Idil Sukan: The Edinburgh Fringe through a lens
By Caro Moses | Published on Thursday 18 August 2011
Idil Sukan has been knocking around the Festival for the last 200 years, and done almost every Fringe job known to man; hell, she even reviewed for ThreeWeeks at one time.
These days, however, you’re more likely to find her producing a Fringe show or two while also taking photos at The Pleasance. We asked Idil about her love of the Fringe, and her new glamorous life taking pictures of famous people like Mark Watson, Mark Steel and that boy band The Wanted.
CM: Idil, you seem to have a pretty varied and interesting life. Tell us about the different things you do.
IS: Well, I produce shows at the Festival, including, this year, David Reed’s wonderful solo debut ‘Shamblehouse’, and comedy duo ‘Behemoth’ at the Courtyard, and ‘Tom Bell Begins’ at the Tron, and ‘Sketchatron’ at the very lovely Bedlam Theatre on Sundays. I also did the design and photography for lots of other lovely comedy and theatre shows around the Festival, and am also the official chief pap photographer for The Pleasance this year, for which I’ve taken up residency in their rather warm press office under the Dome. I would also like to take credit for “designing Dave’s set”, which pretty much consisted of me bellowing “I want more chairs” from the back of the auditorium during the get in. There are a lot of chairs.
CM: Your photography work seems pretty glamorous and exciting. What is it like working with all those famous people?
IS: Wow. So glamorous. I get helicoptered to shoots every morning where I’m greeted by a bevy of attractive, needy interns offering me breakfast meringues and merlot. They carry me to a leather-lined lounge where my equipment is set up and I writhe around on an executive beanbag designed by Stella McCartney or something and operate the lighting using that touch interface that you see in ‘Minority Report’ while a parade of famous comedians get oiled up and pose naked for me. I definitely don’t have back problems from carrying all my equipment round to comedians’ flats in East London all the goddamn time. Definitely not.
CM: What makes a good photographer?
IS: A complete lack of interest in your own health and sanity. Willingness to eschew financial stability in favour of endlessly buying camera equipment. Some sort of crippling internal struggle that makes you feel like the last photo you take is never good enough, so continuously taking more shots, trying to chase that high. It’s a lot like being addicted to an expensive, harrowing drug. But at least as a photographer, you get a press pass. I will add: intense and off-putting levels of geekery about obscure tech equipment, sociopathic OCD about lighting, and excellent upper body strength (photography is mostly about lifting things).
CM: Given you do all that glamorous photography work, what still attracts you to the grubby, sweaty work of Fringe comedy production?
IS: Ah, come on, it is lovely to put on a show. The Fringe is really where you can experiment and create something very new and unique – there’s really very little opportunity to do that from scratch beyond the Festival. It’s an incredible feeling to have a full house of people enjoy a show you’ve been part of making happen. Working as part of a team on one large project that has so many facets is always hugely satisfying. I work with some really brilliant people behind the scenes, especially my technical director Neil Hobbs.
CM: You’ve turned your own hand to stand-up in the past. Do you still take to the stage?
IS: I do, but cunningly I perform comedy at nights that aren’t really on the regular stand-up circuit so I don’t have to perform in front of my design and photography clients, which would be a bit terrifying. I also like combining comedy with other things I do, for example, I’m working on a few web comics which I write and illustrate that hopefully I’ll develop properly next year.
CM: Out of all the things you do, do you have a favourite?
IS: I really enjoy everything I work on, but the best parts are always when a little idea you have in your head, however ridiculous, gets realised into something concrete. Seeing an idea for a show grow into a production or a photo-shoot and doing very silly things to make it happen. For example, convincing five comedians to dress up as a ‘Wizard Of Oz’ homage first thing in the morning or swinging objects from my ceiling while buzzing on too much cold medication to make it seem like things were flying, getting my dad to lie on the floor while holding antlers behind a comedian, and getting another to stand in a paddling pool while getting showered on with a hose for an hour; these moments all generated sets of photographs used during the Festival, which is very exciting. Those are some of my favourite moments from this year.
CM: Why do you keep coming back to Edinburgh?
IS: This is where the festival happens! I wish it would happen in Richmond so I could stay at home. But the whole arts community moves up here during August, which, it turns out, given the timing of the riots, is not such a great idea. I think coming to Edinburgh in August is like being invited to the biggest party of the year. If you don’t go, you have to trawl through the endless drunken photos everyone puts up on Facebook afterward that don’t make any sense and all your friends suddenly have a bunch of new in-jokes that you don’t understand. But also, Edinburgh is brilliant. And I love the mint choc chip ice cream they sell in the Courtyard.
CM: What shows are you planning to see this year?
IS: Everyone has recommended ‘The Table’ to me and I love puppetry so I must go see that. Amanda Fucking Palmer, which I am incredibly excited about as she’s a bit of a hero and Camille, who is always incredible. As for comedy I can’t wait to see Suitcase Royale, Pajama Men & Bridget Christie. There are loads more, but I only managed to see about seven shows last year, so I gotta get a move on.
CM: Have you found your doppelganger yet?
Oh my goodness, not yet! So – this is what’s happening – there is a girl in the Festival who keeps getting mistaken for me, even by close friends of mine. I’ve had reports back that she is identical, even in conversation, up to the moment where she realises you think she’s me, sighs and shouts at them “I’m not Idil!”. I’m pretty certain she is out to kill me and steal my life. Either that, or there was a transporter accident back in Season 6 and not one, but two Idils re-materialised, and now she’s going to have to go by our middle name so we don’t get confused. (If you get that Star Trek reference, and you’re a hot, young male, then goddamnit do ask me out for a drink. Come find me in the press office).