"You don’t have to wait for someone else to write, create, hire or approve; you can do it yourself."
Kate Fuglei is a wonder woman—wife, mother, writer, teacher and versatile actress with innumerable credits in film, television and theatre.
She is an Artist with a capital "A" and I encourage you to read every word of this interview, then follow this woman online and offline.
She's a blessing to me and I hope you are blessed by her words and work equally.
Why did you become an actor?
I became an actor initially because I saw that actors onstage represented feelings and emotions that I had too. Sometimes they expressed things within the safety of the stage or the screen that were too big or too forbidden to express in daily life. I found this comforting and I guess I wanted to be able to comfort others in the same way that I had been comforted. It made me feel not so alone.
Also, I had a drama instructor in high school (in Omaha, Nebraska of all places) that was a distant relative of the playwright Henrik Ibsen; he encouraged us to read the great playwrights and he also encouraged us to create our own work. We researched and wrote a musical about the Mormons who spent a terrible winter in Omaha while making the trek to Utah. This experience was really seminal and made me realize that you don’t have to wait for someone else to write, create, hire or approve; you can do it yourself. This empowering experience has stayed with me and informed me throughout my life.
What are you currently working on or towards?
I have spent much of the past five years performing, producing and marketing my one-person play, Rachel Calof.
It has been challenging, immensely exciting and profoundly moving. I remain interested in the themes and questions of how we as human beings manage to go on when life becomes its most challenging.
I hope to express some of those answers in a cabaret show I am creating. I am hoping it will be possible to create a performance piece that is entertaining and gives people a sense of shared humanity and history.
Producing and performing a one-person piece can be a lonely process at times, and I am also looking forward to working in plays or pieces with other actors onstage or onscreen. I was incredibly moved this year by the work of the filmmaker Barry Jenkins, whose film Moonlight I found unforgettable. My goal is to work with people of his vision and humanity.
It is a disturbing and stressful time in the history of our country and I am looking at ways in which I as an artist can find what unites us and what will sustain our democracy. I am looking at what messages I can put out as a creator and performer that are realistic yet hopeful.
As a “mature performer”, I am looking at ways to keep growing and stretching; listening to, experiencing and appreciating the work and perspective of younger artists and not becoming stuck in old ways of thinking and doing things. I am trying to remain open and vulnerable and to not let fear and judgment overrule joy and enlightenment.
Why did you become a teacher?
I became a teacher because I was asked, when I was working at my first professional job at the Guthrie theater, to teach a class for their outreach department. The first thing I realized was that when I was teaching, similar to acting, I was completely involved with my students and what they needed or in communicating what I thought might be helpful to them; the rest of the world and worries and focus on self fell away for those moments or hours in class. What a gift that was and still is.
I have taught children, professionals, adults, serious performers and also people who just like theater, in community classes, professional classes, in residencies and at high schools, colleges and universities. It is most gratifying when they have those moments when they lose self-consciousness and find freedom in movement, text or in communing with a fellow performer.
When I see this light go on, whether it is in a professional class or a non-professional, it seems to me the essence of something wonderful.
Real human connection; there’s nothing better.
Why did you become a writer?
My husband and his three brothers are all professional writers; their father was a playwright, so I am surrounded most of the time by professional writers. I have a great respect for the discipline, thoughtfulness and perspective they all have and the work ethic of everyone in my husband’s family.
I have written at various times in my life, but started again in earnest to express some of the things I have felt and observed as a military mom. I wasn’t finding much material on this subject—especially addressing parents in the arts who have children in the military. I wanted to be able to express the many feelings it raises.
I was also fortunate enough to be commissioned to write a book about the Nobel prize-winning physicist Enrico Fermi and also a book about the revolutionary educator Maria Montessori. The experience of researching and writing these books has used a different part of my brain.
To put it another way, acting and singing takes words and makes them physical. Writing is just the opposite; it takes the physical and emotional world and puts it into words. So, it has been an experience of looking at things from a very different perspective. Very gratifying.
Who’ve been some of the mentors/teachers instrumental to your success?
I am profoundly fortunate to live with and speak every day to the person in my life who has been the most supportive and the best mentor; my husband Ken LaZebnik. A deeply talented writer who combines humor, passion, elegance and a unique perspective to everything he writes, he also is one of the most disciplined, hard-working people I know. He has a deep sense of ethical behavior and shows this by being impeccable with his word, by returning e-mails and phone calls and by treating everyone as he would like to be treated. He respects people. He finishes what he starts. He knows how to take notes and to make use of them. He makes deadlines. He is responsible in big things and small. He is never pretentious. He sees the best in people and always gives them the benefit of the doubt. He has great ideas, great dreams and works toward making them happen. He takes responsibility. He has compassion.
I have mentioned my high school drama teacher, Mr. Ibsen. Other creative mentors include the director and theater games teacher Paul Walker, for whom a theater at NYU is named; my friend the actor Henry Stram, whose intelligence, wit, talent and courage as a performer never fails to inspire me; and my two sons, Jack and Ben, who are the hope for the future.
If you could offer advice to your younger self (and/or young aspiring artists) what would it be?
1. To the degree that you can (i.e. in the choices you make for your free time and the relationships you cultivate - you can’t always make these choices in a workplace), surround yourself with people you truly love and who truly love you. If you don’t support them 100% and if they don’t support you 100%, let them go.
2. Put 100% into what you do—whether it is a class, an audition, an interview; whatever it is. The way you do anything is the way you do everything. Cultivate an atmosphere in your life that allows you to do this; keep yourself fit and ready to be at your best physically, vocally and emotionally. Get help with these things; we all need it! Once you have given your all, let it go and move on.
I saw an actor do something at an audition at Warner Bros several months ago, something simple but wonderful; he left the audition room, stepped outside, took a deep breath, methodically ripped his sides into strips, then balled them up and threw them resolutely in the nearest trash can. He took another deep breath and then walked away, obviously lighter and ready to move on with his day and his life. This was clearly his “ritual,” and I had to applaud it. It is so important to develop rituals and relationships that sustain us—especially in a business that demands so much of us and that can be so unpredictable.
3. I truly wish I had not worried so much about things that never happened. I wish that I had started a meditation practice when I was younger or some way to help stay in the present. I now feel it is essential. Meditation helps me “stay in my own lane,” and move toward my own goals and dreams while staying grounded and hopefully compassionate to myself and others.
4. Find at least a day each week, or SOME special designated time to TAKE OFF, GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK, BE SILLY AND DO THINGS THAT GIVE YOU JOY.
5. Volunteer. Find a way to give back.
What do you love about the digital age we live in?
I love the connections it can create between old friends and new, family members, placing visual contexts to growing children, changes in lives and sharing amazing and or difficult moments.
I love the way that it can call people to be accountable and bring people together creating movements and political change, giving a voice to those who have been silenced for too long, calling out wrong and demanding a better world. I also love the way it gives access to so much information.
Finally, I love the way it allows creative artists to have an outlet, a way to put their work out into the world as filmmakers, musicians, writers, visual artists.
What do you hate about the digital age we live in?
Communicating digitally can never and should never be a substitute for real human connection, for actual conversations in which you hear the nuance and meaning conveyed in a human voice, and in the energy of actually being together; the back and forth, the understanding of emotion that is shared.
I hate the digital age in particular when I see parents ignoring children, sometimes to a degree that is actually physically dangerous, or people ignoring the beauty, the fascinating things actually going on in the real world because they are stuck to a little screen. I hate it when it seems to be used as a center of life rather than a tool for enhancing it. As a non digital native, it can be frustrating for me because it doesn’t come naturally to me. So, it is an area in which I have to remain open and willing to learn and grow.
What do you think makes a great website?
To me clarity, elegance, ease of navigation. Something that has either great, tasteful, interesting photographs and images or a great sense of humor. One beautiful thing rather than a ton of small irritating information. This is very personal to me; I am easily overwhelmed visually and I like stark and simple rather than busy. Also a sense of what thing makes the individual or company stand out; what is the one message or aspect that makes it different and unique? Offering and inviting rather than blaring and blasting. Some sense of wit or fun somewhere. And finally a feeling of authenticity.
Why did you choose to work with me?
It is rare to find someone who is both an intuitive, thoughtful, elegant and sensitive artist and a responsible, ethical, visionary businessperson. Extremely rare. I have worked with Tony on two different websites; one for my one person show and one for myself as a professional. In both cases, Tony was responsive, passionate and full of ideas on the one hand but also able to combine his expertise with the very individual and unique person and artist that each one of his clients represents.
I don’t feel that Tony has a “cookie cutter” mentality but instead hears, sees and really creates a new vision for each client. He does this with remarkable organization, meets (and often is done in advance of) all deadlines, sets up extremely clear goals and expectations and to top if all off, includes a way for his clients to learn how to maintain their own sites; he is a wonderful and patient teacher.
I have worked with Tony for a period of three years now and every time I connect with him I always feel empowered and enlightened. Plus he makes it fun!
What is your favorite social network?
I like Instagram because of the simplicity of seeing one image cleanly; people tend to put happy or interesting or beautiful things on Instagram and I enjoy it as a daily “album” of those I care about.
What is your favorite place in Los Angeles? In New York City?
My favorite place in Los Angeles is Point Dume beach near Malibu.
It is a windswept beach and I have been going there for years with my family. It is a little wavier than Zuma Beach, which is just up the road; but the winds sweep all your troubles away.
It is impossible to choose a favorite place in NYC because I have so many...
One would have to be the St. Luke’s garden, a beautiful spot in Greenwich Village on Hudson Street just behind St. Luke’s Church. The Staten Island ferry. Walking from the east village to the west on 12th street on a Saturday night in summer when people are out and romantic and the little cafes are lit with twinkling lights.
What is your favorite quote?
Any last bit of advice?
Peter Sellars, the great director and artist, recently said that the greatest art often comes out of the most challenging times in history.
As a country we are in an unprecedented time of challenge and so as artists, there is a greater need than ever to tell our stories and to give voice to the struggles of our fellow humans and to express as we see it.
I would invite anyone reading this to stay strong, to keep dreaming and telling your story.
Tony Howell is a digital strategist dedicated to helping you design your future—creating offline success from your online presence.