Interview | Lucy James

Our alumna tells us about her experiences in musical theatre and using her music to support under-represented voices...


Our Masters in Songwriting alumna Lucy James' musical path has opened up a a variety of different creative worlds. 

From establishing herself in musical theatre to releasing her own artist material and working as an educator, Lucy has a huge amount of expertise across many areas of today's music industry. 

As a queer and care experienced person (CEP) and artist and creative practitioner, her work also often aims to champion underrepresented communities and talent. 

In our interview, we hear from Lucy about her time at ICMP, how this shaped her music and her work in musical theatre, including forthcoming touring production, 'Bonfire'

I'm interested to hear about what drew you to ICMP? Could you talk about how you joined the college?

When I was looking for opportunities to return to education and study an MA, I had already been working as a freelance composer and sound designer. This taught me so much about my craft and my passion for it in practice, as well as allowing me to identify the core of what I loved doing. 

I noticed that during this time of working on theatre productions and all sorts of multimedia projects, I had inadvertently allowed my artist project to take a backseat, and it felt important to reawaken that side of my creativity, using everything I’d learned from working on other projects.

What drew me to ICMP, was firstly that fact that I had never seen a Masters in Songwriting elsewhere. So being able to study the gravitational core of my passion was an incredibly exciting prospect.

Secondly, as I was exploring the website, I noticed a huge range of interests and backgrounds among the faculty, which allowed me to recognise that ICMP was not just looking for one singular profile of a songwriter, or a musician, or even a student, or to squeeze everyone into the same mould, which I think is a common fear for creatives. I was looking for a style of education that subverted the expectations of commercial pop music and conventional classical training equally.

And thirdly, after an online open day, I noticed that the space was held with the notions of access and inclusion at its core.

As someone who identifies as a care experienced person (CEP), which for me, means that I was in foster care, this sense of equal opportunities is essential in feeling like I belong in any environment, but especially in an educational setting, which CEP have historically been excluded from."


How has studying with ICMP helped shape you and your music?

ICMP provided me with the space to explore my artistry like no other creative context could. Having the opportunity to write two songs every week for a year, with an abundance of unique writing briefs for inspiration, among a community of like minded creatives was a career-changing experience. I learned so much more about what I’m capable of as a writer, a musician, a producer, and ultimately as a person.

The experience allowed me to uncover many core motives and intentions behind my expression, creatively and otherwise, that I hadn’t taken the time to process before. It was a huge leap for me to give myself permission to write songs for me and for the love of the craft, rather than for the sake of a show, or a brand, or a pre-existing narrative that was constructed by another pair of hands.

I love writing music for theatre, and I have always recognised its value culturally, socially and politically, but I didn’t perceive my own creative agendas to hold that level of importance until taking the time to carve them out and sit with them. Not only this, but being accountable to myself for the duration of my studies increased my confidence and sense of self immeasurably - I would do it all again in a heartbeat!

I'm also interested to hear about your musical theatre experiences - could you talk a little about how you got into this world?

Absolutely! I had always been fascinated with the world of musical theatre and theatre in general as a kid, but I didn’t have the opportunity to take part in it as a creative practitioner until I went into the care system at the age of 16.

I joined a fantastic scheme called Plus One, funded by Esmee Fairbairn and Derby Theatre. Plus One is a collective of young people in the care system, of all ages and experiences of care, coming together to co-create and perform in numerous creative projects every year, including theatre productions, short films, concerts, dance showcases, and so forth.

The work of Plus One is supported by many freelancers and creative organisations across Derby.

I participated within Plus One for two years until doing a BA, then was immediately hired as their composition lead upon graduating. From there, my work started to gain momentum and grabbed the attention of other theatres, directors, writers and producers across the country."


What are your latest musical theatre projects?

Understandably, I had to slow down on the composition work during my MA, but some of my most recent projects include the live Virtual Reality play 'Odyssey', which was co-created by the Plus One young people, along with an incredible host of creative practitioners, and was awarded the Best Digital Production of The Year at The Stage Awards 2023.

I also composed the score for 'The Fossil Kids' at Crucible Theatre earlier this year, and I’m currently working on an incredible play called 'Bonfire' by Simon Marshall, which is going on tour from 10th November!

How have you worked with care experienced young people as part of your creative practice?

Working with young CEP is firstly about providing them with a safe space to create and express. Many of the projects I seek out and contribute towards prioritise this notion of co-creation, which allows participants to be the driving force of creative intentions and expression.

My role is about laying the foundations of openness and trust within a creative environment, and providing a platform for these voices to be heard, championed and platformed. In practice, this means that I teach participants the skills required to express what’s important to them creatively, guiding them through the exploration of composition, performance and production as means of storytelling and emotional expression. Whether they want to explore topics that profoundly impact their lives, or their unique interests, or their inspirations, is up to them.

It's important to me that those who contribute toward these projects are guaranteed an audience who has the authority to make change and influence their lives, whether that influence takes place within their local communities, or within the policymaking that directly impacts their opportunities and entitlements within the care system." 


It would also be great to hear about your Major Final Repertoire project too?

My RRP project was a form of heuristic and auto-ethnographic research, exploring musical theatre songwriting as a transformative device for excavating, inquiring upon and reclaiming personal narratives. Ultimately, I produced an autobiographical musical theatre score, exploring my experience of going through the care system.

This project was incredibly valuable to me personally, to reframe experiences that I previously considered to be solely traumatic, instead as a story of triumph and defiance of the odds. I was inspired to go down this path, as myself and many CEP alike, simply don’t see themselves represented onstage, or characterised accurately in contemporary art or media.

For this reason, there is also somewhat of a political statement in this research, commenting on the stereotypes of CEP that are perpetuated by all art, suggesting people who have experienced the care system are purely victims, criminals or second-rate citizens.

Conforming to, or in some cases, actively subverting the musical theatre conventions I am all too familiar with allowed me to identify a clear structure for telling my story, and provided me with a sense of agency I never felt before. This was an especially important discovery given the prevalence of ‘Case Files’ within the lives of those in the care system, where our every experience is set in stone by a far removed, third party depiction of this enigma we like to call ‘the truth’. I positioned each of the most important people in my life as characters in a musical, allowing them to interact and converse through music, which allowed many revelations about my experience, and the experiences of my foster family and friends.

The response this work has received has been truly remarkable - those who have listened to the score and audience the research have expressed such a strong emotional connection to the body of work as a whole, which has encouraged me to explore its life onstage.


Do you have any advice for aspiring songwriters/music students?

I would say first and foremost, you are worthy and deserving of the time and energy it takes to explore your passion in this way.

There is nothing novel or ridiculous about wanting to develop your craft, and share your unique perspective creatively. No one else in any room you enter will ever be able to tell your story, therefore no one can inspire a sense of realisation, inspiration or change in the way that you can. As creatives, we’re often asked, ‘What makes you unique’, but don’t worry about creating that thing that makes you unique. Just focus on expressing without boundaries, pigeonholes, expectations or limitations, and that uniqueness will shine through.

One of the most impactful things I learned when studying songwriting, is that the greatest gift you can offer yourself, is the willingness to allow all your preconceived notions of what you do to be blown wide open.

Creative identity and interest is not static, nor linear. So explore, explore, explore. Even if most of this exploration leads to a realisation of what you’re not, or what you don’t want to do, you’re that one step closer to realising who you are as an artist, and what you do want to do."

Oh, and don’t take yourself too seriously - fill that cup with rest, joy and rejuvenation, so you can create and pour from it.

What else does the future have in store?

In the near future I’ll be working on a few more touring theatre shows, while lecturing at ICMP, and continuing my work as a researcher in the arts, culture, education and health sectors. I’m continuing to lead plenty of songwriting workshops for young people in the care system and underrepresented communities, which will always be a priority for me.

Next year I’m planning to release plenty of the material I produced at ICMP as part of my artist project, and I am also in the midst of funding applications for developing my original musical, which I hope to take into production in the coming years. So there’s plenty going on, all of which I’m ridiculously excited about!

Visit Lucy's website for more information on her and her music.

Her latest work can be heard in the production of 'Bonfire'. This will be going on tour at the following venues: 

10th - 11th November | Derby Theatre
15th-16th November | Sheffield Theatres 
23rd-24th November | Nonsuch Studios, Nottingham 

Listen to her track, 'Underwater', below:

Write songs that last for generations

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Songwriting courses
by ICMP staff writer
October 30, 2023
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