Hat Fair Is Back


Posted by Kevin Gover

Posted in News

photo k

Cast your mind back to July last year… Winchester Today launched on the Monday before the Hat Fair festival, and we should have seen then what was to come. As we delivered our newspapers it just kept on raining. It just didn’t stop. While other major summer events across the UK and here in the South were called off, Hat Fair went ahead. But some of the bigger items never made it, and other elements within it struggled.

Kate Hazel might have been forgiven for wanting to walk away – or never programme anything else again that’s big and outdoors. But that was far from her mind.

Hat Fair now has a new home within the Theatre Royal, and Kate talked candidly to me about thinking bigger – and getting Hat Fair back on the road: “I do actually feel that it will be bigger and better than before. We’re able to bring people in who have been at Glastonbury just before. We have a lot of new shows ranging from a hip-hop version of Faust to mechanical creatures who rise out of a boneyard of scrap! We have loads of circus, dance, things for young children and older ones. There’s also a guy who makes wooden structures – and then sets fire to them!”

Although there will be a ‘Plan A’ and a ‘Plan B’ reflecting on how the weather behaves, Kate tells me that despite what happened last year, there’s little point in planning outdoor events if you’re then going to put them indoors. She also says there’s little point in getting upset because it rained constantly: “Personally, I didn’t want to walk away at all. There are so many possibilities I feel that we haven’t explored yet. There are so many things we can do.

We have 39 years of history. Bless them, there are people who will come even when it is chucking it down with rain. So, for all of the stuff that was going on behind the scenes that made it difficult, thinking about those opportunities kept me going. It’s a new chapter, a new beginning. Now I have the space in my head to explore all I want to do. I can make those opportunities a reality.”

Kate says the audience calls the shots in all entertainment forms now: “We’re in our 39th year; the artistic ambition and the production demands have grown. The pressure to produce and deliver an artistically great and safe festival is huge. We’ve struggled to build it up over the years, and let’s face it we’re in economically difficult times. Organisationally we have struggled to keep up too. We needed to find a way where we could build our capacity. The talks between us and the Theatre Royal started on artistic possibilities of bringing us together as organisations, then building up the capacity, and then went on to talk about being a strong cultural force for the city.”

It’s clear that this was always a long-term project for Kate: “You have to plan things sometimes almost two years ahead. You lose some things, but that’s life. We like to shake it up every year and have a combination of people who have been before – and also to bring something new that nobody in the world has ever seen. It’s an interesting dynamic for me as an artistic director to find the right balance. There are people who want to see things again, and those who only want to see things that are new.”

I ask Kate if there’s one thing this year that she’s really proud of: “I’m really proud about the ‘Small Wonders’ project. I feel very strongly about creating work for small audiences but which is accessible. To have very small children able to engage with the arts is wonderful. Not many festivals focus on that age group. There are many reasons why it’s great to engage very small people in the arts. A festival environment can be a scary place for a small child, so I am really glad to be able to do that. Oh, and the fire factor. With plenty of safety plans!” A fire’s a fire Kate, I venture… “Oh, we’ll have an extinguisher ready, don’t worry!”