Stage Performer, Actor, Street Juggler and Magician
Milwaukee High School of the Arts
David Kovac, one of the "Do 'n Fine" alumni from the class of '89. David and his classmates were the first full four-year Arts' class to graduate from the Milwaukee High School of the Arts, (MHSA.) MHSA opened its doors in 1984, transitioning from West Division Senior High School.
David, a classically trained actor, and former street juggler, "whatever that might mean," and is currently a comedy performer while also doing magic shows. "Naturally, during this past year many theaters, comedy clubs, night spots and other venues have been shuttered due to the global health pandemic. Variety artists have taken to on-line shows or pre-recorded events, so I’ve done several of those over the past year or so, along with a few socially distanced live appearances." Although good news was rather sparse in 2020, David was honored to be nominated for Stage Performer of the Year by The Academy of Magical Arts. That was an uplifting surprise. Also, in February of 2021 he had the good fortune to be featured on the cover of Genii Magazine, the premier trade journal for magicians, mind readers, and variety arts enthusiasts since 1936. "I believe live arts and entertainment will come back strong."
When asked the question, "How did MPS help/inspire you to be where you are today," he responded by stating that he had vivid memories of entertaining students and teachers in comedy sketches and plays at Gold Meir Elementary School, Samuel Morse Middle School, and, of course, numerous productions at MHSA. "Young people who are really interested in getting on a stage tend to find one – occasionally even with their family’s blessing. (My family was always supportive of the arts, so I was lucky.)"
Students who majored in theater at MHSA experienced a comprehensive, immersive program. In addition to academic coursework, students had two hours of arts specialty classes each day, plus after-school rehearsals and performances. It was an intense regimen, in terms of both the curriculum and the schedule. Freshman theater students at MHSA were expected to read one play each week and submit a report on it by filling out index cards with important information; playwright, synopsis, theme, etc … So we learned about the world – real or imagined – through works of dramatic literature at a very young age.
"Looking back, MHSA reflected a diverse, dynamic and intellectually vigorous approach to teaching the history and discipline of theater. What a keen way to cultivate curious young minds, as well as the innate talents of the cast, crew and technical production team. (Oh, and we had the best cast parties!) It was a vibrant environment. Thanks to the training and preparation I received in high school, I was accepted to The Theater School of DePaul University (founded as The Goodman School of Drama in 1925), where I earned my BFA in Acting. I have been a full-time performer ever since … going on three decades now."
How are you giving back to the community?
I have participated in mentoring programs for young people ages 9 to 12 through a lay Buddhist organization. These endeavors culminated in an event called The Living Museum. These were profoundly rewarding experiences, and made me all the more appreciative of the courageous mentors we had back at MHSA. More recently here in the Los Angeles area, my wife and I have volunteered with Hollywood Food Task Force. But my initial, honest answer to your question is simply to become a happy person and cultivate as much gratitude as possible.
We’ve already touched on the importance of being truly present with those we know and love, but I’m often surprised at how little it takes to spread joy to perfect strangers. One night I was at a Pub in Chicago with a friend of mine, who just happened to be a famous magician with a robust sense of humor and a huge heart. At the end of our dinner (with magic tricks for the bartenders and servers), he told the waitress to keep the change. She returned to our table five minutes later and said “Sir, there must be some mistake – this is a lot of cash here.” My friend simply smiled and said we’d had a wonderful time, and any extra money was for her. She immediately held her face with both hands and began to levitate (in her imagination, of course). “Thank you, this is the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me since I’ve been working here,” and she started to cry. This simple gesture, which cost maybe the equivalent of a couple extra drinks, had a remarkable impact on this woman, and also on me. (Incidentally, when this same magician friend of mine passed away peacefully a few years ago, surrounded by loved ones, I doubt he was thinking about his lost cash that night at the Pub.)
To this day, I keep in close contact with many of my friends from Milwaukee High School of the Arts. I am proud and protective of them, and I honor the memory of our educators and peers who have since passed on.
You don’t have to be a professional magician to make invisible people visible in this world. All you need to do is remember the first time somebody made you feel valued, respected, or treated you like somebody special. That kind of magic is real, and quite powerful.
At MHSA we were constantly challenged to surpass ourselves, on stage and off, and we worked hard to earn the respect of our peers and instructors. We also did and said dumb stuff, got yelled at, and probably created a lot of bad art, like most kids – that’s all part of it. But we always accepted the challenge, and each other.
Is there anything that you would like to say to your fellow alumni/alumnae of MPS?
"You’re swell." (I’ve always wanted to say “swell.”)
I can honestly say that because of MHSA, I was inspired to inspire others to care. Our leaders encouraged us to take pride in our work, inwardly and outwardly. We were always reminded to get dressed up on opening night, for example, which made us feel like our shows were something important. (I still miss those opening nights.) To this day, I regard every theater as a sacred space, and make an effort to dress for a special occasion. I would also like to credit the MHSA faculty – arts as well as academic departments – for nurturing genuine character in young people. We were no more permitted to demonstrate a lack of respect for others than a lack of imagination for ourselves. I’ll say it again: we were brought up to care.
"Thanks for taking the time to read all of this. I just got booked for two weeks in July at a new venue in San Antonio, Texas called The Magicians Agency Theater. If you’re in the neighborhood, stop by for some laughs and a few surprises I’ve been working on since, well, 1989. Oh, and bring a deck of cards – somehow mine keep disappearing."
Are you an MPS Alum who is giving back to your community? Do you know of an MPS graduate who is making a difference in their community? Send information to the Alumni Hub - firstname.lastname@example.org