The opening of Rotondes’ new production Wellbeing – Mental Noise is just around the corner. This documentary play is the culmination of a long process of research and creative work, and was initiated by Ministry of Education, Children and Youth to accompany a data update about youth’s situation in Luxembourg in 2021. We have met three people, who were involved at different stages of the project, including the director, Nathalie Moyen.
The director Nathalie Moyen
Nathalie, you have been working with young people for 15 years. Still, were you surprised by what came back from the workshops and by what you heard?
I’m always impressed. Each young person is unique. All humans are of course, but adults usually function according to pre-established patterns, whereas teens are more all over the place. In the beginning of the project I actually thought I’d be exploring a certain theme but I quickly realised that it didn’t fit with the needs of young people at that moment. What often came up was fear: of the future, of not living up to expectations, of letting down people around them, of doing things wrong…
Apart from the preparatory workshops, did the notebooks used by the young people also help you understand teenagers and orient your work?
I don’t think it’s possible to ever really understand a person, because nobody has the exact same experiences. But the notebooks took me through so many emotions! For young people, everything is a discovery. They are in a transitional phase, between wanting to stay a child and become an adult. Despite their short existence, they have already understood so many things, even though they don’t always have the words to express it or the capacity to judge what is wrong or right. They don’t have the same protection as when they were children, reality hits them and they feel lost emotionally.
The core aim of the project is to show how important it is for young people to be able to express themselves. They must be given a voice and their words must be taken seriously. It’s important also to let them go through all these difficult emotions. A lot of young people told me: “I have so much going on in my head that I can’t concentrate at school”. I agree with the Belgian educational psychologist Bruno Humbeeck when he says that we need to create spaces in schools where everyone can say what’s on their minds without being judged.
The young people must have talked about a lot of different things during the workshops and in their notebooks, and raised a lot of different issues. Did you have to make choices, reduce certain themes?
In the play, I’ve tried to include about 80% of the notebooks. There were around a hundred of them, each with 10 to 20 pages and I took each page seriously. I could have made a trilogy! To reflect upon the different concerns, there are three characters. There is Benoit who is troubled by an impending change in his life. There is talk about moving to an unknown country without knowing how to make new friends. Jil is the second character. Her real life is too painful, so she tries to escape into her own thoughts. The third character, played by Thomas, is darker. At one point he will really hate the whole world.
It’s one of the most difficult projects I’ve done so far. It’s been extremely challenging because I can’t just rely on my imagination. I have to explain the real life of teenagers in one hour! There are so many emotions in life and so many ways to interpret them. It’s complicated but exciting!
Is there a message you want to get across with this play?
My aim with Wellbeing is to document the state of young people so that they can see that they are not alone in their emotions, to emphasise that it is necessary to talk about how we feel, and even to awaken emotions in those who have learnt to close themselves off in order to function.
What is also important to me is that adults who come to see the play try to put themselves in the shoes of a teenager and remember what it was like, so they will maybe listen more attentively next time a young person talks to them. But I’m not here to lecture. The show is simply there to talk about what being human entails: emotions, experiences, questions we ask ourselves…