This Year’s Palefsky Collision Project Examines Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On?’

For the past 20 years, the Alliance Theatre’s Palefsky Collision Project has given high school students the opportunity to examine important social issues and create new works inspired by a certain literary or theatrical text. In honor of the 50th anniversary of Marvin Gaye’s album “What’s Going On?,” students will explore the themes addressed in his music. Issues such as racial injustice, inner-city poverty, police brutality, and climate change are illustrated in his songs; many issues which still ring true today. “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes spoke with the Alliance’s Distinguished Playwright-in-Residence Pearl Cleage about this year’s project and how the students will be working through Gaye’s legendary album.

Interview Highlights:

What the Palefsky Collision Project is about:

“What we’re talking about is young people colliding with great works of art, all different kinds..literary, theatrical and being able to look at them through a basic text and create a new piece on their own, based on reactions to the ideas they find and how they integrate those ideas in what their lives feel like right now,” said Cleage. She continued, “So we spend three weeks together with 20 amazing young people from around the metro area, and they write and do all kinds of workshops with wonderful artists from Atlanta. Then at the end of our first two weeks, I take everything that they’ve written and I put it together kind of like a quilt. A mosaic of all their ideas and thoughts and I don’t write any of it. I shape it, but it’s really their ideas and all of their writing. It ends up being a conversation between these 20 young people and the audience.”

Why they wanted to analyze “What’s Going On?” for this year’s program: 

“We’ve never used a piece of music as our basic text before. We always have something that animates our discussion and time together, but we’ve never used a piece of music. I don’t think you could find a better piece of work to let these young people collide with than this one. It’s an amazing artistic achievement and it looks at so many things that we’re still grappling with–racial justice, war and peace, urban poverty, drug addiction, the environment. All of those things that Marvin Gaye was talking about in 1971 and they’re still very relevant.”

Palefsky Collision Project performances will be on July 30 at 7 p.m. and July 31 at 2:30 p.m. at the Woodruff Arts Center.