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Director Debbie Hannan: ‘You are entitled to be here and theatre needs you to be yourself’

Director Debbie Hannan. Photo: Quang Kien Van

I didn’t speak for two weeks on my first job, and I ended it having a voice. It was career and life-changing – I learned the craft while making work I cared about and was set firmly on a path of being able to make more in the future.

That job was assisting Vicky Featherstone and John Tiffany on a National Theatre of Scotland show called Enquirer [1] in 2012. It was a site-specific, promenade, verbatim piece, programmed as a rapid response to the Leveson Inquiry and the crisis in journalism. Compiled from the anonymous words of more than 40 journalists, it was originally performed on the top floor of Glasgow’s digital media quarter, with a 360-degree view of the city.

The opportunity came about the summer after I graduated from a master’s in directing at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. A family member was unwell, so I hadn’t caught hold of that post graduation momentum, and instead I was selling tickets in the (brilliant) local indie cinema in Glasgow. I spent my shifts trawling Scottish arts websites, and feeling very conscious that I didn’t have an ‘in’ anywhere.

One day, on the NTS website, I saw an advert for the Bank of Scotland Emerge programme, which supported writers, theatremakers and directors in taking a next step with the company. They didn’t have a title for the show at that point, but I cared deeply.

It was an open application and I applied cold. Those kind of applications can seem pointless when you’re not sure what you have to offer, and you’re convinced others have a way in. They might, but fuck it. I urge anyone who’s ever felt that wiggle of doubt to apply anyway and state their worth front and centre. We don’t need any more of the same – we need difference. The open application is one of the most important ways of finding those who don’t have already have industry connections.

As a working-class person who had no entitlement to theatre and took time to find her feet, I want you to know you are entitled to be here, and theatre, if not always the buildings, needs you to be the most yourself you can be.

CV: Debbie Hannan

Age: 30
Training: Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
Theatre includes: as director: Cuckoo (Soho Theatre); Primetime, Who Cares (Royal Court);
Lot and his God (Citizens Theatre).
As assistant: The Internet is Serious Business, How to Hold Your Breath (Royal Court); Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour (Duke of York’s)
Agent: Independent

Debbie Hannan is associate director at the Bunker Theatre. She was talking to John Byrne