Interview with Andrew Loretto, Director of the Hat Fair

In this installment of our interviews with Southampton’s leading arts and culture organisers, Katherine Wells interviews Hat Fair director Andrew Loretto.

Andrew Loretto: My name is Andrew Loretto, I am the Hat Fair director. Hat Fair is an international outdoor arts festival. It takes place every summer for three days in the city of Winchester and it’s the UK’s oldest outdoor arts festival

Katherine Wells: How did you come to work within the arts initially?

AL: A long time ago, I initially got involved with the arts through extra-curricular activities at my secondary school back in Northern Ireland. I went to a state school that happened to have a fantastic music teacher and our Latin teacher who directed the school plays at the time. I think it’s quite a common story in terms of how people get involved with the arts initially, they can quite often name an enthusiastic teacher who simply made the work happen on an extra-curricular basis. So that’s what got me interested initially in music and theatre.

I went on to study theatre as part of my degree at Glasgow University, and it was whilst I was at Glasgow University during its European City of Culture period in 1990, my eyes and ears were really opened.

As to world international theatre possibilities, theatre forms and types, I worked part-time, as most students do, to pay my way through university. But I worked part-time at the Tramway Theatre, which is a spectacular converted Tram Depot and I just saw work that blew my mind, from the likes of Peter Brook, The Wooster Group, Robert Lepage, John McGrath, and Freeway. Massive, epic works, so that was a big part of my education in terms of getting me excited, into the industry, and thinking about the possibilities.

KW: That’s amazing. Can you talk about your role now with the Hat Fair?

AL: Outdoor art has always been part of my work, so I’ve always chosen to make work outdoor as well as in venues, and make work that is site-responsive. That’s just always been a part of the mix of my work. I’m primarily a theatre director and writer, but I do make work outdoors, I work with a lot of artists who make work outdoors, and from time to time I run festivals, so here I am.

I’ve been running Hat Fair for a couple of years now Hat Fair 2018 was the first that I fully programmed. We’ve also done events such as the Woolly Hat Fair (the Christmas version) and various projects, touring projects throughout the year. Hat Fair is the UK’s oldest outdoor arts festival, typically attracting about 55000 attendees each summer festival. It’s like the cheeky cousin of Winchester – it’s a mix of outstanding international work, work from all across the British Isles and local communities as well, and students are a very important part of that mix.

KW: Great. How has the Hat Fair brought a wider awareness and engagement to the arts?

AL: Well, it’s a very well-established festival. It’s been running for 44 years now and 2019 will be the 45th, running from the 5thto the 7thJuly 2019, and I think we have a very embedded culture here of audiences who know they’re going to get something a bit strange, wonderful, unexpected. That’s the lovely thing about Hat Fair festival, that the audiences are on your side. They want you to win, they want it to work. There can be some other festival environments in the UK where the audiences are less embedded, less established, and so you have to work a bit harder to get them on your side, but here, they’re here already. That’s not to say we rest on our laurels. We’re always trying to reach new audiences, new communities. That’s a very important thing for us.

I think what Hat Fair brings to Winchester is excitement. It brings a sense of community, I think it brings masses of people out onto the streets for a very joyous event and that’s the thing I felt at both of the Hat Fairs that I’ve been director of. There’s a real sense of joy on the streets and people reclaiming the streets, and I think joy is something we need more and more of at this time. I think bringing people of all generations together in a spirit of joy is a wonderful thing and to have a spirit of internationalism as well.

KW: What advice would you give people that want to establish themselves in the arts?

AL: If you look at my own story, I started through extra-curricular activity at school. If something like that is available to you, get involved. But then I found part-time work in a local theatre and again, that was a big part of my education, as much as my degree. I would say, if opportunities are available locally for you, such as placements through the Excel Internship Scheme through which we employed eight University of Southampton students this year, who were all either current students or recent graduates from Winchester School of Art. We actually employed them on fantastic Hat Fair and Woolly Hat Fair projects this year, and those opportunities were advertised and available for anybody to apply for. I would say if opportunities like that come up, go for them! Because you will just enrich your education experience so much, you’ll learn practical skills which, when you come to the point of graduation, will be absolutely invaluable, because not only do you have all your artistic skills and your wonderful vision – which is yours, the art is always yours – but you will have built up your practical skills about how to deliver that artwork in a whole variety of settings. It might be site-responsive, outdoors, or indeed gallery-based. But critically also, your work would have reached a public audience beyond friends and family and academia. That’s so important because ultimately that’s what it’s about for any of us in the arts – it’s about an audience. Without audiences, I think the art doesn’t exist. It’s fine to make art on your own, but really, we want to connect to the public. We want them to connect to us. That’s what art is about, it’s about that two-way dialogue. So I’d say grab those opportunities.

Even if the advertised opportunities aren’t there, if there is a local arts organisation that you’re interested in finding out more about then get on their website, do a bit of research, find out who in the organisation you should badger, give them a call or drop them an email saying ‘Hello, I’m a local student. I’m really interested in your work because X/Y/Z. Is there any chance you can give me half an hour over a cup of coffee and I can just ask your advice about the industry?’. Nine times out of ten, people in the industry are more than happy to do that as long as you’ve done a little bit of research about the organisation in advance. People are generous in the arts industry and people do want to pass on their experience, because for people like myself who’ve been working 25 years in theatre now (which makes me feel very old) we depend on new talent coming through. It’s a two-way relationship. Just like I was saying with the audiences, it’s not one-way. Our work survives on new talent coming through. It is a two way relationship and that’s very important to remember.

Arts Ambassadors is a paid opportunity, supported by the Careers and Employability Service’s Excel Southampton Internship programme, University of Southampton

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