Making Fake News

Welcome to a behind-the-scenes look at the motivation, development and production of one of our #AssemblyFest hits! Ever wondered where Fringe shows come from? Are they just plucked into the ether one day on a whim? No! These shows take hard work, and lots of it. Sam Raffal gives us an insight into what it’s like to Direct when trained as an Actor and used to being in the spotlight. Read on to get a glimpse of the hard work, but equally the joy, that make your Fringe happen.

(Extra Dates for Fake News have just been added click here for more info!!)

My name is Sam Raffal. I’m the director and co-producer of Fake News. Our journey to the Fringe began about eighteen months ago when my friend Osman came to me and asked for my help with something. He had written a short play for the Stockwell Playhouse’s ‘Five-Minute Festival’ – the brief: simply tell a story in five minutes. Osman had spent large parts of his journalistic career as a writer, but this was the first play he had ever written.

It was a clever tale and the writing was engaging, funny and intelligent – all qualities synonymous with the writer, and I was honoured to be asked, especially considering I’d never directed anything before. I think Osman trusted me to do it because he liked my acting and because he knew I would ‘get it’. Also because he was living with my then girlfriend, so, you know – super convenient.

We’d rehearse and I’d do an impression of a director – I had no idea what the hell I was doing! I mean, sure – I’ve worked with all manner of different directors – good, bad and great – but I felt like a phony. Truth be told, I still get shy when people ask me what I do, and I tend to say I’m an actor, because I trained as one – I sort of know what I’m doing to some degree. But this was new – a totally different kind of responsibility – and Osman was my pal! I didn’t want him to regret asking me. I ended up just asking lots of questions about the script and its potential subtext and tried to bring his own effervescent personality to the fore.

It was during this process and these chats about the script (and the broader world of media in general) that we realised there was a real story here. And when the piece made the final of the festival, we decided to keep working together.

Osman developed the show, knocking out a ten-minute version, then a twenty-minute one – he experimented with adding other actors who would play the role that our audience plays in its present iteration – interns. None of these versions were ever performed but they laid the groundwork for the full-length play, which we performed last year at the King’s Head as part of their Playmill Festival.

Directing a one-person show is pretty different to directing a traditional play. My role was to serve the script – to tell this story in an interesting way. It took a couple of attempts before the show felt bedded in. In terms of direction it was less about strictly blocking everything, and more about playing with pace, encouraging new offers and allowing Osman the freedom to have fun and to enjoy performing. I came up with the production ideas – stuff like lighting, projection and video and also sound, which was designed by Sam Welch, who did an amazing job.

As a performer, I’d been accustomed to getting the limelight and credit – but being behind the scenes in this way was new. I realised how much of a control-freak I am – when you’re on stage, you’re in control – when I would watch, particularly at first, I found it almost unbearable – what if something goes wrong?? I won’t be able to save it!! These things took some getting used to, but as time’s gone on, I don’t even think about it anymore. What it’s given me is an even greater appreciation of the often-thankless work that goes on off the stage, and being a part of Assembly, you see how hard everyone works and the incredible job they do.

It’s actually kind of crazy to think that in just over a year, we’ve brought our little show to the Edinburgh Fringe with Assembly – even the thought of performing under the Assembly banner is nuts. And we’ve sold out. We’re getting an extra show at a bigger venue because the demand has been so incredible. It’s just been a dream come true, but in spite of these unbelievable things, it’s only in the past few days that I’ve started really enjoying the Fringe and everything it has to offer.

I’ve seen some shows (Sleeping Trees are tremendous, as are the Aboriginal Comedy Allstars btw) and eaten loads of food from some of the fabulous eateries around Edinburgh. I’ve clocked how tunnel-visioned I’ve been and am only now taking the time to appreciate where we are and what we’ve achieved. We have no PR, no big producer or famous names behind us – we’re used to being the underdogs, so there’s always a sense of chasing leads and trying to get people interested – but I want to take a break while I’m here from looking constantly to the future. I want to remember why I’m here – not to try and make money, but to tell a story – this story. It’s the same reason I came here nine years ago, and why I’ve returned over and over again. I love Edinburgh and I love the Fringe. I want to celebrate the achievement of bringing a show to this festival, and every single act up here should be doing the same.