In memoriam: Eva Bal (1938 – 2021)

The internationally renowned Belgian company KOPERGIETERY has shared the sad news about the loss of Eva Bal, founder of Speelteater – now known as KOPERGIETERY.

“She made so many who they are through her love, creativity, strength and faith. We will miss her terribly and carry her with us in each step towards the future. A warm hug from the entire KOPERGIETERY team to her family and all her loved ones.” the company writes on their website.


‘It’s possible!’

Eva Bal (The Hague, °1938, born Eva Gerretsen) graduated from the Utrecht School of Dramatic Art in 1960 and began her long and extensive career as theatre maker. She went on to create numerous theatre productions at home and abroad, and worked step by step on her big dream: a drama centre for children and youth.

Eva arrived in Belgium in 1961 to give courses in dramatic expression. Two years later she started at the Ministry of Culture with the task of researching how best to add new stimuli to youth theatre in Flanders. An exciting and fantastic assignment that she was happy to accept. She married colleague August Bal in 1966. From that moment that she took on the name Eva Bal.  In the following years, she created diverse productions for Jeugd & Theater, the Beursschouwburg, Arca and the Brussels Kamertoneel (BKT), she organised drama courses and inspired many professional actors to perform for children, which was exceptional in a time when professional youth theatre did not yet exist. 

Thus Eva Bal became a pioneer in the field of youth theatre and developed her own method: ‘via improvisation to theatre’. She believed that theatre is more than text. Theatre is light. Theatre is music. From the outset, Eva opted for multidisciplinary theatre and invited professional actors, musicians and dancers to participate in her productions. It was also her conviction that youth theatre should be close to the children, so she put children and youth on stage. The starting point in the creative process was the ‘unique voice’ of children and belief in their distinct artistry: a very innovative approach. Thematically she continually looked for what was happening in the world of children and youth, and she tried to stay in touch and talk with them as much as possible. 

One of her remarkable productions from that time was “Vreemd kind in je straat” [Strange child in your street] (1976) with among others the recently graduated Josse de Pauw, a musical theatre piece with children about being ‘different’, which in addition to Belgium also played in the Netherlands, Alabama (USA) and Curaçao. 

In 1978 she founded her Speelteater Gent, a drama centre for children and youth. This marked the start of the realisation of an old dream: a venue for talent at the edge of the nest, an open house for young art where theatre for and by young people is central. Eva’s goals were: creating productions for and with children and youth, setting up theatre workshops with children and youth, and programming guest performances. Due to a lack of money and suitable space, the third pillar – programming – was briefly put on hold. 

In successively an old school, a shed along the Gordunakaai, and a building in the Gouvernementstraat, Eva organised weekly theatre workshops and created productions with professional actors as well as with children and youth.  Colleagues who were there from the beginning included Raymond Bossaerts, Frans Van der Aa and Mia Grijp. They performed on national and international stages. A number of important productions from this period are “Wie troost Muu?” [Who comforts Muu?] (winner of the 1987 Signal Prize), “De Boot” [The Boat] (1983, later made into a film by Jaco Van Dormael), and “Landschap van Laura”  [Laura’s Landscape] (1991) and “De tuin” [The Garden] (1992), both in collaboration with Alain Platel.  

She had three children with her husband August Bal: Martijn, Sarah and Vincent Bal. 
August Bal died in 1984. Eva remarried to Walter Mareen.

In 1993 Eva and her Speelteater moved to the KOPERGIETERY, an old copper foundry in the centre of Ghent. With that, her dream was complete. The new theatre hall – the collective work of the entire staff and many supporters – would not only be home to her own creations, but would also host (inter) national guest companies. The receptive way of working had become a fact. 

Eva herself also travelled abroad. She created pieces in Singapore, Seoul, Montreal, Moscow and Zurich, and soon after the war in Yugoslavia, she also began working with war children in Zagreb.

Speelteater/KOPERGIETERY maintained intensive contacts with schools, continued to work with children and youth in the Theatre Ateliers, welcomed fascinating artists, and made its own creations. The house functioned as a laboratory, a springboard and an established platform. As artistic director, Eva not only gave young talent opportunities, but also coached actors, dancers, musicians and directors in their work for children and youth. KOPERGIETERY (since 2001 the name for the Ghent children’s and youth theatre) became a biotope where ‘youth’ culture was given its full attention. 

Over the years, the theatre studios became a hotbed of talent, where people like Lies Pauwels, Pieter-Jan De Smet, Alexander Devriendt, Nic Balthazar, Stephen and David Dewaele, and Violet Braeckman got their start.  
For her pioneering work in youth theatre, on 3 October 2000 Eva was officially ennobled by King Albert II and given the title of Baroness. As motto, she chose ‘Het Kan’ [It’s possible].

In 2003, Eva Bal passed on the artistic leadership to Johan De Smet who, together with the entire KOPERGIETERY team (and soon thereafter the KOPERGIETERY STUDIOS) continued to develop her work locally, nationally and internationally. 
As[DF1]  maker, Eva Bal’s creations include Vreemd kind in je straat (1975), Spring (1978), De Boot (1983), Het Geheime Dagboek van Adriaan Mole (1986), Wie troost Muu? (1987), Landschap van Laura (1991) and De Tuin (1992) – both with co-director Alain Platel, Achter Glas (1993), Voetstappen in de nacht (1996), Bentekik (2000) De gevaarlijke reis (2001), De verrassing (2004), Wilde Dingen (2003), De Wanhopige verpletterende overweldigende liefde van meneer Bert (2006), Satijn en Witte Wijn (2008, together with Ives Thuwis), Love (2009, together with Ives Thuwis), Het verdriet aan de overkant (2010), Charlotte (2012, with Hendrik Lebon), and Verdwaald (2015, with Janni van Goor, Kenneth Michiels, Yves Meersschaert).

Over the years, Eva was awarded multiple theatre prizes, for her individual work or with KOPERGIETERY. She is regarded internationally as a unique pioneer in children’s arts. 

During the final years of her life, Eva suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. 


photos (c) Phile Deprez, Peter Lorré