When you meet 6-foot-6-inch Dennis Buehler, you might expect to find him on a football field or basketball court, not a performing arts stage as the executive director of the Milwaukee Ballet. But if Buehler hadn’t followed his passion more than 20 years ago, he might be standing on sod instead of a stage after all.
A self-proclaimed “theater geek” in high school, Buehler traveled to the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee (UWM) during his senior year to audition for the highly competitive Professional Theatre Training Program. His first audition didn’t go well. “It was one of the most single dreadful things I’ve ever done in my life,” Buehler says. “I’m surprised they didn’t laugh!” Thoughts of accepting one of three offers to play football at other universities filled his head as he made his way to his second audition, this time for the production side of the program.
The interviewers grilled him, but following a phone interview with Theatre Associate Professor and well known set designer Rick Graham, Buehler was accepted into the program – a rarity for a student fresh out of high school. He graduated with high honors from UWM in 1993, and went on to work for the Skylight Opera Theatre (now Skylight Music Theatre) in 1998 and the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts as executive director in 2002. Today Buehler serves as the executive director of the Milwaukee Ballet, with one key project being the Harmony Initiative, a unique collaboration between the Milwaukee Ballet, the Peck School of the Arts and the Medical College of Wisconsin. How lucky for the Peck School and the city of Milwaukee that Buehler chose the stage over the football field.