BNHM would like to introduce Eric March, our master mind on the piano. Having the fastest growing hair of any cast member, Eric shares his experience doing improv on 88 keys.
Please post your thoughts to Eric!
How did you get into piano improvisation?
I was friends with a lot of improvisers in college. After I graduated and moved to the city, one of them asked me to audition for the musical improv show he was producing -- Chicago City Limits. I had never done any musical improv before, and having seen the CCL show once in high school, knew I definitely couldn't do it as well as they could, so I kept putting him off and hoping he'd forget about it. Eventually I ran out of excuses and decided to get it over with. I've been playing for their touring company ever since.
Who is your musical inspiration?
I was obsessed with Billy Joel as a kid. I have a dog-eared, falling-apart copy of the two-volume Billy Joel Complete sitting in a cabinet at my parents' house that was my best friend for many years of torturous classical piano lessons. Nowadays I listen to a lot of white guys with twangy guitars and old timey musical theater.
What was your first gig in musical improv?
Chicago City Limits was not only my first musical improv gig, but my first professional music gig in general (aside from a few weddings and bar mitzvahs I played in high school and college). My first show with the group was a tour show in Omaha, Nebraska, which was absolutely terrifying. But I was amazed by the craft services. They made me feel like a total rock star. I remember calling my girlfriend at the time and saying, "Holy sh*t! Did you know they give us chicken??? For free? In sauce???"
How do you create an entire song along with the cast trying to do the same thing at the same time?
Amphetamines. If you don't have a good connection, it helps to listen really well and know a lot about song structure.
How many "scores" would you say you have written on the spot?
Hm. Hard to say. 100, maybe? 3 years, 35 shows a year sounds about right.
What is the most memorable moment for you on stage in this type of setting?
Sheesh. My memory for this stuff is really terrible. My girlfriend stage manages the Chicago City Limits show and has an incredible mental index of all of the bits we've ever done, so I should probably ask her and get back to you. Off hand, I'd have to say performing for 30 members of my family early on in my time with CCL. They were the whole audience, and they were super enthusiastic about everything I did, which really helped build my confidence at a time when I wasn't so sure about my abilities yet. Offstage, I would have to say breaking into a spontaneous rendition of "Wheels of a Dream" with Kobi before a show in St. Cloud, Minnesota, and all of the other hundred million things like that that happen when you
hang out with improvisers.
What is the strangest song you have played for musical improv?
I don't remember any particularly strange ones. I once did a song with Rob and a few others at CCL called the "Song of the Missing People." It was part of a musical about a group of kids who drove into New York to go out for the night, got their car stolen, wound up in a police station somehow staring at a wall full of pictures of missing persons, before their friends came to get them. When the lights came up on the third scene, Rob said, "And now, the Song of the Missing People." I had forgotten the part of the story where they looked at the people on the wall, and thought he was out of his mind. I literally played the whole song without having a clue what was going on, and it wasn't until a few minutes later that I figured out what had just happened. I'm sure that's happened many more times than I can recall, but that's the one that sticks out. I forget things sometimes even as they are happening right in front of me.
How long did it take for you to grow that incredible J-Fro?
When you aren't found at the Phony Awards, where might you be out in the city?
Hopefully at City Sub in Park Slope. That place is awesome. Go there and you'll never be able to eat a sandwich again without experiencing at least a little bit of regret.