A Q&A with Eric Kerchner

Get to know the Carroll County Arts Council’s new Executive Director, Eric Kerchner! Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

What is the most memorable arts experience you’ve had during the pandemic?

Bo Burnham’s Inside is the most brilliant art I’ve seen in the pandemic. He took the pandemic and turned it into this introspective art piece that’s funny, but also serious. He must have rehearsed forever to get in sync with the music and light effects. Definitely a must watch.

What is the most memorable arts experience you’ve had in general?

I know exactly what it is. In 1989, I went to London and I was able to see the remount of a play by Martin Sherman called Bent, starring Ian McKellan. I’ve never been a part of any art like that. It’s the highest watermark I’ve experienced. In the last minutes of this play, you go through every emotion in the extreme. There were people crying out. There was a woman four rows up from us who threw herself into the aisle and started wailing while the play was going on. She had been completely transported. When the play was over, there’s total silence in the theatre, nobody knew what to do. I remember telling myself to look around because this is never going to happen again. Total silence, the lights came up, and then when the curtain call started, it was an immediate standing ovation. Six curtain calls! Ian McKellan had to come out and literally ask the audience to leave. Nothing has ever approached that experience.

Do you have any hobbies outside the arts?

I enjoy live sports and learning about history. I like reading historical nonfiction and documentaries more than I like the average superhero movie (though I’ve seen all of those too!).

Which act are you most looking forward to this season at the Carroll Arts Center?

I think Charlie Brown Jazz because everybody talks about it. I love holiday events and getting into the festive season, so I’m looking forward to both the performance and seeing some big audiences!

What are you watching on TV these days?

I’m re-watching The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, which I think for people who love theatre, it’s a gem. These are some of the best theatre actors you can find. And it’s shot and written like a play. I’ve also gone back to watch Mad Men, truly one of the greatest TV shows of all time. I love the writing, the costumes, everything about it.

If safety wasn’t an issue, what animal would you have as a pet?

I love sea otters. I want to come back as a sea otter. They’re kind of vicious, but they’re sleek and have cute faces.

Your background is in theatre. What are your favorite roles that you’ve played?

One favorite is Mole in Wind in the Willows. At the time, I was at a tremendously down point in my life. But going to those rehearsals with these people who knew what I was going through, who worked to create a positive, uplifting atmosphere, I was able to let some of that pathos go into my role as Mole. It really helped to shape the performance.

I also played the Fool to Danny Davis’s King Lear. Being able to share those intimate scenes with such a great actor and build the characters together was really great.

Looking back, when did you know the arts were going to be part of your future?

I was a very quiet kid that grew up on a rural farm, so I was pretty isolated too. Due to redistricting, I went to different schools for first, second, and third grade, so I didn’t really make strong ties among my peers. So my third grade teacher basically came to me and asked me to play the lead in a school play that we would be performing for the rest of the school. It was a morality play about a guy who’s given a set of instructions, but keeps forgetting the order when he sets out to do them. There was a point in the show where my character is supposed to buy a cow, but accidentally buys a loaf of bread instead. So I’m onstage as my character trying to remember what the instructions are, when I was suddenly aware that the kids in the audience were yelling at me, trying to correct me by saying stuff like “No! It’s the cow you’re supposed to get!” I then suddenly started improvising and talking back to the audience like, “Really? Am I supposed to get the cow? No, I think you’re wrong.” I was very aware of the power I had on that stage. I had all their attention and energy coming at me. As soon as it was over, I wanted to do it again. I had never been in a position where people listened to me. That moment is powerful for me. When I think back on when the door opened to my theater career, it was that day.