"It's about the triumph of surviving and thriving!"
The NEW RachelCalof.com is the combination of two former websites and the collaboration of six talented artists. Eric and I worked with the creative team of this deeply moving production—and the final product is already achieving offline results!
Check out this exclusive interview with the star of the show, Kate Fuglei.
For those that don't know, tell us a little bit Rachel Calof!
Rachel Calof: A Memoir with Music is a one-person show with original music. It's based on the true story of a young Russian Jewish woman who was a picture bride. Rachel Calof traveled to America in 1890 to marry a young man she had never met. They traveled by train across the country—from Ellis Island to Devils Lake, North Dakota.
Once settled, they lived there for four winters in a 12' by 14' shack with three in-laws, twenty-two chickens, and a cow! Facing truly harsh and challenging circumstances, Rachel summoned the courage and faith to persevere and gave birth to nine children—all of whom survived.
She wrote about these years in Yiddish on green steno pads and put them in a trunk. After her death, her children found them, translated them, and her story was published by Indiana University Press in 1995.
Rachel Calof has a unique voice—filled with humor, irony, and honest details of her life on the Northern Plains. She even describes having a sex life with her husband when her in-laws were sleeping only feet away! You read about her arguments with an old world mother-in-law and how she staked claim to her own life and standards with a new family in a new country.
Rachel Calof: A Memoir with Music is a story of resilience. It's about creating a new family full of love (even when doesn't come from a loving or supportive background). The production is deliberately stark and simple—using only a table and two chairs. It's performed on a bare stage with only the 12' by 14' shack outlined. The music in the piece expresses Rachel's inner life and dreams, the vast expanse of the prairie and the deeply private but all too human yearning to love and be loved and to find a place to belong.
Kate Fuglei transforms into the many characters in Rachel's life. Production Photos by Karen Richardson.
What's up next for the show?
We have an exciting fall coming up! We will be premiering the show in LA, after five years of development on the road, at the beautiful and historic Pico Union Project in downtown Los Angeles.
One of the oldest synagogues in LA, the sanctuary has recently been restored and is now a space for multi-faith and multicultural services and performances. It's an immigrant community between downtown Los Angeles and the USC campus. We feel that, with its history and setting, it is the perfect place to perform Rachel Calof. The shows will be November 6th and 7th at 7:30PM. Tickets are available here.
The next week we travel to NYC. The show is an official selection of the 2015 United Solo Festival on TheatreRow. Three of the four shows are already sold out—but there are still tickets left for Sunday, November 15th at 7:30pm. You can buy remaining tickets at this link—or click here to about the festival!
The best news is a Rabbi called from Portland after she got the e mail about the website launch. She said that Calof family members in and around Portland had been wanting to sponsor the show—and booked it for May!
How has this "historical" show affected your lives and your audiences?
I won't lie... I come from a tough background. There wasn't a lot of support.
Therefore, I've always been interested in stories about people who persevere and triumph—especially when they haven't come from backgrounds which would indicate they would.
The question of what factors make up such a person who can meet life challenges with dignity and grace is an essential one for me as an artist. This is why Rachel's story appeals to me so much. This is what has kept me involved with it for so long. Although it's about the challenges, it's also about the triumph of surviving and thriving! This is what I hope audiences will take away from the experience of seeing it.
I remember the first time performing it for Rachel's grandchildren. What would they think? Would they throw tomatoes? No, they loved it and we have become very close! In fact, they are like a second family. The experience of going to Devils Lake, North Dakota, seeing the actual land that was her homestead, and then performing it for an audience of 700 people, 65 of whom were descendants brought together by the play in Devils Lake… I will never ever forget that night. To me, it was everything that theater can be; telling a great story with detail and love and bringing together a community. It's been an honor and joy to share this story all over the country.
What's the best thing that's happened to you from social media?
At its best, I think social media creates the kind of community that I feel is an essential part of a good life. Interconnections and a sense that we are not alone, that our daily cares and concerns, our celebrations, and our tragedies, too, can be shared with others from our present and past. That those others can be brought together to support one another with empathy, and hopefully joy.
Recently, when a friend passed away unexpectedly, it was comforting and meaningful to read many stories that people posted.
On a happier note, it was truly moving to hear from many friends from all parts of my life who are supporting RachelCalof.com and who have supported the show for all of its development.
Why did you choose CSM to build your website?
I had heard Tony speak at Actors Equity Association in Los Angeles several years ago. At that time, I was impressed by his intelligence, sense of humor, and clarity. I kept his information and have followed his work ever since.
First and foremost, my partners and I wanted to find someone to build the site who had great taste, which is obvious by the CSM site. I also liked that each CSM site was unique and not cookie cutter. It felt as though the personalities of each person came through, but always with the CSM sense of style and non-cluttered feel. We also wanted someone from the entertainment industry to do the site as we felt there would be an intrinsic understanding built in. When we spoke with Tony, he impressed me again as being very straightforward, utterly professional, and as someone who would be absolutely on top of things. This proved to be beyond the truth.
I loved working with CSM; they were responsive, prompt, everything on the site worked beautifully, and the technical side was impeccable. The working experience was one of the best I have ever had. I would (and already have) recommend CSM to anyone.
What responses have you received?
The responses have been uniformly raves. People have said it's "beautiful, amazing, compelling, impressive, elegant, outstanding, clear, tells the story beautifully, expresses who and how you are..."
I could go on.
To give context, some of these words came from the former head of Sundance, a friend who's been in web development for magazines for 30 years, a friend who's been a show runner for three different network dramas; these are people who've seen many many websites and who are discerning, smart, highly sophisticated, and tasteful.
More importantly, we have booked a performance (the one in Oregon) on the basis of the site and secured a very reputable publicist for the United Solo performances because she was so impressed by the site!
I am immensely grateful. I feel that the site is, as Tony would say, is "working for us 24 hours a day."
Most of all, I feel it represents who we are and what the show is so beautifully.
Tony Howell is a digital strategist dedicated to helping you design your future—creating offline success from your online presence.