the West End production of Bonnie & Clyde: I’m the Music Supervisor and Cleve is playing Ted Hinton.

How did you find the transition between studying and professional work?

I had a receptionist job at a studio when I graduated, so this kept me occupied for a bit. However, I found the transition to getting professional MD work really difficult, and it would have been impossible without the contacts I’d made at Mountview. The landscape was different when I graduated: all of the West End MDs were male and it was extremely difficult to break into as a woman. I didn’t work professionally as an MD for several years because of this. Instead, I took on teaching work at several colleges, particularly the International College of Music Theatre (ICMT). It was a great experience – I got paid an hourly wage and teaching classes such as Acting Through Song or Ensemble Singing gave me the opportunity to use the skills I would need as a Music Director. It was like being paid to practice!

Is there still gender inequality in the industry?

There’s a lot of variety across departments, with some having more women than men. Certain departments like music direction are still very male-dominated. It’s changing, but of around 25 shows in the West End there are only 4 or 5 female MDs. That’s much better than it was – it used to be zero.

What are you currently working on?

I am the Music Supervisor for Bonnie & Clyde, although most of my work there is complete now we’ve held our press night. I’m also the UK Musical Supervisor for Six The Musical, for which I was the original Music Director on the West End before becoming Associate Supervisor and now Supervisor alongside fellow Mountview graduate Joe Beighton. We oversee the tour and West End versions of the show, while also occasionally supporting auditions and rehearsals for cruise line performances. I’m also the Music Director for Jersey Boys on the West End.

What are you most proud of in your career so far?

I have two particularly proud moments in my career. One was Six’s performance at the Olivier Awards. It was cool, but by far the most intense and nerve-wracking thing I’ve ever done. I’ve never experienced anything like it.

My other favourite was MD’ing and supervising Rent at Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre in 2020-21. Rent is my favourite musical so I loved working on that, and I was lucky enough to be nominated for a WhatsOnStage award for Musical Direction.

What advice would you give to an aspiring Music Director?

Listen to as much music as possible, not just musical theatre, and read books about how shows are made and developed. The more you research your craft, the better job you will do. And keep practicing: you’ll always need those piano skills!

Who has been your mentor or inspirational figure?

My mentor is an amazing man called Mike Dixon, who was the original MD and orchestrator for We Will Rock You. When I was at university, a group of us entered a competition which Mike was judging, and he gave me his card at the end. We’ve stayed in touch ever since and he’s offered me advice, occasionally given me work and is still my mentor now.

Have you faced any challenges in your career and how did you overcome them?

Theatre is a stressful environment where there is a lot of money on the line and you have to adapt to that pressure. One of the worries for an MD is that all of the departments are watching you on the screen at every show. You have to be aware of that and know that if you make a mistake, it doesn’t just affect you. The short answer to how I overcame this is I just stopped thinking about it! I focus solely on what I have to do and that’s it.

Are there any shows you hope you will work on during your career?

Rent would have been my dream show, so I’m pleased to have ticked that off already. Working on the next Hadestown or Hamilton would be my dream now. I want to be involved from the start and get stuck into the creative process. It would be stressful but exciting and creatively fulfilling.

Katy and her colleagues have set up the Musical Director Mentorship Scheme, open to people at any stage of their career, with or without professional training, and designed to help them find a mentor and get into the industry. Applications will re-open in June, for the new scheme starting in September. All Mountview students and alumni would be welcome to apply!

You can find out more about the scheme on Twitter at @MD_mentorship. You can find out more about Katy on her website.