Talk of the "gig economy" has been all the rage over the past couple of years, as more sectors of the economy get Uber-ized. It's no big revolution in the theater world, though, as short-term itinerant positions have been a way of life for theater pros for decades.
"No two days are the same," says Kim Fox, the music director of Quill Theatre's first musical ever, "Assassins," and a prime example of a gig economy worker. "I've learned to schedule in naps."
Fox has an accomplished career as a local music director, racking up seven Richmond Theatre Critics Circle award nominations and taking home the 2013 Best Musical Direction prize for her work on Cadence Theatre's "Next to Normal." But a few 6-8 week stints on a stage production every year doesn't pay the bills and Fox fills her days teaching at Randolph Macon college and Henrico County's Center for the Arts as well as working as an accompanist-for-hire, playing piano for church services and giving private piano lessons.
Some might be daunted by the fractured schedule, but not Fox. "I'm lucky to be able to do what I love for a living," she says. Fox has music in her blood: growing up in the Shenandoah Valley between Staunton and Lexington, her mom was the organist at her church for 50 years. Fox started playing at 6. "I've had plenty of boring office jobs in the past," she says. "I get to work in the coolest office in the world these days and it's rarely boring."
Her latest assignment, one of the less-often produced Sondheim musicals, might have caused her to miss a few naps, given the fabled intricacy of the composer's scores. "Everything about his music is challenging," Fox says. "He has very angular melodies that take wide leaps, sometimes the time signature changes. But the lyrics are so fascinating."
Fox says another challenge of working on a show that explores stories of people through history who have attempted to or succeeded in killing an American president is the guns. "They make me a little scared," she admits. "In my last show, [Richmond Triangle Players'] 'The Boy from Oz,' a character committed suicide right in front of me onstage every night. It took some getting used to. But [VCU professor] Aaron Anderson came in last week and gave a gun safety class. It was fascinating to watch."
Fox has the benefit on "Assassins" of collaborating with a director, Andrew Hamm, who has worked as a music director himself. "I have ideas and he has ideas," she says. "We both throw things at the wall and see what sticks. The notes on the page provide the structure, they're like a skeleton, then we work in the acting and the movement. It's a dynamic process."
"It will be interesting to get people's reactions," Fox says of the challenging material in "Assassins." "There's a lyric that says 'listen to the stories, hear it in the songs,' inviting people into the world of the show. I can't predict right now who will take that invitation and love it or who will just be shocked."
Staged at the Firehouse Theatre but produced by Quill, "Assassins" runs through Nov. 26.
Running: Both TheatreLab’s “Mother Courage and her Children” and Cadence’s “John” run through Nov. 12.
On Deck: The annual cavalcade of holiday stage cheer starts with “A Tuna Christmas” opening at Swift Creek Mill on Nov. 10. But Heritage Ensemble Theatre will present one last blast of drama with “Ceremonies in Dark Old Men,” in a two-weekend run also starting Nov. 10.