from Why Theatre – Assembly of the Absent at NTGent

Sometimes it only rains in the forest | Uus Knops


Sometimes it only rains in the forest. The shower is over, but there, it is still raining.
In that same forest, a tree could fall. Whether it makes a sound when there is nobody around to hear it, that is the question. Or how present is absent?

A few years ago, our family was struck by a tragedy with an unfortunate ending. My brother went missing in Venezuela, and only after a long search his remains were found. I wrote a book about that search, and about the search that makes up every grieving process.

“There is a stretch in mourning. The chilly, enlightened moments brought us close to our grief, to the pain, to the possible goodbye. For a moment we practiced, we touched, to then walk away and resolutely choose the path of hope again. And so I went to see an old tragedy by Euripides in the city’s arts centre. I remember thinking as I entered that the ballroom would be an ideal location to abundantly celebrate Casper’s homecoming. Because they would return, and all of us would be waiting for them, and we would celebrate and dance to the happy ending. Sitting in my red velvet seat, I searched through the brochure, wondering if there was a suitable text for Casper’s funeral. Such extremes, so close together.” – Quote from Casper, a book of condolences

It can’t be a coincidence that in my book I give an unsolicited answer to the question “why theatre?”. Because life and death meet there. An encounter that takes place on stage, in the red seats, on the galleries, on the folding chairs or afterwards at the bar.

There is a lot of killing and dying on stage. In explicit scenes, dramatically collapsing, or with symbolic silences or absences. People are silenced. People are loudly given short shrift. In the spotlights, or in the wings. Dead authors are kept alive. Historical figures are interpreted in a modern way. When someone dies on stage, dead is not really dead. We, as an audience, can handle this. We are happy to be dragged into another reality. That is what we have chosen for. That other reality can be far away from our own. It can feel comfortable, we can consciously remain an outsider. But the reality on stage can also get mixed in with our own reality. Like two pastel colours blending into each other. Become fused, and therefore touching.

But even then, we know that dead is not really dead. That the actor will dust down his knees and come to the front to receive the applause.
Sometimes it also happens that we sit there, in those seats, applauding a really deceased actor, theatre maker, person of interest. A theatre is sometimes used to say goodbye. To what extent is theatre a ritual too? Or is a ritual theatrical? Don’t forget that this is how art came into being. When man began to realise his mortality, he began to dance and sing around the dead body. Leading to a catharsis, or otherwise.

Theatre guards and protects our dead, our history, our stories. It is the place where we let these voices be heard again, in space and in our collective memory. It brings us a little closer to what too often remains unspoken in everyday life. Closer to the absurdity of our existence on earth, and to the incomprehensible drama that this life irrevocably must end at some point.

But let us not forget the little dying. The little dying in the room. There is nothing that does not touch something else. So what happens on stage touches the audience. At its most individual. Intentionally or unintentionally. Like the drops of the rain that is already gone. Like the tree that silently falls. I think Covid has made us understand and experience a lot but most of all this. Death has not been given a stage for a while. By, among other things, going back to theatre, we were again touched and moved through acting, images, and of course music. Covid has kept many inside, but it has also made us retain ourselves. These emotions have to come out, they have to come out sometime. In laughter and tears and shivers and warm glares and sparks and flares. Anyone who has lost a loved one, knows what I am talking about. The moment when the memories come to the surface, the loss becomes more pungent, and the breath falters. Even before the time of the empty Covid chairs in the hall, our dead took a seat next to us, with us. They are never far away after all. Even if they are no longer there. Just like the rain in the forest.

Because sometimes it only rains in the forest.

The shower is over. But it is still raining. Gathered tears suddenly cannot be held back on the leaves of the trees. Because they have become too much or too heavy to bear. What happens on stage can topple such a leaf. Theatre makes it rain in the forest.

And in that forest, what if a tree falls without an audience? Does it make a sound then? Is there sound if there is no one to hear it? Is theatre also theatre without an audience? If the drops don’t land anywhere, if nothing is touched?

Let it rain only in the forest, even if the shower is already over.
Let the trees fall, even silently.
Those who have lost someone will always feel and hear what or who is no longer there.

Uus Knops is a psychiatrist and psychotherapist, specialising in anxiety and mood disorders. In her daily practice she counsels individuals in dealing with emotional trauma and complex disorders. When she lost her brother in 2005, she too was at her wit’s end. She wrote the book ‘Casper, een rouwboek‘ (Casper, a book of condolences) about her grief. An account of loss, mourning and letting go.