BEHIND THE SCENES - Erasmus Mackenna on JUNK: ‘I expose this other health crisis: the crisis of mental illness'

photos JUNK: Robert van der Ree

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From June 25 to June 30, our new generation of talent will present themselves during the be-CONNECTED. Are you curious about the creative outbursts of our students online? Read the interview with Erasmus Mackenna (Theatre Directing) about JUNK and you will already get a taste. Visit the online be-CONNECTED festival and create an account!

‘I expose this other health crisis: the crisis of mental illness'
Director Erasmus Mackenna (21) about JUNK

How do you survive the existential hell of life? In JUNK director Erasmus Mackenna (21) investigates the complexity of living with a mental illness. ‘During corona, suicide attempts among young people have risen sharply.'

Erasmus, what does your audience experience in JUNK?
‘You see four individuals trapped in a straitjacket of mental illness, destruction and lovelessness. They sit on chairs on the stage - figuratively chained. They have nothing to reach each other but their voices. In a dark hole, they search hopelessly for each other. It is their very last attempt to reconcile with themselves and the other, and thus survive the existential hell of existence. To fail means to die, or at least to live on without feeling.’

Wow, that sounds intense!
‘The subject ís intense. In JUNK we explore the complexity and nuances of lives scarred by mental illness. With the performance I want to contribute to breaking the taboos surrounding psychiatric disorders.’

Why do you think it is important to discuss mental illness?
‘Because for years - long before the coronary health crisis - there has been another major international health crisis going on: the mental health crisis. A crisis that is often invisible and even more often taboo. You can see that the figures have exploded during corona, especially among young people. The number of young people making suicide attempts has risen sharply, and so has the number of young people with eating disorders and depression. In the case of covid-19, you see that everything is deployed to get the crisis under control as quickly as possible: time, money, resources and people. This is certainly not the case with the international mental health crisis.’

Do you have experience with mental health problems yourself?
‘Yes, I have a long history of mental illness: depression, suicidality and an anxiety disorder. The struggle with that is still present in my life every day. Several team members and acquaintances of mine also struggle with their mental health. My own experiences and those of people I know were important starting points and sources of inspiration for making JUNK.’

Apart from your own sources of inspiration, did you also use an existing text?  
‘That's right, I chose the text Crave by Sarah Kane. JUNK is the Dutch translation of that text, made by Roel Pronk. Crave is the only play I know of that so deeply and consistently touches the heart of the matter, in both form and content. The core of the daily struggle with the inside of your head, and therefore with the world around you.’

What was your biggest challenge in creating this performance?
‘The text is incredibly compelling. Never before have I, as a director, worked with material that compelled me so much to both move along with what presents itself, and to rebel against and "tear up" the material. That boundary is very sensitive. Navigating and guarding the balance was a challenge, and therefore a joy.’

Finally, why should we absolutely go see JUNK?
‘Our performance is shameless, ugly, direct and honest. In the performance, speaking out about your pain is necessary for survival. Even if there is only one person for whom the performance offers a helping insight, I will be happy. Maybe this person is you.’


Actors Lina Heijmans, Amarenske Haitsma, Damaris de Jong and Thomas Höppener in JUNK