At the risk of sounding like a bad joke about a priest, a rabbi and a…. What does an 80’s heavy metal band and an 8th grade English class have in common?
Do you remember middle school or junior high or whatever it was called in your region of the country? There was a little uncertainty, a whole lot of hormones, and a sense of the absurdity of grown-ups?
I remember sitting in Mrs. Stonestreet’s 8th grade English class diagramming sentences as she walked up to the lectern, looked out at her charges with more than a little disdain etched on her face and said, “Well, isn’t this a motley crew?” (Please read that in an irritating, nasally tone - it was 8th grade after all).
As you can imagine, the entire class broke up into paroxysms of laughter that a stern, humorless, English teacher would never understand. It was 1982, and Motley Crue was a new heavy metal band, not kids in an English class. But isn’t it funny how a regular, disjointed group of people can go from a motley crew to so much more? I watched it happen last night at an improv show of all places.
Let me set the scene, so to speak. Eight o’clock on a Saturday night, a small theater in Ft. Mill, SC. The house lights go down as the stage lights go up. A group of people hit the stage. They are putting on a comedy show for a sold-out crowd.
The problem is it’s improv. There are no lines to learn, no stage directions to remember - which in some circumstances can be a really good thing. Until you think of the alternative. There’s nothing to rely on, nothing to fall back on. The actors are standing in the glaring lights with nothing but their own quick thinking and senses of humor. But there they are nonetheless. The ages range from early twenties to late sixties; they are from all stages of life. One is newly out of college, some have young families, and others have or are waiting for grandchildren.
None of that matters when it’s go-time. In the uncertainty of where the scene is going, trying to figure out who their own character is and doing it all with split-second timing, they suddenly become a team.
On that stage I saw them “perform in the Olympics” with a physicality that would have inspired the athletes currently in Beijing. They belted out song after song that they made up on the spot with almost every one of the lines rhyming perfectly. They pretended to be dozens of different characters in myriad situations.
In a way what they did is much like flying without a safety net. When half of the team was on stage performing, you could see the other half paying attention to their teammates’ scenes, laughing, cheering them on. They were indeed doing much of what a safety net actually does.
After all the cheering and clapping that had to have left the spectators’ hands tired and sore has died down, after the audience has gone home, the team sits in a little dive eating french fries and burgers. They take turns talking about the show. What they did well, and what they would change next time. In that moment, as they have been all evening, they are all in.
As the evening draws to a close, and they are getting dirty looks from the restaurant's waitstaff, they put on their coats and scatter into the night, heading to their respective daily lives of things like real estate, banking, medicine. They smile and hug and slap each other on the back. And I hope they realize that for an evening this motley crew was a family.