An important part of the show consists of interviews with students about their experiences, with actors reenacting the interviews, which is called recorded delivery. For example, the show includes a story about a student who had accidentally started dealing drugs and a story about a student who ended up in a coma after taking MDMA. The performance also includes more classical forms of theatre, such as monologues, scenes and songs.

About ‘MD-Emma’, for example, featuring lyrics like ‘Crying, crying, crying. I’m lonely and fucking horny’. As the lyrics would suggest, the show is not limited to substance abuse alone. It also deals with issues such as loneliness and sexually transgressive behaviour. The show includes a lot of audience interaction, blurring the line between theatre and real life by featuring a quiz and actors regularly walking among the audience; occasionally, it is also unclear to the audience whether the actors are talking about their own lives or that of their characters.

A clever trick

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Executive director Frederiek Nabben. Image credit: Wouter Holleman

“That dual layer of ‘Are you an actor or are you actually the character?’ is a clever trick”, says Frederiek Nabben, the executive director. “It makes the story much more about the person themselves, about the actor themselves and therefore about you in the audience.” Nabben is the creative director at Stichting Time Out and decided to put together the show with Stichting Lieve Mark, after which

she created the performance with the theatre collective and her group of friends, In Plaats Van Verkering (Instead of Dating). She explains that she deliberately chose to put together the show with that group of friends in order to keep the show true to real life and to create situations that the audience would recognise. “The fact that the actors sound like they do when you hear them speak outside of the show, that’s what makes it strong.” The directors feels that the dynamic between the actors is the same in real life as it is in the show: “The flatmates they play know each other through and through – and that’s how they are too.” The idea is that this makes the show more realistic. “There’s no fourth wall, which means you can’t look away. It’s about you.”

Showing things as they are

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Martijn Janse, the president of the Lieve Mark foundation. Image credit: Wouter Holleman

Martijn Janse, the president of Lieve Mark, was the driving force behind the show. He explains that the show is intended to connect with the experiences of students. “In terms of alcohol or drug abuse, you’ll often see them put out a campaign, like the one in Rotterdam: ‘Jouw lijntje, zijn liquidatie’ (Your line, his execution). But we aim to open up the subject to discussion in a way that is familiar and recognisable to students.”

The foundation is committed to advancing the well-being of students and has observed that drug use among students increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. “You can put out a campaign that scares people off, that tells people how bad it all is for them. But we have far more faith in just showing things as they are, so that young people are confronted with their own behaviour.”

RSC and Laurentius well-being week

The show was brought to Rotterdam at the initiative of two student associations, RSC and Laurentius, which are holding a well-being week for their members this week. Philippe Bouvy, the president of the RSC, explains that his association feels strongly about reflecting on the impact of drug abuse. “I think it’s important that we always keep having this conversation and make the link between crime, explosions in Rotterdam and substance abuse, which is something people will occasionally turn a blind eye to.”

The two nights featuring De Coke Show were organised in partnership with the university, Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences and the City of Rotterdam. The show was open to all students in Rotterdam, but the majority of the four hundred attendees was made up by members of the two student associations.