Meet Deborah McArthur, a Drama Facilitator, Director and Theatre Maker from Glasgow. Her passions are theatre and people and when you meet her you get that. To date she has worked, and continues to collaborate, with a variety of organisations across Scotland, including the Tron Theatre, National Theatre of Scotland, Random Accomplice Theatre Company, Horsecross Arts and Youth Theatre Arts Scotland. She speaks of her work so eloquently and with an infectious energy that it's evident she is doing exactly what she loves and what she was born to do. Currently based at the Tron Theatre as a Drama Officer, Deborah is also working freelance with the Scottish Opera.
After graduating with an HND in Acting and Performance, she headed South to study Drama at The University of Sunderland. Working in theatre hadn't always been the plan per se, but her involvement in a high school production where she played a granny had sparked an interest. A Community Arts module within her college course prompted an interest in devising and directing, and in turn helped her select the degree she wished to apply for. However, her experience of the course confirmed she wouldn't be pursuing a career in acting, but she didn't view it as a wasted opportunity - "I don't think it was a waste of time. I think to work in theatre it's good to know more. The experience you've had shapes what you do in the future. Unless you push something away or are negative towards it, I don't think anything can be a bad experience" .
Deborah is a fantastic storyteller. From on stage with the wonderful works of theatre she creates, to when you're sat right in front of her where she's telling you about the time her brother told his friend at a party (unbeknownst to Deborah!) that she was a mime artist on Buchanan Street, or the awkward moment when she was gifted a voodoo doll from a young person at the end of a project (which turned out to be a voodoo doll for being so AWESOME!!), you are engaged and feel like you are right there. Recounting a story of a former rather quirky physical theatre coach she had at college, she remembers him stressing the importance of embodying a character when acting- not to scratch or fidget as you are then only ever "half doing it". This is a theme that Deborah has embraced wholeheartedly- she doesn't do anything by halves.
I first had the pleasure of meeting and working with Deborah a number of years ago on the child protection and internet safety project Artsnet in primary schools, and she was a dream to collaborate with. Friendly, engaging, organised, a team player and an outstanding facilitator with an abundance of skills and ideas, we clicked and I was so appreciative and motivated by our time working together. Recently we teamed up for a second time when she kindly invited me to work on some choreography for her Youth Theatre show 'Imagine That' at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow. Again being creative with Deborah in the room is made so much more possible- she offers ideas but clears the way for her fellow Creatives to explore and devise their work in the way they want to. Her energy is never intrusive or overbearing-it's ever so encouraging and inspiring.
For Deborah her focus is on others-the participants come first and they are at the forefront of all her planning and delivery. "For younger participants it's about giving them a voice. Everybody's comments and ideas are valid. Whereas with older participants, they have loads to say but when it comes to getting up and doing it that's where their inhibitions come in." . What is always a given when working with non-professionals is the opportunity to help boost self-confidence and provide a platform for people of all ages to explore their potential. "Seeing them understand something...or the penny drop....there's something really beautiful in watching people". Deborah is ever-eager to share her knowledge of theatre with her participants. She sees having a passion for education as a catalyst to unlocking inner confidence. "I don't dull down the language...making sure that they can use that language. Knowledge brings confidence."
Working with a people of all ages, abilities and from all walks of life is a real highlight of the work she so beautifully describes. From Early Years classes where the phrase 'out of the mouths of babes' was almost certainly coined, to her more recent work with dementia patients directing Scottish Opera's 'Memory Spinners' project, the diversity is evidently something that she both enjoys and is comfortable operating within. "Rolling about the floor with a bit of blue fabric over me making some sort of animal noise. I completely lose myself!". Deborah's ability to cast aside any inhibitions to provide the best experience for her participants extends to outside the workshop or rehearsal space. Although a seasoned pro, Deborah is ever keen to expand her knowledge and understanding in order to better herself as a Creative. Next week she is off to London to take part in a full-day workshop on creating with people with Alzheimer's in the Arts. Having a thirst and a willingness to never stop learning is clearly what has steered her to success and she is driven unselfishly by her appreciation and consideration of the people she works with.
Her partner Stuart, family members and friends have always been supportive, with her parents being "proud as punch as they see me doing something I love". Despite some people not always fully understanding what it is she does, Deborah has the support of those closest to her. "Stuart's friends thought I was an actress and their reasoning behind that was that I was very confident and they knew I worked in theatre, so they put two and two together........whereas most of the actresses I know are such complex characters and that's why they are able to morph into someone else, I only know how to be me"
The Passion for the Process
Armed with an initial idea, related themes and a workshop plan, Deborah embarks on the journey of devising a new piece with the intention to work collaboratively from the get-go. She admits "There is a lot of self doubt at the beginning of wondering, 'is the idea enough?'" but in the same instance, reassures her participants, "There's never a bad idea. Some ideas will make something that will be a minute, others will make something that is 5 minutes". It's refreshing to hear that, like myself, Deborah admits she is not immune to the odd creative inner panic and that you don't initially tap into the advice you so readily offer up to your participants. More recently, the reality of her show only being 36 pages of script ignited the fear. "I had heard years ago that it was a minute a page...so this show will only be 36 minutes long!! Then I started thinking really stupid things like we'll put it up 5 minutes late and we'll play the bows out for longer.....and in reality, it ran at 1 hour 16 minutes the first time we ran it!"
With over 10 years' experience, Deborah acknowledges that with that comes the ability and confidence to re-evaluate and adapt your own ways of working. " Creativity when working on a show is one thing.....but more recently I've gotten better at making sure participants understand the workshop experience is just as creative. Its not all about making a show, its about being in a room and being creative that's just as valuable. Looking back at old notepads the workshops are all bullet points....and then I look at plans now and it's like I've written a story! I want us all to immerse ourselves in it and lose ourselves in the 2 hours! And I feel that has come with experience". Never one to rest on her laurels or be complacent, Deborah self-evaluates her facilitation and the work she produces. "It's not about whether it was good or bad because I always think what we make is good. I truly believe in what we do....ask yourself was it successful in delivering what you set out to do?"
Deborah considers herself a very visual person, seeing her work as a series of pictures, with emphasis on keeping things moving and interesting. Constantly sourcing ideas from the world around you and shifting them around in your mind's eye to get it just right means it's virtually impossible to fully switch off from the task in hand. "It's not a job and that's the difference. It's always ticking away, even if I don't realise it. Although, I have gotten better at trying to take personal time which I didn't before. This has just happened....and this will be my 10th year doing this!!". In an attempt to find an unrelated hobby, as a participant in a 10 week fashion course Deborah inadvertently found herself right back at work. "I started to evaluate the facilitation in the session and think how I would have facilitated the workshop and that's when I knew I wouldn't be booking another 10 weeks!".
Fully accepting of the unsociable longs hours that come part in parcel of working in theatre, it's her passion. The fact that she can't fully switch off from it and that it takes up so much of her time just isn't an issue. She accepts the sacrifices made for working in the arts are and she considers them irrelevant when you adore what you're doing. "My brother will say to my niece and nephew as a joke...'Don't grow up and be like your Aunty Deborah. You'll never make any money and you'll spend a lot of your time in imaginary spaces!'".
Tackling the less positive aspects of being a Creative can be daunting for even the most experienced practitioners. Self-doubt is something most deal with and we all have our ways of coping and combating it when it rears it's ugly head. As someone who dreads what I consider the crippling, unproductive pang of self doubt, Deborah's positive spin on it makes me wonder if I should be as fearful as I am. "I think it's self doubt that keeps me right. I think it's needed when I'm working on something".
She fends-off any threat of creative blockages too by drawing on her training and the continued professional development she takes time to nurture, advising that workshop plans can be inspired by something someone else has tried and tested. She also believes that in recognising and focusing on your strengths rather than your weak spots encourages creativity. Many Directors have an angle, one viewpoint or a single statement that they are always selling to the world through their work, which Deborah admits she doesn't possess and initially considered this to be a flaw. " I had a conversation years ago with someone who works in the industry and I had said to him, I don't know what my 'thing' is....if you were to give me money, I don't know what I'd make. And I think that is really telling that participation and working with groups and collaborating with them is where I'm meant to be". Pushing one idea wouldn't be conducive to her work and she is now more accepting of that.
Deborah is such an open book and so giving of herself and her knowledge. The things she has learned and taken on board from others along the way she has exercised to suit her style of facilitation. She can now, with years of experience under her belt, pass on similar advice with confidence. She's got the T-shirt, has it in various colours and is wearing it daily. She stresses that it's important to trust your instincts which she feels she has been able to do more easily having worked in theatre for so long, but there's something in-keeping a hint of self-doubt "as without it you'll get lost in an ego". She has fine-tuned a balance of confidence-meets-self-doubt and they work harmoniously so as not to distract her from being the best she can be in her profession.
Something that struck a chord with me was her idea of creating a tag line or blurb for who you are and what you do. A way of explaining clearly and concisely what you have to offer whenever you're asked to without regurgitating your CV. "Something that means you don't have to over explain yourself". Seems like an obvious thing to do, but often we're so busy doing what we do, we don't take the time or forget to market ourselves as we would the product we are creating.
Deborah is ever the professional and clearly takes what she does very seriously, but she is still able to take a step back from it and get some perspective of the world she is immersed in, "What I do is really important and really meaningful for the participants that are experiencing it but I'm not curing some illness.....this is for enjoyment's sake and so if someone forgets a line and someone goes in the wrong direction the world won't end....and there'll have been something magical in that moment".
First single/album you bought?
"East 17's 'Stay Another Day' on tape"
If you could have an unlimited amount of something, what would it be?
"Accessories...I think I'd quite like to wear all black but it would be the accessories that speak"
Favourite place/city to visit?
"New York, without a doubt!"
Morning person or night owl?
"Morning person. The older I get the better I'm getting
at being an night owl.
Going to bed at midnight...that's Rock and Roll for me!"
"Recently I've realised it's been 'lovely' "
Last book you read?
"Lena Dunham's 'Not That Kind of Girl'"
Biggest pet peeve?
"People smacking when they're eating!"
"I don't think I've got one. I just try to be positive "
Coffee or Tea?
"Nada! No hot drinks, except hot chocolate but only from big chains where it's filled with chocolate powder"
Twitter or Instagram ?
"Instagram....I love a hashtag"
Last song that was stuck in your head?
" Red Red Wine'.
Stuart bought me an 80s album but it's present day artists singing covers"
"Roasted cheese" or "toasted cheese"?
Favourite time of year?
"Autumn. I love the colours and the excitement leading up to Christmas"
If you could do one thing to help the world, what would you do?
"I'd give my time more. I think if everyone gave more time then we'd more considerate of everyone and more understanding"
Deborah is the kind of person who lights up a room when she enters. Her enthusiasm and zest for life is palpable and by being in her company you are simultaneously made to feel at ease but also energized. She has clearly found her niche in life and she excels and delights in every aspect of her work. A gorgeous Creative inside and out, Deborah was the perfect first collaborator for this blog and I will be eternally grateful for the opportunities I've had to work with her and her willingness to support and encourage this venture. Thank you Deborah!
Deborah McArthurDrama Facilitator | Director | Theatre Makerwww.deborahmcarthur.com