The First Woman to become a stage and screen fight director, Alison de Burgh is no stranger to bows, knives and swords. She shares with First Women her journey to her first which, it seems, was no less of a battle…
I think men guard the status quo through fear
When I told a colleague that I wanted to be a fight director, they said: ‘they’ll never let you.’ And yes, they were pretty mean to me. Men had allowed testosterone to drive their work in the role. I think they were afraid that if I succeeded, it would be shown it’s not necessary to be butch and aggressive to do the job well and they would lose the monopoly.
Integrity was my touchstone
I swore I would never be anybody’s creature and that if I was going to do this thing, from the start I would do it right. I was given no leeway whatsoever. I had directors that outright wouldn’t work with me. I could not make one mistake because they would be down on me like a ton of bricks. Even the males that supported me didn’t publicly declare it – but it’s important to stay impeccable and I never gave them hell for it. I could face them, thinking: ‘I did it, I got here and look, I can still be gracious.’
When I meet resistance, I simply become more determined
Whenever men pulled the ladder up and said ‘sorry, you have to get more qualifications to do this job…’ I just went out and got them.
I am a gentle human being and it helped me to my ‘First’
The actors I work with find it easier to address something they find challenging if you’re not aggressive. It’s a nurturing thing I suppose. For example, if a male actor has to slap a woman for a role, it can be psychologically difficult for them. You can’t say, ‘come on, pull yourself together and get on with it!’ – which I have heard from male directors.
I never celebrated my achievement
When women do well and shout about it, there’s hue and cry that you’re making a feminist point. Women don’t get to celebrate themselves much because of the stick they would get for the ‘point’ it’s assumed they are making.
In the past women fought, they were strong, they ran religion
Now, it’s all about sexual power. Women who get to the top are generally accused of sleeping their way there. I was so determined that I would never be remotely accused of such a thing, that I was eventually nicknamed ‘The Ice Maiden.’
Your greatest support can be the people who simply don’t think that what you are trying to do is weird or radical
My family didn’t understand what I was doing or why. Most men I told immediately sexualised my career and turned it into a ‘Lara Croft’ fantasy. But my archery friends simply treated my aspirations as normal!
Women can learn about confidence from men
Men are innately confident – and I don’t mean they are arrogant, but rather they have strong self-belief and women should take a leaf out of that book. But it is hard! I’m shy and it has taken me years to reach the point that when a man contradicts me, I don’t automatically assume that I must be wrong.
If you are striving for something and change your mind – that’s ok
Do what your gut tells you – even if it says ‘stop chasing this career and have a baby’. Follow your gut and you’ll have no regrets and blame nobody.
I feel proud that I went about getting to where I am the ‘right’ way
More than anything I would hope this encourages other women to do things ‘the right way’ too. It’s nice to think they might say – ‘if she could put up with this rubbish with integrity, we can too.’
Interview by Deborah Willimott
Find out more about First Woman Alison de Burgh at alisondeburgh.co.uk