Not quite as mad as a March Hare …

Lillian
Lillian Simmons
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Whiteway casts off winter tedium with annual events

The Whiteway Spring Hare Committee is made up of (front) Clifford and Shirley George, (standing from left) Wayne George, Jane Prior, Albert Legge, (seated back right) Lisa Day Brown, chair. Renee Butler Harnum is the committee’s member at large. — Photo by Lillian Simmons/Special to The Telegram

“He’s as mad as a March hare!” That phrase, in use since at least the mid-16th century, alludes to the unpredictable antics and loony behaviour of hares during breeding season.

Author Lewis Carroll further promoted the hare’s reputation by captivating children with his March Hare’s craziness during the Mad Tea Party in “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”

Lewis was perhaps able to tone him down a little by holding the tea party in May, when the Hare wasn’t as “raving mad” as he was in March.

While it’s not quite a mad tea party, there’s plenty of excitement around the table at Wayne George’s house, where his wife Mary has whipped up a lunch for the Whiteway Spring Hare Committee.

Now in its fifth year, the Whiteway Spring Hare promotes artwork, storytelling, prose, poetry and recitations, sometimes accompanied by music.

From March to May

It all began when Clifford George and Lisa Day Brown started writing poetry and reading it aloud over coffee.

“We got sick of listening to each other,” Clifford says with a laugh.

Then one day, 10-year-old Katie Whalen showed up at his house with one of her own stories.

“At that time in her life, she loved writing stories and drinking tea,” recalls Clifford’s wife, Shirley.

Soon, Katie’s friend Leslie Burgess was stopping by to read her original stories.

“And Clifford got the idea of promoting their talent in a March Hare type of event like Al Pittman did in Corner Brook,” Shirley said.

“So we started it to break up the long, lean hungry month of March and to encourage storytelling, and with the understanding we were going to respect and remember Al Pittman,” Clifford says, pausing to sip some tea amidst the clamour at the table.

“The weather was too bad in March so we changed it to the Spring Hare. It takes place May 4-5.”

Perhaps they were following Lewis Carroll’s lead in moving the Hare to May, and like him they’ve managed to tame their Hare, just a tad.

“A lot of (the Hares) have music and they’re usually held in the evening and they have a bar,” Jane Prior explains. “We purposely kept ours in the daytime because we wanted to encourage young people.”

It takes a brave heart and more than a bit of confidence to expose the naked soul in public. Committee members can well identify with exhibitors who arrive heads down, shyly clutching their artwork to their chests. They’re doing their best to nudge more artists into the limelight and in five years the Spring Hare has seen some growth.

 “People are looking forward to it now. They’re calling saying they want to come and participate,” adds Clifford.

“We’re also getting people who were too shy to show their work. Now all of a sudden they have a place to show it,” his brother Wayne interjects.

During the first year, the committee funded the Hare primarily out of their own pockets, with a $150 contribution from author and former education minister Phil Warren. They also get encouragement and support from former politician and educator James McGrath, poet Tom Dawe and artist Gerry Squires.

“We held a silent auction and we charged a nominal fee ($5) for the exhibitions and that helped pay for some of the rental of the building,” committee treasurer Albert Legge points out.

The $60 profit from the first year helped get things going for the second year. This year they’ve upped the exhibit fee to $10 and obtained $3,000 from the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council to help pay expenses. With local support they’re able to offer a door prize — a weekend getaway at Ocean Delight Cottages and a bottle of wine from Cole’s Convenience.

Elitist attitudes

The talk around the table undulates, between sips of tea and nibbles of gumdrop cake, the pitch rising and falling through anecdotes and attitudes on past Hares to future plans.

Lisa Day Brown enthusiastically describes the Hare as a way of releasing energy bottled up over the winter.

“The Hare represents a type of madness/mania. You know, that’s kind of what gives you the drive to write the poetry or paint the painting, because it is such a long winter. So you’re a bit mad by the time it’s over.”

Prior adds, “I think you could make a point that all artists are in a kind of madness because they are obsessive.”

Still, there are some who feel they are beyond what the event has to offer. Shirley George gives an example.

“Somebody said to me a couple of years ago, ‘I’m not exhibiting there because there’s nothing but a bunch of amateurs there.’ I said: Didn’t you start off as an amateur? You have to start somewhere! We believe in giving people a chance.”

Prior gets indignant at the thought.

“When people stand before a piece of artwork and say, ‘Well, anyone could do that. I could do that.’ The only answer is: well, you didn’t! …We have no time for snobbish, elitist attitudes.”

Legge gently summarizes: “We don’t stifle self expression.”

Exhibitors

This year, the committee added a dinner theatre Friday night, May 4, at Brown’s Restaurant. It sold out in two days.

“The dinner theatre features three presenters,” explains Day Brown.

 “John Warren, who is a folklorist is going to do some ballads; Charlie Crocker, musician, is performing, and author Dale Jarvis is doing Tales of the Brothers Grimm.”

On Saturday, readings and exhibits take place at the Community Hall from 1-5 p.m., with exhibit viewings from 1-2 p.m. Admission and refreshments are free.

Exhibitors include Roberta Burry, Michelle Penney Rowe, Diane Taylor, Edwin Bishop, John Woodman, Patsy Bishop, Kathy Murphy-Peddle, Kathie Chalker, Victoria Munavish, Loretta Uens, Peter Cook, Rosemary Byrne, Allison George and six of the seven committee members.

The 10-15 minute presentations that follow the exhibition are divided into three blocks.

Nine-year old Hannah Winters of Colliers is a special guest this year. She will present Dreaming Big and How You’re Destined for Greatness.

Ken Pittman will begin with a tribute to his brother Al, followed by selections from Darrell Yetman, John Ryan, Tom Dawe and Butch Strickland.

Block Two features Lisa Day Brown, Fred Humber, Gerald Squires, Francie Barrett, Sheina Lerner and John Warren, accompanied by Paul and Brenda Stephenson.

Block Three will have Thomas Moore, Paul and Brenda Stephenson, Hannah Winters, Jane Prior and Cliff George, accompanied by Brenda Stephenson on flute.

“Tom Dawe sets an energy over the room and everyone is entranced,” Day Brown says, “and a lot of people like Gerry Squires because he has a very mystical presence.”

At the request of artists, the committee will hold two workshops at Pitcher’s Pond Golf Club June 16. One will be led by artist Pamela Williams, the other by photographer Dennis Flynn.

A summer art show will be held July 29, during the town’s annual Whiteway Days.

The Whiteway Community Centre holds about 150 people and the Spring Hare Committee expects a full house May 5. They’re toying with the possibility of using a larger venue in the future.

“We’re thinking of maybe holding another dinner theatre in the fall,” Prior says.

“We were thinking of having a tribute to those people who sacrificed their lives in various conflicts, with readings, poetry, maybe music. We don’t know yet.”

The committee also hopes to get more young people involved in future Hares, organize more workshops and possibly expand the event to three days.

“But,” Prior says, “we want some experience with running what we’re running before we bite off even more.”

Organizations: Hare Committee, Mad Tea Party, Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council Pond Golf Club Whiteway Days.The Whiteway Community Centre

Geographic location: Wonderland, March.While, Corner Brook

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