Nothing showcases the limitations of the written word better than transcribing an interview and trying to put to paper a part in which the interviewee answers a question with a performance piece. This happened halfway into the interview with Maria Theodorakis and Katerina Kotsonis.
The two came to the Neos Kosmos offices to discuss Little Acorns the hilarious web series that Maria created, in collaboration with Trudy Hellier, featuring Katerina as part of a high energy ensemble of brilliant actresses. The performance piece in question featured Maria Theodorakis, Australian Film Institute Award winner, pretending to hold a wonky tennis racket – loose strings, holes, the works – using it to hit cricket balls: “Misogyny! Sexism! Narrow-mindness! The Greek thing! The wog thing! It’s exhausting!” she concludes, after this little metaphor describes what it means to be a woman in the creative industries and how much energy you have to put into issues that have little or nothing to do with the actual craft of acting or directing.
“If I were a man, I wouldn’t have to come here and say that I’m interested in telling male stories,” she adds.
“But as a woman, that’s what I do, and I’m interested in telling the underdog stories.”
In this case, the underdogs are the staff of a childcare facility. Little Acorns describes their daily activities, in five-minute episodes that expose the day-to-day activities of a childcare facility, offering an anatomy of Australian society.
“Obviously, childcare is a major part of our lives, it is very real to us; it is what allows us to work,” she says, explaining how she and Helliar decided to create a series that sheds light on what goes on behind the scenes and the playgrounds.
“We are marvelling at these fantastic people who are doing a job that is generally overworked, underpaid, and under-appreciated. At the same time we wanted to address this fantastic notion of the ‘haloed’ carer of children and the perfect mothers,” she says, noting that it is the mothers who really ‘cop it’ in the show.
“We also wanted to showcase all the fantastic actresses in our lives that we knew were smart and funny and brave and willing to take risks”.
Katerina Kotsonis is all that. In the series she plays staff member ‘Katerina’ (all the characters’ names are the same as the actors who portray them, “because we’re lazy,” as Maria puts it, not to mention because it made shooting easier).
“I’m also a mother myself – I totally understood where the writing came from, where comedy comes from when it comes to childcare, education, and nursing,” she says.
“Some of the people that I’ve met through those industries are among the wildest people I know,” she adds, explaining the dichotomy between the genuinely gentle and focused approach the characters show when it comes to children, and how rude and outrageous they are around each other and the other adults. “What are those people like, when they go out and have a drink, or when they talk about sex? The whole thing about care is paramount in their heart, but like all of us, when we don’t have to care and are just able to be ourselves, that’s comedy.”
And a hilarious one. The series started off as a TV project; “We had made a little teaser that we funded ourselves, or, basically Katerina and everyone else funded it, because they worked on it for free,” Maria says.
“We were able to create something to take to the networks that they could see and they loved it, but depending on the particular network we would either have to ‘cast stars’, or ‘need to tone this’, because ‘we don’t have this behaviour on television’ or that ‘we don’t have enough money’ or ‘we’ve already got a show with women'”.
As a web series, the show did not have any of these problems.
“We got funding from Screen Australia, which left us alone to do what we wanted.”
The result is a show that has already over 350,000 views on YouTube, something that Maria is hoping to use as leverage in order to finally get it to a network. If not in Australia, then certainly in the US, where there is some interest.
“Trudy and I recently went to Los Angeles to discuss some other projects of ours and they loved the show, they want to do it in America. We’re excited by that idea but after the meetings we were left with the sense that we’ve got a good idea, we’ve got a good show and we want to do this in Australia with this amazing cast and crew,” she adds.
But why would it be so hard to sell the show in Australia?
“Because it’s mainly white, older, liberal, private school-educated men who are making decisions and who just don’t get it, or are too afraid.”
Again, it’s the same issue of representation. The cultural gap between what’s happening in society and how that same society is reflected on television.
“We were told to tone down swearing or some of the behaviours, because they are a bit much for women,” says Maria, raising her eyebrows.
“Really? Do you people actually talk to your wives? It’s not the ’50s! The majority of shows are about white men,” she points out.
“It’s either incredibly white, or the particular culture becomes the focus. I get a little bit weary with seeing culture used as an otherness, what it does is you put a culture on the screen and instead of getting an audience to connect on a human level, it becomes about ‘what food they eat’. But, what we are saying in our show is, that it doesn’t matter who you are, if you’ve both had a child up all night, projectile vomiting on you and you’ve changed the bed six times in a row you have something to talk about that cuts through anything and that’s what interests me.”
Katerina nods in agreement.
Having recently worked on theatre productions such as Taxithi (and set to direct the second part of it), and as a cast member of the acclaimed prison drama Wentworth, she is always going for stories with an edge, but she says that this little comedy has been a particular highlight.
“Because it was inclusive, because my opinions mattered; because I was working in an environment that was respectful and creative; because I got to work with a great ensemble and do something that is different. I had a great identity in the series that I could show it to the audience. I could see that this series can go beyond, it’s got a journey and I want people to come on that journey with us. And I’ll fight for it.”
She says that, raising her fist and then bursts into laughter.
“I have a T-shirt that says ‘Greeks do it better’. I think I’m going to make one that says ‘Greek women do it much better’,” she adds.