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Hanna Pyliotis, a theatre maker and playwright, discusses her play that challenges the traditional portrayal of stepmothers in fairy tales. Inspired by her own experience as a stepmother, Hanna delves into the backstory and life of the stepmother character from Cinderella, exploring themes of love, motherhood, loss, and societal expectations. She aims to humanise stepmothers and create a more balanced and compassionate narrative around their role. Hanna is currently seeking funding to bring the play to life in Australia and France, with the hope of sparking dialogue and empathy among audiences, particularly those in blended families

Hanna Pyliotis: There are moments in my parenting where in the back of my head I have had these thoughts of, oh, be careful because you don’t want to be seen as the evil stepmother. And I don’t find that narrative very helpful.

Laura Jenkins: In The Blend is a podcast series that helps parents navigate life within a blended family. Join me as I speak with experts and guests to get practical advice on how to have a harmonious blended family life. This series dives deep into the unique dynamics, logistics and challenges of raising a blended family. From new partners to juggling mixed finances, we will help guide you through it. Welcome back to In The Blend. Today, we have the pleasure of diving into the world of playwriting with the very talented Hanna Piliotis. Hanna is a playwright living in France, and she is on a mission to rewrite the narrative around stepmothers. In this episode, we delve into what led Hanna into her inspiring line of work. We learn all about the latest play that she is hoping to bring to Melbourne in September this year and the impact that she hopes to make on the perception of stepmothers in the process. Before we dive into today’s episode, I do have a quick request. If you’ve been enjoying the content on In The Blend, would love if you could please take a moment to subscribe to the podcast. And if you’re feeling extra generous, consider leaving a rating and review. This ensures we can continue to provide you with meaningful content and reach even more people like you. All right, let’s jump in. Well, welcome, Hanna. It is an absolute delight to be speaking with you today. Hanna, can you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself and your background in playwriting as well? Hanna’s coming to us live from Paris this morning or this evening, depending where you are in the world.

Hanna Pyliotis: This morning.

Laura Jenkins: This morning. Thanks for getting up early.

Hanna Pyliotis: That’s all right. It’s great. I’ve got my morning face on so nobody can actually see that, which is good. Well, so as my name is Hanna and I am a theatre maker living in France and I’m Australian theatre maker and I have been living here for the last 17 years, which was never the plan. So this is don’t make plans. And I originally, I left Australia in my late twenties to to meet my mother’s family and my father’s family. I’m first-generation Australian and my mother is Algerian and my father is Greek-Russian, so I really wanted to just kind of like dig into my family origins. And part of this first-generation Australian is that I grew up in a household where we were not encouraged to pursue a career in the arts. It was very much, like at my house, was about getting an education, finishing your university and getting a real job and arts was very much as a hobby. So when I discovered theatre and dropped out of university, much to my mother’s absolute horror, and fell in love with theatre and fell in love with storytelling, I dove straight in and I was working in Australia as a lot in community theater, because I was very much interested in stories that, you know, that my family might be telling. And it just got to a point where I wanted to figure out my own stories, my origin and sort of kind of develop my crafts. So I came overseas to Europe On my way back from Algeria there was a course starting in France the day I arrived back because I had to fly in the night of France and it was this international theatre school run by a man called Philippe Golier who’s this kind of reputed clown teacher. So I enrolled in clown studies and it was this absolutely brilliant time because it’s a school which is full of international artists and exceptional talent and who, you know, who are really motivated and very inspiring. And Philippe is this exceptional teacher who, who, who works with a drum. And so, you know, you go on stage and you improvise and if you’re boring, he, he bangs his drum and tells you to get off. So obviously this kind of, this pressure, And it meant you had to really kind of fight to be engaging, you had to fight to be interesting. And I think it was at this school that I started writing and started working with this idea of a drama, how to write stories that were interesting, engaging. And I began working as a solo theatre maker. I started writing my own shows and touring those shows in festivals in Europe. And then I started working with a theater company here, which I’m currently working with, which is a theater company that works in French schools and produces shows in English. So they approached me, they’re called Dramatize, and they approached me about writing a show for their school’s audiences. And obviously the challenge of writing for a French school’s public in English is how do you make these shows engaging when there’s text and they don’t actually understand a lot of what you’re saying. So I started working with fairy tales because, you know, fairy tales are just fantastic. They’re scary, they’ve got adventure, they’re like young people, they’re heroes. There’s a capacity to adapt them for like, you know, to have modern retellings of them. They’re epic, they’re so big. and they’re universal stories. So, you know, they can be told across world cultures, which is really wonderful. And so I suppose, you know, my interest as a playwright is about, you know, writing universal stories with this kind of like, you know, the pressure of the drum, like to not be boring, to write stories that are engaging would also speak to an audience of people like my family.

Laura Jenkins: What inspired you then with that background to delve into the rewriting of the narrative around stepmothers? So is it based on your own personal experience? For a bit of the two?

Hanna Pyliotis: That’s yeah, it’s the two like yes that would that would be the big reveal. I am a stepmother so obviously I am very much empathized with the character of the stepmother from I mean in general in fairy tales I really because you know the character of the stepmother comes a lot it’s I’ve written a play that’s inspired by the stepmother from Cinderella but the stepmother’s there’s stepmother character that features in a lot of fairy tales and I guess what’s kind of interesting to note is that a lot of these stepmother characters were at their origins they were mothers and it was only did you know this like I found this fascinating when I discovered this it’s like It’s only when the Grimm’s brothers like started to kind of, they wanted to make fairy tales much more digestible for young audiences. They thought, oh no, it’s too much to have the mother telling the father to lead the kids out into the woods. Let’s make it the stepmother. I found that really interesting. Yeah. So there was obviously my own personal experience. And then there was also as an actor and as a playwright, I’ve always been interested in performing women that are the strong and flawed, because these are the women that I grew up with, and also I’ve always, I’m interested as a playwright in, you know, how to make these kind of traditionally unlovable characters lovable. How could I make an audience, like, follow the story of this woman and in the end be rooting for her and hoping that she succeeds even if at the end she doesn’t. That’s kind of why I was really much inspired to write a play based on a stepmother.

Laura Jenkins: I love it. What are the themes that the play explores?

Hanna Pyliotis: It’s inspired by the character of the stepmother from Cinderella and it tells her story and she’s the main character and her name is Mara and so I’ve given her a name and it tells the story of her life before she becomes a stepmother. So it tells the story of her life before the story that we know as the story of the second marriage, marrying this man, etc, etc. And it looks at her, you know, her life experience. So if you look at the story of the stepmother in Seddon Cinderella, she plays so many roles. Like before she’s a stepmother, she is a newlywed, so she falls in love. she leaves her own family to start a new family. She’s an expected mother, so I look at the fears and the hopes and the self-doubts and all that stuff that come with being an expected mother. And then she’s a new mother, she has two daughters, so I was very much interested in looking at how her her love for her children, how we as mothers learn mothering from our own mothers and learn, you know, learn how to mother maybe from what we receive from mothers or what we decide that we don’t want a mother like our mothers. I was very much interested in writing a story about her as a mother because I think that’s quite overlooked. Like we are always like she starts as being a stepmother sort of devoid of any kind of maternal So I was very much interested in looking at motherhood within the story of this woman. And I think what’s really interesting is after she becomes a new mother, she becomes a grieving widow. So she experiences, looks at loss. It looks at the loss of a partner, the loss of the two daughters of their father. And then she’s a single mother and we never really looked at what that means to be a single mother. I mean I know that all my friends who are single parents or single mothers, there’s like a massive amount of pressure and responsibility with this role. So all of these kind of roles this one woman plays and I just thought that she was just a fantastic character to explore and there’s a lot of possibility of exploration within these roles. And then after that, there’s a story that we know as Cinderella, and I’ve sort of kind of, I’ve written her, from her point of view, from her perspective of entering to this house where she marries a very wealthy man. So, you know, with that comes this idea of there’s Like we all know the pressure of finances in marriage and what happens when you marry someone from a higher social class than you. And also it looks at how this, the man is, it’s his second marriage, not from divorce. It’s a second marriage from grief and the wife, his wife dies and his wife is, is mostly described in all these stories about the stepmother that the wife is described as the kindest creature on earth and she is intelligent and beautiful and you know those are very big shoes to fill. So it looks at all these themes that this really rich epic story brings up and I guess apart from this kind of rewriting of this idea of being a stepmother as devoid of love and this kind of idea that a stepmother is intrinsically evil and incapable of caregiving is this kind of big universal theme that we as humans, we have the capacity for great love and we also have the capacity for for cruelty and it’s just not one or the other, like good mother, bad mother, good mother, bad stepmother.

Laura Jenkins: Do you think you can pinpoint what it is that really motivated you to change or challenge that traditional portrayal? I think

Hanna Pyliotis: I think it’s based on personal experience and I really empathized with this character. The more I read about her, the more I felt like this is a story, the story that we’re telling around this woman is so unbalanced and it’s not really reflective of how quite, you know, complicated the role is and how potentially gratifying the role is. It’s not just about it being difficult or about it being I just, yeah, it’s based on my own personal experience. And, you know, I know that there are moments in my parenting where the back of my head, I have had these thoughts of, Oh, be careful because you don’t want to be seen as the evil stepmother. And I don’t find that, that narrative very helpful. And I know that I’ve spoken with a lot of women who, cause I did a lot of interviews researching for the story. I’ve spoken to a lot of women who’ve had that same experience. And I think, I was motivated by speaking with a lot of children from stepfamilies who, you know, I started speaking about the project and I understood I was onto something really rich. When I started speaking about the project and initially I would receive comments like, oh yeah, my stepmother was evil, which I just thought, oh, that’s interesting. That’s an interesting, that’s interesting. It’s not like, oh, I didn’t get along. I don’t think I really liked her. It’s like this, you know, immediately we, it’s this language, we hit this language of evil and wicked. And I wanted to just challenge that because, you know, I am myself challenged in this role.

Laura Jenkins: Yeah, but not wicked.

Hanna Pyliotis: No, no, not wicked. I’m not, but I just, I think that’s the thing. I think what’s kind of curious is that as a mother, I would be lying if there were not moments as a mother that I think, oh my son, you’re so annoying. If you were, I could get stuff done. I could not look like I’m sleep deprived. I might actually have a face that doesn’t look like an 80 year old. All those thoughts, I have them as a mother. And I actually really think that that’s also a part of being a stepmother because, of course, but yet we’re not allowed to say, ah, you, like, this is frustrating because, you know, for whatever reasons, whatever pressure, whatever, I think it’s just interesting that we don’t speak about it or it’s not written about or we’re too scared to say,

Laura Jenkins: Oh, definitely. It’s fascinating. With that perception of stepmothers being that way, as we’ve described, how have you then gone about humanising them and adding that depth to the stepmothers or stepmother in your play as well?

Hanna Pyliotis: Well, there’s a couple of ways. So obviously I’ve given her a backstory. So I’ve given her a really rich life. I’ve given her details that I hope that other people might see themselves in. So I think that that’s one, so it means that the audience has a capacity to empathize with her story because I think that’s what’s missing from the narrative of the stepmother. There’s not a lot of room for empathy because she’s just evil from the beginning. So I’ve given her a context. I’ve also looked at kind of these stereotypes of stepmothers and how she’s written and how she’s written as being the moment she enters the house she just hates the kid because she’s jealous and she’s vain. There’s a version of Cinderella written by an Italian writer and it’s a really old version and in this version the woman who eventually becomes a stepmother is actually Cinderella’s governess. So and Cinderella absolutely loves her governess and the governess absolutely loves Cinderella and when the father’s wife dies, I won’t explain to you why because it’s actually very dark. When the father’s wife dies, she wants the father to marry her governess and he does marry the governess and they’re really happy at the beginning and then the governess calls for her daughters that she’s kept secret. I found that like, yeah, and I found that a really wonderful way, I was really interested in how could I tell a story of a loving relationship that, you know, eventually starts to disintegrate but it begins from love. And I was inspired by this story and I was also inspired by a play, a film called Roma. Have you seen Roma? No, I haven’t. Well it’s by a Mexican director called Alfonso Quaron and it’s about a housekeeper who is part of a very upper class family and this housekeeper becomes integral to the family and she loves the children and she actually almost, she risks their life for the kids and I thought this was a really interesting way and I’ve sort of been inspired by these storylines and I’ve put the character called Mara who’s at the center of the story as initially a governess to the character that’s based on Cinderella. I’ve put at the center of the story Mara and when she enters that house she enters as a governess so she takes care of the daughter of this family. She becomes integral to the family. She begins to love the daughter as her own and she begins to fall in love with the mother and the father. She’s really swept up by this family that’s had a lot of opportunity that she never has. And what I wanted to do was instead of pitching the stepmother against her stepdaughter, I wanted to look at how the relationships between the two women, between the pressure of her filling the shoes of her becoming the second wife, what that might eventually do or how that might eventually lead to a deterioration of relationship between her and her stepdaughter. But not so much about her in conflict with her stepdaughter, that’s one of the That’s how I’ve given depth and wanted to challenge a bit the storyline of the evil stepmother.

Laura Jenkins:
Interesting. So are you looking to bring this play to life, Hanna? In Australia? In France?

Hanna Pyliotis:
So we’re looking for funding, for private funding and public funding. I have, an actor, I have a director, I have a musician, I seem to even have a producer, and we’re looking for money. And I’m actually also really fortunate for this project to be partnering with Step Families Australia. Amazing. Yeah, so they’re giving us a lot of support. And if you would like to see the show produced, so we have dates in September at the Mama Theatre in Carlton in Melbourne. So if you would like to see the show produced, you can make a tax-deductible donation to Step Families Australia. So yes, tax-deductible donation which will help get the show produced initially in Australia and then there is that that I’m trying to get it produced simultaneously in France.

Laura Jenkins: Amazing, amazing. It’s so inspiring what you’re doing and I’m really, really hopeful that this gets off the ground in particular because I live just a short flight away from Melbourne. I’m based in Sydney so I will be jumping on the first plane down there to see this when it comes to live.

Hanna Pyliotis: I hope so.

Laura Jenkins: How do you go about casting? I know you said you’ve got a few roles already. What sort of considerations are made to ensure that you’ve got that diverse and authentic representation of the people in the cast?

Hanna Pyliotis: It’s a solo show, so there’s only one performer. Initially, when I wrote the show, I had imagined performing the part because I wrote a lot of solo shows and self-produced. But this was a play that the more I wrote it and the more I wanted to see what somebody else would do with it. And I also was very much excited about this big project being an opportunity for me to find a way to bridge my artistic relationship with France and my artistic relationship with Australia. Because when I left Australia all those years ago, it was always with the intention of coming back and working with the artistic community in Australia. So I had finished the show, I’d finished writing the show in France and then I started knocking on doors, like writing emails, calling people that I knew within the Australian arts community and saying, I’ve written this play, would you like to be involved? Do you know someone who would like to be involved? Do you know anyone who could perform this part? Because, you know, at this point I’m not, I’m actually not offering anyone money. I’m like, do you want to come on board? Which is a big, big ask because I’m okay to, you know, put my life, my love and guts into this project because I believe in it. But it’s, it’s, it’s a big ask to ask of artists who, you know, we’re so, they’re so used to working for free. A name kept coming back, a name of an actor called Aurora Kurth. And Aurora Kurth is an actor I saw perform at the Mumma Theatre in Melbourne many years ago. And I saw her perform. And at the end of the show, I said to my friend in the audience, I want to be her when I grow up. She was just sensational. Oh, amazing. And so, yeah, and her name kept on coming up. So I thought, OK, I’m going to I’m going to send her an email. I’m going to introduce myself and I’ll see if she’d be interested in reading the script. And she said, yes, send it. And I sent it. She read it. She said, I love it. I’d love to be involved. And I just, I took it from there. Yeah. So she, she is on board for the project, which I’m absolutely grateful for. So I didn’t actually in this process haven’t, I haven’t as much as, you know, casting a diverse is really important. My focus has been from the beginning is how do I get this story from script to stage and how do I tell this, get this diverse story seen by hopefully a very diverse audience.

Laura Jenkins: I’m curious to ask you, what impact do you hope the play will have on audiences, especially those who’ve got those preconceived perceptions, perhaps, about stepmothers?

Hanna Pyliotis: There’s kind of two impacts, big impacts I hope that the play will have. One, which goes back to kind of what motivates me as an artist, is that I hope through, you know, through platforms like this podcast, I hope through the partnership with stepfamilies, Australia that it attracts an audience of non-traditional theatre goers and people who would love to hear a story that they might themselves might see themselves in. So I’m really, I’m hopeful that the story will go, you know, will attract an audience of blended families. I hope that the play might inspire dialogue that’s a little bit more honest and compassionate and balanced around step-parenting. And I hope that people will start to reconsider the language that they use around their own stepmothers and their own experience as a stepmother. I already feel like in speaking to people about the show that it has the potential to do that, so I’m really excited about that. I hope that if people from blended families come to see the show, they might see some of their own lived experiences in the story.

Laura Jenkins: Absolutely. It’s making me think a little bit about a previous guest I had on the show who wrote a book called The Tales of Virtuous Stepmothers and the book was designed to counter the traditional view of the stepmother or that narrative and I’m just so inspired by the work that you and her are doing in this space to try and counter that because I think I think someone needs to do it. Someone needs to do it and help to shed a little bit of light on what it is really like to be a step mum. So just absolutely massive kudos to you and congratulations for all of your work in getting it to this stage. And I really do, as I said earlier, have my fingers crossed that you’ll get the funding you need and you’ll be able to run it in Melbourne later in the year. Hanna, we’re almost at time here, but are there any final comments or thoughts that you’d like to share before we wrap up today?

Hanna Pyliotis:
Well, I would love to say to your audience that the show will be performing on the 17th, 18th and 19th of September, come rain or what is that expression? Rain, hail, shine. rain, hail, or shine. And it’s part of a festival at La Mama Theatre called Exploration. So what’s really exciting about this festival, it’s an opportunity for audience to come and give feedback. So it would be brilliant if people could come to support the show and then there’s the opportunity to speak afterwards and give feedback and about the project. Amazing.

Laura Jenkins: Fantastic. Well, thank you so much, Hanna, and we’ll make sure we link to all of the relevant details in the show notes for the episode as well. Once again, just love what you’re doing and so appreciate your time today to tell us more about this exciting project you’ve been working on.

Hanna Pyliotis:
Well, thank you so much for inviting me and thank you so much for supporting the project. It’s so wonderful to have this opportunity to speak to a community that I may not normally have access to. So, thank you very much. Absolutely.

Laura Jenkins: Thanks, Hanna. Thanks for listening to the In The Blend podcast. The show notes for this episode are available at And if you like what you heard, be sure to subscribe and please rate and review in your podcasting app. You can also follow me on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.