How Yorkshire performer is staying positive after professional stage debut postponed due to Covid

Lucy Ireland, 22, was set to begin her first professional performance role in April. Laura Reid speaks to her about what she’s been doing at home in Harrogate instead.

Musician and actor Lucy Ireland. Credit: Ernesto Rogata.

The timing was unfortunate to say the least. Just a week before actor and musician Lucy Ireland was about to start rehearsals after securing her first professional performing job in the arts, the industry shuddered to a halt.

The UK tour of Footloose The Musical, in which the 22-year-old had landed a role, had been set to get underway a month after the nation was thrust into lockdown. But with the shutdown of theatres and live events amid the Covid-19 crisis, marking the start of a period of ‘lights out’ at performance venues up and down the country, the tour was put on hold.

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Eight months later and with England now in lockdown mark two, getting on the road still seems a distant prospect. But Lucy remains hopeful that with 2021, her postponed professional debut will come. “Obviously I was devastated,” she says, speaking via video call from her family home in Harrogate. “But I tried to keep hopeful...As things got pushed back I just thought whenever it is, as long as it is postponed and planned to go ahead at some point, I’m still going to have hope.”

Lucy, of Harrogate, has been keeping busy after the Footloose tour was postponed. Photo: Ernesto Rogata.

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She received news of her place in the show in a call from her agent last November, just months after graduating from the Guildford School of Acting (GSA). She’d moved to London and had been juggling tutoring piano, with holding singing lessons and working on a handful of writing and composing commissions, whilst attending up to five auditions a month.

“When I had the [Footloose] recalls, I kept thinking oh my goodness, this isn’t happening,” Lucy recalls. “Then when I got the call from my agent, they were like we’ve just had a call from the casting director and they want you. I was crying. I was with my friend saying I got it, I got it, I got it, I can’t believe it. Then I rang my mum and told her.

“I was very excited and surprised really. Though I think I knew by then that it was going to be good news, because if it was a no, I think my agent would have emailed me. I had missed calls from them, so I started thinking maybe it was positive.

“I couldn’t believe it. It was the next best news I’d had since I found out I got into GSA. I didn’t expect to get anything in my first year outside of drama school. I just thought to myself you’re going to have a year of auditioning, get yourself out in the industry, meet some casting directors - and then I got it.”

No one could have predicted what was to follow. Before she’d even stepped foot into a rehearsal studio with Selladoor Productions, one of the leading producers of mid- and large-scale touring theatre, the coronavirus dashed Lucy’s hopes of getting on the road in April. Her name still appears on the Footloose cast bill on the company’s website – alongside Bradford-born Gareth Gates and singer, actor and television presenter Darren Day – and Selladoor says it is working to reschedule dates for the tour.

In the meantime, Lucy, who also plays clarinet and saxophone, has turned what she thought would be a quiet year, with no singing, acting or musical projects lined up, into a busy few months of creative activity.

She’s carried on her music and singing teaching virtually, has taken part in a number of online concert performances and has continued collaborating with writing partner Ben Barrow, who she met at GSA and who also secured a place in the Footloose tour. Together, they put a call out for singers on social media and produced virtual choir versions of two of their previously written original songs, releasing the videos on YouTube.

“We decided to do something to promote joy and hope throughout lockdown because it was obviously very difficult for people,” Lucy explains. “The response was absolutely amazing. People were saying it was inspiring and uplifting in a dark time. We decided as well throughout the [first] song to put some quotes and messages in from people about keeping going and persevering.”

Perhaps the biggest project for the pair over the past few months, and one which is still ongoing, has been the development of a song cycle, a collection of pieces designed to be performed together as show.

Ben lives in Cumbria so the duo have been working together virtually on everything from the lyrics to the melody, as well as vocals and edits. “It’s all been through Zoom or just sending each other voice notes,” Lucy says. “At first it felt very weird. It’s hard because you get a lot of lag so if we’re trying to practice it and I’m singing, I’ll be half a second behind him. But we’ve managed it. We’ve nearly written the show and we’ve been able to do it just by going back and forth and discussing things.”

It is not the first venture into writing for Lucy, who first attended a theatre arts school at the age of just three, her family then living near Hull in the east of the county. “I always used to sing and dance around the house and I think my mum knew I had some sort of singing ability from a young age,” she says.

“My parents wanted me to try everything and give me the best opportunity to nurture any talents and passions. I always enjoyed it, I loved it. I just didn’t know I could potentially pursue it as a career later on in life.”

Lucy was interested in songwriting in her teenage years and performed in many amateur productions both at mainstream school and through a theatre centre that she attended on weekends, where she also had the opportunity to get involved in directing and arranging. After meeting Ben at drama school, she also began composing musical theatre.

The firs tmusical the pair devised was based on the storyline of a film, but they couldn’t secure the rights to have it performed. They then wrote their own musical, inviting an audience along to see it as a workshop production. “That was a really good learning experience,” Lucy reflects. “We knew it was a good show but it wasn’t quite there in terms of being something successful.”

And so it was, when the global pandemic took hold, that the duo turned to creating a song cycle instead. With a working title of From Here, it explores the idea of beginnings and endings and the pair are in talks with a producer about having it performed as a show in 2021.

“I think my heart truly lies with performing and I want to be on stage for as long as I possibly can,” Lucy admits. “But being in the room of a rehearsal process is an amazing thing, as a writer, as an actor, a performer, as a musical director. Being part of the process is great.”

She continues to wait patiently to be part of that process with the Footloose tour.

“I’m a swing, which is someone who covers multiple roles,” she says. “So what happens whenever another company member is sick or has holiday, I go on and cover. I have to learn more than one part and be ready to just jump in at the last minute.

“It’s perfect for a first job because you get experience doing different things and also get to play so many different characters. I think it’s going to be super tricky but really amazing.”

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