Allison Wottawa is exactly the kind of person you want telling you about interesting places and the histories and stories that made them that way. She's energetic, smart, and glows on camera. As you'll read in our interview below and see in the below videos, Allison is the creator and host of an online travel series called Ally Quest.
Her show, which is produced to accommodate a future on television but is broken into easily digestible YouTube segments, is described on her website as "the ultimate show for anyone who has ever wanted to travel in time." Which is, for me at least, the ultimate dream. (And probably why I enjoy watching her show so much.)
I had a chance to talk with Allison about her background, her inspiration, and where the show is headed. And judging by her groundedness, passion, and quality of product, it's easy to see that Allison's star is on its way up.
Tell me a little about your background leading up to this series.
My college adviser said to me, "Allison, do you know the secret of happiness?" Of course, I didn't.
"The secret of happiness," he continued, " is doing what you love and getting someone to pay you for it." This is how I live my life.
I've been an actor and a producer for as long as I can remember, starting in theatre when I was six, coupled with a tremendous fascination for history. History is, after all, a story that examines who we are, where we came from, how we got here.
I graduated from The George Washington University with a major in Political Communications and minors in Theatre and History, then followed my passion across the Atlantic and attended graduate school at Drama Studio London, receiving the English equivalent of an MFA.
What inspired you to create this series?
After graduation, I promptly moved to Los Angeles to pursue my career in acting. Los Angeles is a great city with so much opportunity and fabulous weather. But I felt that something was lacking. I wasn't feeling the "passion" and my career seemed somewhat empty. I couldn't figure out how my career in acting was helping anyone.
I thought of my college adviser. What do I love? Easy. Travel, history, communicating to an audience. That's when Ally Quest was born.
I know this sounds cliche, but I have always wanted to make a difference in a positive way. Of course, I am also completely selfish and want to travel the world. I have a yearning to learn as much as I can about places and the people that live there. My natural gift is communication.
So, traveling the world while researching a point in history, and relaying that information through the lens of the camera -- well, that's just me. If I can do anything in the world, I'm going to do that! My Mom always said, "You can do anything you put your mind to." And I believe her.
I'm also a bit of a nerd with a fascination for time travel. Quantum Leap, The Highlander, Back to the Future -- all of my favorite things growing up. Anything that gives you a peek into the past, what it was like to live during another time period.
As not to overwhelm our audience, instead of presenting the entire history of place, Ally Quest goes back in time to a specific decade and shows audiences how they can experience that time period today. We give our audiences a window to the past, then show them how to climb through it.
Who do you hope Ally Quest reaches, and with what result?
I want people to get off their couches and travel. See the world from a different perspective, even if that means appreciating that the restaurant down the street was once an 1880s stage coach stop on the Wells Fargo Stage Coach line and traveling down the Pacific Coast was not an easy or safe task.
Ride the little funicular downtown, realize it was the main source of transportation for people in the early 1900s. Understand what it's like for a country like the United States to be involved in WWII, the immense ups and downs, stark deprivation to massive celebrations in a matter of a few years.
Exposure to different places and different people breeds understanding. When we learn about other cultures, ways of life, what people went through in different circumstances and time periods, we learn more about ourselves. I want to give our audience a historical perspective, an understanding for a different time and place, but in a fun and light way.
I also think that good, quality television has taken a backseat to other types of "reality" shows. I think it's time for the pendulum to swing back a bit. Mostly, I want people to see that traveling with a context for history is fun, and give them a much richer, fuller experience.
What has been your favorite quest so far, and why?
My favorite quest, so far, is probably Catalina Island (see videos below). Catalina is an amazing place because it's so secluded from the rest of the world that you really feel that you are stepping back in time.
I believe that you can find history or hints of the past wherever you look, but in Catalina it's staring at you in the face. The island looks as it did in 1920s. You can stay in the William Wrigley's actual mansion, have dinner in the Chicago Cubs' former locker room, and then you have the Catalina Casino, which is just amazing! The theatre is just as brilliant as it was when it was built in 1929 and the island still plays films there, every day. There are also these little hidden finds, like Wrigley's private viewing room and the film room with the actual 1929 and 1930s film cameras. Filming while driving the golf cart was also a load of fun!
I am also very excited about our upcoming series that explores the ancient Maya of the Yucatan in Mexico around 900 AD. This is our first group of international episodes and the Maya are such an amazing, giving, and spiritual people. The Yucatan is so exotic. This is going to be quite different from our other episodes. We filmed in June and we are anticipating a release in September.
Do you anticipate bringing Ally Quest to TV audiences?
Definitely. Ally Quest has always been (at least in my brain) a half-hour series. We started releasing episodes on the web to build our audience before approaching networks. We are actually in talks for possible television distribution right now. Ally Quest may be on a television near you very soon!
Watch her Catalina Island episode below: