Hat Fair in Winchester is the longest running festival of outdoor arts in the UK. The “Hat”, refers to the hat which is traditionally put down at the end of a busker’s performance. This tradition is practiced at the festival as the audiences, who have chosen to stop and watch, decide for themselves what they deem the show to be worth. It really demonstrates an audience true appreciation of the art they have just experienced and the moment at the end of a show when they approached the artists to pay is truly unique as they have the opportunity to talk to the performer and discussions with complete strangers about the piece are shared. At a typically traditional theatre set up this scenario is very rare. The other element which makes Hat Fair truly unique, for many, is that the art is not “main-stream”. What I mean by this is that, many people who visit the theatre tend to do so on the basis that they are about to see something well regarded or well known. At Hat Fair, although some acts return annually, much of what is performed is new and original work. Some of my favourite performers included the hilarious Amazing Mr Fish who wowed the audience by riding a 10 foot unicycle using just one leg, and Fraser Hooper who is probably the best modern clown I have ever seen. He took a lot of inspiration from the great Charlie Chaplin. Both performers, as well as many of the others; such as Winchester’s own Wet Picnic, can be found on YouTube and Facebook and I would very much recommend watching their work.
Hat Fair is a registered charity which runs all year to ensure that the free weekend long festival, in July, is the best it can be. If you’d like to help Hat Fair to continue their great work, you can donate to the charity via the website www.hatfair.co.uk/support-us. You can also find out about becoming a volunteer at the festival at www.hatfair.co.uk/volunteers, it’s an experience that I cannot recommend highly enough.