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Meet Ali MacLean

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ali MacLean.

Ali, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I think the first play I wrote, directed and starred in was based on a Raggedy Anne record I had, and it was performed on the prestigious stage I created in my parents living room. It wasn’t very well attended beyond family members. I kept writing plays and skits. Writing for me was a way to understand human beings and process.

I found my tribe in the theatre and studied acting and playwriting in college while getting a film and TV degree. I came out to LA to put Shakespeare on film – just like Kenneth Branagh – as one does. Turns out there wasn’t a huge demand for a movie version of Cymbeline. So I began taking improv at the Groundlings and doing stand up at night while I wrote for TV shows during the day.

I have done a little bit of everything out here. I’ve made my own films, written and performed sketch comedy shows, been an on-air radio personality, written for magazines and books, created a few web series, and written plays. I like to write to provoke and make people think differently which is why I mostly write satire. A lot of my writing is topical and touches on issues like violence, depression, racism, poverty, the cult of celebrity, and the media.

Recently, I took a departure from satire and wrote a dramatic play which won a big playwriting award. I’m now writing my follow up. I’ve come full circle and found my home in the theatre again. Writing for TV is great, but I love working in the theatre because I find myself surrounded by empathic people. The world needs more empathy right now. I like to use my words for good, so whenever I can, I lend my talents to non-profits like Peace Over Violence and Everytown/Moms Demand Action.

Has it been a smooth road?
Uh, I’ve worked as a female comedy writer. I have stories that would make Harvey Weinstein blush. The entertainment industry isn’t easy for a writer or a woman. And navigating the comedy writer’s room as a “diversity” hire – which any woman was in the beginning – is a minefield. Gender parity is still an issue, as is age and race.

Luckily there are more shows, and the shows are weirder which is good for someone like me who is allergic to the mainstream. The industry opened up a bit with streaming and takes more chances with content. Plus, we, as artists, have taken our careers into our own hands and created our own shows/web series/YouTube channels, instead of waiting for a development exec to anoint us.

Also, women are creating roles for themselves, buying properties, starting their own production companies, and generally refusing to be put down, Logan’s Run style, after they cross the threshold of 30. Gender parity is still a big issue for female writers in the theatre too, but the numbers are starting to change for the better.

We’d love to hear more about what you do.
I’m known primarily as a comedy writer – I have written for a lot of comedies on TV, done stand up, sketch, and written award-winning film shorts and web series. A few years ago, I co-created and wrote a popular web series called Law Of The Land which was featured in the LA Times. It is on Snag Films: https://www.snagfilms.com/show/title/law-of-the-land. I just finished shooting another one called Wags To Riches.

Those two were silly and broad, but my writing is primarily satire. I write political humor and satire for online sites like Mad Magazine and Pypo. My TV scripts, like the one I am pitching right now, tend to be really dark, black comedy. They teeter on the edge of “ouch,” and people aren’t sure whether or not to laugh, which is right where I want them.

I’m really proud of the play I wrote last year, She’s Not There. It explores the experience of mental illness from both sides of a relationship and the damage it can do. The play is funny, but it challenges the audience and can make them very uncomfortable. It starts out as a straightforward meet-cute but then devolves into a horror show complete with an actual monster.

Someone described it as “Annie Hall meets The Babadook,” and that is a pretty apt description. My goal is to have it tour, and after every performance, there be a talkback for the audience with the actors and mental health professional. I want to spark a dialogue about depression, so the subject is no longer taboo.

Where do you see your industry going over the next 5-10 years?  Any big shifts, changes, trends, etc?
I hope that streaming continues to open up opportunities for television writers. And I hope people will still watch cable! Some of the best writing is on TV right now, and that is partly because a lot of playwrights are writing for TV.

I hope that gender parity will still be an issue at the forefront in the film biz and in the theatre. Scratch that. I hope it isn’t even an issue in five years because women are running the world.

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Image Credit:

Rob Eves, Michael Rababy, Megan Duffy, Merrilyn Roman

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