On August 28ththe Ethics and the Arts Initiative sponsored a discussion with playwright Pearl Cleage and the actors from her play What I Learned in Paris. The discussion was moderated by the Emory Center for Ethics’ Director, Dr. Paul Root Wolpe. The questions explored were after a moment of change, how people deal with that change.
The play’s setting is Atlanta, during the 1973 mayoral elections and campaign for Maynard Jackson. There was a large amount of energy within the campaign. People believed that the campaign would break all prejudices. When the campaign ended, though there was great change in race dynamics, there continued to be inequalities in gender relations. The play explores that moment of change, what changed, and the realization that there is a difference between when change occurs and when people finally understand that the change has occurred.
Pearl Cleage worked for the campaign in 1973, which gave her a unique perspective on the events of the campaign and the events that occurred in Atlanta during that time period. One of the main themes was that people can either accept change or live in fear of that change. If you do not believe that people understand change has occurred, and you do not act like change has occurred, then nothing will ever be different.
The discussion had a large attendance. Before the discussion began there was a dramatic reading of select scenes from the play. The audience asked insightful questions. The actors, all of whom came from diverse backgrounds, brought their own perspective on the characters. Dr. Wolpe noted that the actor’s perspective brought another layer to the discussion, as actors always have insights to their characters that may or may not be a part of the script.
The discussion was partially a way to get people excited for the play which began its run in early September. Many people in the audience were long time fans of Pearl Cleage’s literary work. It’s fair to say that many of them walked away with an increased interest of Cleage’s plays.
Editorial by Emily Anne Thomas
-Journalism and Social Media Student Assistant
Emory University Center for Ethics