Yasmin Sulaiman: 'Edinburgh always has something unexpected to give'

Yasmin Sulaiman: 'Edinburgh always has something unexpected to give'

Yasmin Sulaiman

Creative Bridge's Yasmin Sulaiman continues our Q&A series about the joys of Edinburgh's festival season

As the countdown moves towards Edinburgh festival season, our collaboration with the Edinburgh International Festival continues as we give you another weekly Q&A interview. Today, we present Yasmin Sulaiman, programme lead for Creative Bridge at CodeBase, a trustee of the Edinburgh International Festival, and a former editor-in-chief at this fair magazine. Here, Yasmin tells us about memories of Edinburgh's past, featuring intimate dating shows, an angry audience, and one surprise visit from a major politician.

What are your first festival memories of Edinburgh?

My first festival season was in 2003. I was a naive, 19-year-old student starting out as a journalist and I'd jump at reviewing anything my editors wanted me to, from afternoon classical concerts at the Usher Hall to unknown young theatre companies making their Fringe debuts. It was overwhelming, but in a good way, and I've never missed a festival since.

What is your all-time favourite memory of Edinburgh during August?

All of my best memories of the festival have a sense of the unexpected, from Ontrorend Goed's blind-date style 2009 show Internal (easily the most intimate and surprising experience I've ever had at the festival), to the time I interviewed author Neil Gaiman in Charlotte Square, only to have then Labour Party leader Ed Miliband stop to watch us talk.

But my favourite memory is probably from 2016, when Canadian dance company The Holy Body Tattoo performed their visceral and triumphant show Monumental, with a live soundtrack by Godspeed You! Black Emperor at the Playhouse. Part of the Edinburgh International Festival, there was a clear divide in the audience: several people left throughout the performance, while others stayed to boo at the end. Many, myself included, were enraptured by the show. It's still one of the best things I've seen at the festival, and the strong reactions from the audience – both ways – certainly made it one of my most memorable August evenings in Edinburgh.

Can you name one person you met in Edinburgh during festival-time who truly inspired you?

I've always been a big fan of Brooklyn-based theatre group the TEAM. Their experimental approach really opened my eyes to the boundaries that theatre can push, and the ways performance can play with genre, timeline, and narrative. I never miss their shows when they come to Edinburgh.

If you could curate your own festival line-up for a day, who would you include? Anyone can be on there, dead or alive.

I'd start the day off with a couple of talks from two of my current favourite non-fiction authors: Hadley Freeman, whose family memoir House Of Glass is one of the most brilliant and moving books I've ever read; and Lizzy Goodman, whose Meet Me In The Bathroom: Rebirth And Rock And Roll In New York City 2001–2011 brings to life an era of musical history that had a huge influence on me.

Janis Claxton's POP-UP Duets would also be on my line-up. This site-specific dance performance is truly enchanting, and a wonderful piece of work from a choreographer who is very much missed since her passing in 2018. Because no Scottish festival is complete without an element of weather roulette, I'd have an outdoor film screening of Emerald Fennell's fantastic Promising Young Woman, the best and most exhilarating film I've seen for a long time.

Next, it would be a performance of David Greig and Gordon McIntyre's play-with-songs Midsummer. It's theatrical sunshine on a stick and, 13 years since its first run, I still have the songs stuck in my head. And to end the night and take us through until morning, I'd have a mini music festival-within-a-festival, featuring some of my favourite musicians; definitely Joanna Newsom, Metronomy, and Prince.

What would you change to improve Edinburgh during August?

I'd like more people to feel that the festival is for them; whether it's the price of tickets, lack of access to city centre spaces, or the feeling that the Fringe is for 'other people', too many are still put off attending. I'd love it if festival audiences were more diverse and inclusive. There really is something for 'everyone' at the Edinburgh festivals, but we do need to make sure that everyone actually feels welcome.

How does Edinburgh compare to other arts festivals across the world? What makes it unique?

Surprise and serendipity: no other festival creates the kind of conditions that Edinburgh does to stumble upon your next favourite actor, musician, or comedian. Whether it's a show for which you've had tickets booked for months or something you've bought on the spur of the moment, Edinburgh's festivals always have something extra and unexpected to give, in a way that I've never experienced anywhere else.

Part of The List's My Perfect Festival series, created in collaboration with the Edinburgh International Festival. Read more about other people's festival experiences here.