48th Festival a Success!
Hat Fair 2023 achieved resounding success despite our funding challenges. The festival once again graced Winchester during the initial weekend of July, drawing in a sizable crowd of approximately 45,000 (attendances) over the two-day span. The city's streets and green spaces buzzed with activity as attendees enjoyed a packed programme of family-friendly circus, dance, music, comedy, theatre and more.
The festivities began on Friday 30 June with circus and hula hooping from Mr Banana and Angie Mack, who drew in early crowds despite the slightly damp weather conditions, the first of the Hatters – busking performers that the festival is named after. Then followed ukulele playing amid acrobatic stunts with Barada Street and whisk juggling and unicycling antics with Risky Business.
As noon approached, musical walkabouts commenced. The Big Gay Disco Bike duo got participants grooving to disco beats while Gobbledegook Theatre added an interactive touch, serenading passers-by with their favourite guilty pleasure pop songs. Meanwhile, the Serving Sounds bar mesmerised the masses by translating object touches into the sound of popular artists including Fat Boy Slim, all performed by the bar's creators using items like wine glasses and beer mats.
A highlight of the day was the grand Hat Fair Carnival, led by The New Carnival Company's enormus Lady Justice puppet and Playmakers' Junk Giant. Accompanied by local schoolchildren in creative costumes, the parade addressed significant topics including environmental concerns. The schools were joined by community groups including Blue Apple and St. John's Almshouses.
After the procession, Hat Fair and Playmakers Director Andrew Loretto extended a warm welcome to stay for the entertaining Skiing Odyssey performance, featuring two comedic "skiers" (plus a member of the audience) darting around and playfully squirting water. Tape That, an act involving two acrobats crafting items from duct tape like toilets, clothing, birds, and DJ decks, added a unique touch.
As a member of Without Walls - a network of festivals that work with artists to bring Outdoor Arts to UK towns and cities – we were thrilled to showcase a number of Without Walls-supported shows. Among them was the Family Catwalk Extravaganza, that saw male performers dancing and lip-syncing to well-known tunes like "Baby Shark" for the audience's vote. Out headline act, Ancient Futures, combined West African folklore, dance, intricate costumes, and masks on a grand stage in Busket Yard. Meanwhile, A La Puppet Carte, with charming miniature theatres transported by puppeteers on bicycles, captivated young audiences. Mughal Miniatures graced the Cathedral Inner Close with stunning dancers adorned in ornate saris, presenting a performance inspired by traditional Indian and Persian paintings.
The second day of the festival witnessed even larger crowds indulging in performances from the previous day's acts. Additional performers included Jon Hicks who produced giant artworks of legendary singers , Herbie Treehead's balloon animals and clown skills, and Richard Kimberly's magic tricks. Seve Feathers' Fleeting featured a chalk-covered female dancer exploring the human experience.
Throughout the two days, Playmakers Youth Theatre performed pieces that explored themes like consequence and extinction, while local acts, including Ukrainian singers, a wheelchair dance group, and representatives from historical attraction 878AD, delivered captivating shows. University of Winchester students also showcased their works in progress during the Top Hat presentation.
Attendees were treated to activities like crazy golf and t-shirt printing, a Brazilian micro puppet theatre, and a hot air balloon displaying artwork created by local young people to address mental health topics. Juggling Jake, a Hat Fair veteran, provided children's entertainment.
Hat Fair culminated in style with Gobbledegook Theatre's High Priestess of Pop, accompanied by the Disco Druids and The Hush Club DJs, keeping the party alive on The Broadway outside the iconic Winchester Guildhall well into Saturday night.
"After the challenges of losing core funding from Arts Council England, it was life-affirming to see the extra efforts put in to ensuring there would be a Hat Fair 2023."
Hat Fair 2023, which was condensed to a two-day event this year, faced a unique challenge. In November, our charity, Play to the Crowd, received news that Arts Council England (ACE) would no longer fund it as a National Portfolio Organisation (NPO), despite a highly favourable assessment of its application.
Fortunately, the charity managed to secure alternative funding sources, allowing this year's festival to proceed, albeit in a slightly scaled-down format without performances on Sunday. We’d like to extend our gratitude to several key supporters who made this possible: Winchester City Council, Arts Council England’s (ACE) Transition Fund, Hampshire County Council, University of Southampton, University of Winchester, and Winchester BID.
Special appreciation goes to Hampshire County Councillors Cllr Tod, Cllr Irish, and Cllr Warwick for their support of the Hat Fair Carnival. Additionally, recognition is given to the UK Shared Prosperity Fund for their sponsorship of Gobbledegook Theatre and the Hush Club at Hat Fair.
Hat Fair and Playmakers Director, Andrew Loretto, said: ‘The weather was kind to us as we welcomed thousands of happy people of all ages onto the streets of Winchester over two days to celebrate art, colour, life, humanity, joy and diverse voices. We've had so much wonderful feedback from the public and artists and I wish to thank everyone - including funders, local businesses and Winchester residents for their ongoing support.’