Milwaukee's most peripatetic music director
Pay attention to the woman at the piano when you go to see the obscure Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt musical "Roadside" at Off the Wall Theatre. She has worked at a coal mine, been a practicing attorney, rides a motorcycle, plays video games and bicycles 37 miles on most days.
But Donna Kummer's defining identity is as Milwaukee's most peripatetic music director. She has filled that function at many of the city's smaller professional and larger community theater companies as well as at high schools, colleges and Plymouth Church UCC. She is also the conductor of the Wauwatosa Community Band.
In Tandem Theatre Company, the Boulevard Ensemble, Off the Wall Theatre, the Sunset Playhouse, the closed Cornerstone Theatre and the old Broadway Baby Dinner Theatre are on Kummer's resume. The show count exceeds 160.
"Broadway Baby was a tremendous experience," she says. "The rhythm of doing 10-week runs and being able to settle into a show was so much fun."
Not what you would expect from someone who grew up on a turkey farm in North Dakota, but then Kummer is a master of the unexpected. With a degree in flute performance and German from the University of North Dakota fresh in her hand, she took a job doing heavy equipment maintenance scheduling analysis at a coal mine in her home state. There is not a big call for German speaking flute players in the Dakotas.
Next came law school at Marquette, and after graduating in 1987, Kummer found a niche in personal injury and product liability law. She was a plaintiff's attorney specializing in asbestos and all-terrain vehicle cases.
Although the compensation was good, Kummer was restless. "Practicing law was not my passion," she explains. "I didn't hate it, but it was so all-consuming."
It was difficult for Kummer to work her other interests into her schedule, and she wanted more of a life. She was doing a little community theater acting and playing in pit orchestras.
Kummer left the legal profession and went to work for a music publishing company for a while. The financially uncertain world of a freelance musician followed.
The Plymouth Church and Tosa Community Band gigs, both part time positions, give Kummer a small economic base, and the rest of her income is cobbled together from music directing musical theater productions. "I make less money now than I did 20 years ago as an attorney," she said during a pre-rehearsal chat at Off the Wall Theatre. And she is happier.
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