Atlanta playwright helps students create contemporary work

For three weeks, 20 metro Atlanta high school students have been at the Alliance Theatre to study Lawrence & Lee's classic play, "Inherit the Wind." The students will perform their work on Friday, July 10 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, July 11 at 2:30 p.m. at the Alliance. Free. RSVP:

Performing are: Gennifer Allen, Olivia Cappelletti, Emily Combs, Jada Dean, Khalel DeCastro, Alyssa Egelhoff, Delmar Fears, Sydney Graff, Jamila Gray, Samantha McMullen, Dito Montana, Meh Sod Paw, Reece Shelton, Erika Simmons, Alexandria Smith, Autumn Stephens, Kennedy Thedford, A.J. Thomson, Dequadray White and Jordon Whitehead.

Atlanta based playwright Pearl Cleage is helping 20 Georgia high school theater students examine a classic work and develop a new performance based on its themes.

The students are taking part in the 14th annual Palefsky Collision Project at the Alliance Theatre, where Cleage is the Mellon playwright in residence.

This year’s students are studying Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee’s classic “Inherit the Wind.” They will present their interpretations Friday and Saturday. We sat down with Cleage recently to discuss their work.

Q: What is the importance of doing this program?

A: It brings people into the theater. In high school, where people are going to get engaged in the theater and stay with it, it is sometimes hard to keep them engaged. It’s a great opportunity for high school students to hear their own voices and collaborate with other people.

Q: What do you want the students to gain this summer?

A: I want them to feel their own power to make positive change. So many times when they are young, nobody listens to them. People are always talking at them, explaining things to them, and we really nurture that exchange where we listen to what they have to say.

Q: Why is this programming important?

A: I am always sad when people say we don’t have money for the arts, we don’t have time for the arts. We have to study our math and our biology. However, I understand how important math and science are to everything. But I also think that what the arts do is to help us discover ourselves as human beings.

Q: What three things do you want students to learn from “Inherit the Wind.”

A: I want them to think about tolerance and intolerance because that is very much a part of that play. I want them to think about community and what it means for a community to come together and disagree about something. Also, I want them to learn how science and faith coexist.

Q: Do the students inspire you as a playwright?

A: Oh they really do. … I am always struck by how optimistic they are, how hopeful they are, how determined they are to make their own dreams come true and to make an impact on the country they live in.