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Devils Lake Journal - Devils Lake, ND
  • Actor, director of Calof play excited to visit show’s roots

  • For the past four years, television and stage actress Kate Fuglei as well as Emmy-Award winning producer and director Ellen Pressman have become tremendously involved with a new project.
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  • For the past four years, television and stage actress Kate Fuglei as well as Emmy-Award winning producer and director Ellen Pressman have become tremendously involved with a new project. This weekend, the women's connection to the project is sure to grow even more as Fuglei and Pressman visit the home of their source material.
    Their production, "Rachel Calof: A Memoir with Music," is based on the memoir of Calof who raised a large rural family near Devils Lake in the late 1800's. Telling the story of a Jewish bride who lived through a difficult childhood in Russia before emigrating to a rural North Dakota settlement in the Lake Region, the professional actor and director have each worked hard to make their one-woman play a special one.
    Since premiering in Los Angeles a little more than two years ago, "Rachel Calof: A Memoir with Music" has been presented on numerous stages throughout the United States. All the performances have been important, but still Fuglei, who plays Calof, and Pressman, the show's director, both admit that there is a special significance of bringing the show to the Lake Region for the first time.
    On Friday and Saturday, the national production will be presented at the Robert E. Fawcett Auditorium on the campus of Lake Region State College at 7:30 p.m. There are several reasons of excitement for both veterans of stage and television. For one, it's a chance to visit the midwest.
    Fuglei, a native of Omaha, is familiar with the region. She has, however, never stepped foot in North Dakota and is looking forward to it. For the show's director, visiting North Dakota is an entirely new experience.
    "I'm bi-coastal, so this is all unique to me," Pressman, whose television production and directing credits include hit shows such as Party of Five, L.A. Law, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Hill Street Blues among others,  told the Journal. "To be able to visit the great plains will be terrific. I'm so interested in the layout of your state and to get to explore the area."
    It's also a chance to meet family members and neighbors of Calof, Fuglei stated. The crew of "Rachel Calof: A Memoir with Music" hopes that the play connects with the individuals of this area. Seen through the eyes of an emigrant new to the United States, the story deeply revolves around the challenges and rewards of raising a family in the late 19th century.
    Through performances at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., and the Minnesota Jewish Theatre in St. Paul, Minn., the women have had the opportunity to meet various members of the Calof family. A number of area individuals also attended the play in Minnesota. Connecting with family and friends has been special, Fuglei stated.
    Page 2 of 3 - "They are tremendous people," said of the Calof family members she has met through the production. "Having the opportunity to learn more about people that are so connected to the area has been eye-opening."
    The component that Fuglei and Pressman are looking forward to most is to the visit the area that Calof called home. During their time in Devils Lake, the two are planning to tour the homestead plot of the family as well as the Son's of Joseph Cemetery.  
    "Through the material, we get such a strong sense of Rachel, her family and her surroundings," Fuglei, who has starred in shows such as NCIS, commented. "To walk on the same land that she did will be just tremendous. We are wonderfully excited to know that it will be an incredibly valuable experience."
    Fuglei and Pressman both note that they are very serious about the project and its possibilities. The hope for the production is to bring the story to as many people as possible through a national tour. Visiting Devils Lake is a pivotal moment for "Rachel Calof: A Memoir with Music."
    "This is a evolving show," Pressman stated. "Through the years, we have changed several elements and we know that this trip will help add to our production in the future. This trip will help us fill in more details and texture.
    The production's story dates back to about 14 years ago. Fuglei, at the urging of a friend, picked up the book featuring writings of Rachel Calof. Ever since reading the woman's memoir, she felt a special link to the material as well as the Russian emigrant. With each year that has passed, the actress has noticed more of a connection with Calof.
    "I think what always resonated with me was the uniqueness of her voice," Fuglei told the Journal. "Her writings are very honest and funny. She made great observations on life and the people around her."
    Kate also admires the continued perseverance showed by the female pioneer. No matter if it was dealing with problems from her childhood, having a hard time with the weather or an argument with a mother-in-law, Calof continued to persist with a sense of humor to go along with equally impressive focus.
    "I have always been interested about what makes us keep going in life," Fulgei stated. "We all have those moments when we feel life gets the better of us. The way Rachel continued to persevere through is very inspiring to me."
    The public is invited to the production on both Friday and Saturday. Tickets are available at the Lake Region Heritage Center. For Pressman, one unique component of "Rachel Calof: A Memoir with Music" is its audience interaction.
    "It's a one-woman play that invites the audience to interact through Rachel (Kate) on stage," the show's director commented. "We hope that the crowd can hear this story and think about their parents and grandparents. It's all about where we come from and the struggles that our descendants had."
    Page 3 of 3 - After the 80-minute performance is complete, a special question-and-answer session will be held. The discussion, led by the production crew and members of Calof's family, will be open to the crowd as the audience will be encouraged to ask questions about the material.
    Another opportunity for area individuals will be a special seminar set for Saturday morning at 10 a.m. Held at the Lake Region Heritage Center, the public will be able to hear from Fulgei, Pressman, play writer Ken Lazebnik and musical director Leslie Steinweiss. All four members of the crew, have a tremendous amount of experience in the entertainment industry.
    "Anyone that has questions about the industry is invited to attend," Fulgei stated. "It will be a great opportunity to really connect with the people of the area."
    Through their visit to Devils Lake, both individuals expect to be greatly impacted. Ultimately, Pressman hopes that the area is able to take something away from "Rachel Calof: A Memoir with Music" as well.
    "We know it's going to affect us," she said. "But there's also a hope that this play can help the audience see a piece of history on stage. Hopefully, Rachel's story can inspire individuals to remember where they come from. By bringing the production to Devils Lake, we hope we can give something back to the community."
    Fuglei added, "It's just so exciting. I can't honestly wait."

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