Q&A: David Ravel

Alverno Presents has been a Milwaukee fixture since 1959. Now it’s being discontinued. Soon-to-be-former Director David Ravel takes stock.

Photo by Adam Ryan Morris.
Photo by Adam Ryan Morris.

You’ve directed the Alverno Presents performing arts series since 2003. With it ending after the 2015-16 season, what is next for you?
I want to stay here. There will be two “Uncovered” shows at Turner Hall next season. I’ll work on different projects for different people, like a freelance curator.

What were your goals for Alverno Presents when you were hired?
We were looking for what contribution we could make, and we decided on contemporary dance, jazz and world music.

What’s your most memorable moment from an AP performance?
After 13 years, I don’t just have one. We presented Trisha Brown’s dance company three times. The first Global Union was exciting. The “Uncovered” shows mean a lot to me. Along with the Jon Mueller shows. Grandma Sparrow – Joe Westerlund is a genius. Cedar Block’s “Sexy Results.” And Altos’ live performance to accompany the silent film Earth at the Milwaukee Film Festival.

How and when did you become interested in the performing arts?
There was always music in our house. My parents had a stereo console, and I can still recall the albums that were there. My grandmother had a record console, too, but she had 78s. I can remember going there and listening to records when I was 3. I was taken to the theater when I was very, very young.

What made you want to work as a producer?
My wife, Phyllis, and I moved to New York in the 80s, and started Brooklyn Playworks in 1986. I wrote myself at that time, but it was rapidly apparent to me that, while I’m a good writer, I’m a really good producer.

What was it like moving from New York to Milwaukee?
We moved to Milwaukee in 1997 when Phyllis was hired as a theater professor at Marquette. She was a military brat and was used to moving every 2 years. I didn’t adapt as quickly. For me, the turning point was when Trader Joe’s opened here.

Does the closing of Alverno presents speak to challenges for the performing arts in the future?
I think we shared something like a “common culture” until about the mid-90s. It began with Stephen Foster and ended with Michael Jackson. My grandmother, my mother, my sisters and I, and my nieces and nephew all know who Michael Jackson was. There is not another artist around who spans four generations of knowledge. We have an Internet now. That changes everything.

What can be done to keep the performing arts alive?
People will always want to dance. They will always want to make music. They will always want to tell stories. We built performing arts centers and organizations to serve those people. They might go away. In fact, I think we’re looking at it going away. But there are artists still making meaningful work in different venues. I have complete faith that artists are going to figure this out.

‘Point of View: David Ravel’ appears in the March 2016 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Find the March issue on newsstands beginning Feb. 29.

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Paul Kosidowski is a freelance writer and critic who contributes regularly to Milwaukee Magazine, WUWM Milwaukee Public Radio and national arts magazines. He writes weekly reviews and previews for the Culture Club column. He was literary director of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater from 1999-2006. In 2007, he was a fellow with the NEA Theater and Musical Theater Criticism Institute at the University of Southern California. His writing has also appeared in American Theatre magazine, Backstage, The Boston Globe, Theatre Topics, and Isthmus (Madison, Wis.). He has taught theater history, arts criticism and magazine writing at Marquette University and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.