Gay play sparks outrage in Stephenville

Posted on 18 Mar 2010 at 4:39pm
By DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

Tarleton State theater student says he chose McNally’s ‘Corpus Christi’ because it’s about tolerance, love


NOT BACKING DOWN | Tarleton State theater student John Jordan Otte says he believes that the message of Terrence McNally’s play, ‘Corpus Christi,’ is one of tolerance and acceptance, and that it can bring people together. But some Stephenville residents say the play is blashphemous and Otte shouldn’t be allowed to direct it in class.

STEPHENVILLE — A Tarleton State University student’s choice to present a play with gay content for his class in directing has stirred controversy in the local community. Tarleton State is located in Stephenville, 70 miles southwest of Fort Worth.

When junior John Jordan Otte got the assignment to choose a play that was meaningful to him to direct for his theater class, he selected Terrence McNally’s "Corpus Christi."

On March 27, a 45-minute excerpt from the play will be performed along with selections from three other plays directed by other students in his class.

"Corpus Christi" has a modern Texas setting and depicts a gay man whose life parallels that of Jesus. The character, named Joshua, performs a same-sex wedding.

"The play is about acceptance and tolerance," Otte said. "I chose this play to direct and produce because I am aChristianand I believe that this play can bring people together in a story of acceptance and realization of the alienation we in the gay community feel from most of our churches."

But people in Stephenville are having none of that. They flooded the school with letters and phone calls. Alumni threatened to withhold donations.

Otte and his choice of play were denounced from local pulpits. The story ran on the front page of the Stephenville Empire Tribune under the banner "Showdown at Tarleton," and for days the letters to the editor were about nothing else.

Letters to the newspaper called the play "blasphemous."

But F. Dominic Dottavio, the president of the school, defended freedom of speech on his campus.

"Public universities are expected to extend the same constitutional freedoms we all enjoy in this country to their students, faculty members and staffs. Fundamental to the academic community are freedom of thought, speech and expression, issues we see publicly debated from time to time particularly in the arts.A certain play, speaker, concert, art exhibit or reading may provoke strong feelings and widely differing opinions," he said.

One letter to the newspaper discounted the idea of freedom of speech.

"You do have Freedom of speech, but are you prepared for the consequences of your decision?" the letter writer asked.

Calls to the university were directed to Dean Minix, dean of the College of Liberal and Fine Arts. He said that by Wednesday, March 17, the phone wasn’t ringing quite as often.

"But that could gin back up," he said. "The day isn’t over."

Minix said that for the performance, security will be present.

"We provide a safe and secure environment for our students, faculty and visitors," Minix said.

"I am grateful to my university and the faculty and staff here at Tarleton for allowing me to express myself as an individual and to put forth such an important piece of art," Otte said.

He was excited about supportive e-mails he received this week from McNally and his partner. He called the playwright a hero of his.

He also commended his cast, especially noting Chase Sikes, who is 18, straight and still in high school. Sikes plays Judas and he thanked him for supporting the LGBT community.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 19, 2010.

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