Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Harlequin Hare: An overview of my first term on the MA Drama



So, here I am at the end of my first term of my MA Drama at the Atrium and it’s been a rocky ol’ ride. 

There have moments where I have just wanted to walk out and moments where I have been in tears for discovering more about my craft than I could have imagined. 

There have been moments where I have felt completely stupid, serving as a painful reminder of my childhood, to moments where I feel immense pride in the strong woman I have become. 

I have learnt to question my own creativity in a way that is similar to facing yourself in a truth mirror and through this journey, I have come to realise through all my lectures and sessions, observations, theatre goings, discussions with fellow students, reading and research, that I am ...

The Harlequin Hare

Who is the Harlequin Hare?  A character in a children’s book called The Butterfly Ball and The Grasshopper’s Feast (1973) based on the work of William Roscoe (1807) published by Jonathon Cape Ltd, London.  The book is primarily, a beautiful collection of illustrations designed by Alan Aldridge, with print plates prepared in collaboration with Harry Willcock and poetic verses by William Plomer. At the end of term, fellow student Ray Thomas, brought in the book for our adaptation lessons with Richard Hand and when I saw this picture of the Harlequin Hare I completely identified with him!

It is as if this term, slowly but surely, I have taken off each of the things I do and placed them on a table, even the Harlequin suit, and now I am stood as the Bare Hare, weighing up what, if any of it, I put back on, how I put it back on and why? Yes, why! Usually, my answers to why? Are: ‘because I like it’ ‘because the audience likes it’  but now I am looking very closely at what does each aspect of what I include within a creative piece, give specifically to this creative piece, within the context of its artistic contribution; what is the inherent iconography of the pieces included and what does the overall piece give that is bigger than the sum of those parts.

Let’s face it, we can see very clearly, that it will not be long before this poor ol’ Harlequin Hare in the illustration, gets tired and that the drum on his back will get heavier and heavier, the sound of the cymbals in his ears will lose their joyful ring, he will not be able to sleep for the sound of bells on his feet.
I have adapted the verses written by William Plomer for this illustration in the book and added my own to explain. I have not followed the same metre as William, as my words are like a contemporary extension granted planning permission on an old building; an extension that should work well with the old, but be very obviously new:

Harlequin Hare
Written by William Plomer (1973)
Adapted & extended by Cheryl Beer (2013)

Here I am
Here I come
I’m Harlequin Hare
I jingle and jangle, tinkle and strum
I’m mad and enjoy it
I make them all stare
Turning head over heels
now and then in mid-air

The madder the gladder’s my motto
As all who see me agree
I prance and I dance, and I caracole on
With cymbals and bells and accordion
You can bet that I’ll be
In good time tonight for the Butterfly Ball
Harlequin Hare
Will be there, will be there

I’m a one-woman band
Who dances & sings
I’m all that they ask
And I giggle at things

But what if drop
Both whistle and bell?
Drum, laid out before me
My cymbals as well
And then, had to choose?

Which things should I keep?
And which could I lose?

Now organised, neatly
A new market stall
Re-dressing my soul
For The Butterfly Ball

Perhaps I should think
What it might truly mean
For a hare to run free
With the sun dancing stream

To breathe in the meadows
With daises and corn
To sing with the moon
And dance for the morn

And how will they feel
When their Harlequin Hare
Is naked to fur
Skin & flesh bare?

Who will juggle their chaos
Patch up the thread bare?
Will I still be me
If I live on fresh air?

Would they rather pay
For me to stay
In their cage
Bowed down with commitment
And chained to their stage

Oh, but I have loved it there ...

For children all jump
And sing out with glee
When they hear my drum
And see ‘Harlequin’ me

The question is this:
Will they still care
For a stripped back and naked
Bare, Harlequin Hare?


During our lessons in Performance Live Art with Branislava Kuburovic,  she asked me the following, and I thank her for helping me to face some hard truth.

‘Why are you trying to fit together so many different artistic concepts? You have 4 beautiful ideas and you are in danger of ruining them all by overcrowding. This is about making your own creative piece. You are not organising the festival now.’

And it was the line ‘you are not in the festival now’ that touched me somewhere very deeply, and I had to leave the room for a moment to re-gain composure, because, to some extent, my life as well as my career,  has been become structured in such a way that I always feel that I am ‘organising the festival’ ; that I am the circus that bends over backwards to please and include everyone. I make a living this way and have done for a very long time.

Since this class, I have spent many nights lying awake wondering about it and I think it stems right back to my role in my family as a child. It has always been my role to make everyone smile, laugh, help them to keep their chin up regardless of how I feel inside. So, I have developed this other me, a ‘me’ who always tap dances and does jazz hands just to keep things afloat. A ‘me’ who couldn’t possibly let anyone else down, a ‘me’ who says yes to everyone but myself, a ‘me’ who does not allow herself to take off all the instruments and the harlequin suit and lay them on a market stall,  because without them, how could I carry out my role in the world, how could I function? And who would want me? Who would want the Bare Hare? Indeed, only a very small handful of people in my world, actually ever see her.


And then it occurs to me, in looking at the picture of this beautiful creature, as she is sat, ready to run free across the fields, that I must not only analyse the elements of my craft, but devise ways of being able to put them on and take them off, because quite frankly, I rather like the idea of running and skipping and jumping through daisy infused meadows!

In reading what I have written back to myself, I can see I have still missed the point!! What if ... running free through the corn fields IS my craft! Wow! What if I stripped right back, and being ‘just me’ with no whistle and bells, is enough. Oh God, I daren’t even nearly think it!

I am learning so much about myself, my craft, the structure of the business and making the time to pursue the research to enable me to grow. This term I have been weeding, pulling down the brambles that have grown around the roses. It has been hard work. But now the flower beds have space. My feeling is that next term will be about re-planting.


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