A Tarleton State University student’s choice to present a play with gay content for his theater directing class stirred controversy in the local community.
Tarleton State is in Stephenville, 70 miles southwest of Fort Worth.
John Jordan Otte, a junior, was assigned to choose a play meaningful to him to direct for his theater class. He selected Terrence McNally’s Corpus Christi.
A 45-minute excerpt from the play was scheduled to be performed on March 27 along with selections from three other plays directed by other students in his class in a theater that held just 95 people. The public was never invited to attend.
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.
When the community heard about the play, they flooded the school with complaints. Alumni threatened to withhold donations. Otte was denounced from local pulpits.
At first, Tarleton President F. Dominic Dottavio defended freedom of speech on his campus.
One of the actors in the play was given the choice by his parents of withdrawing from the play or getting out of the house. Otte took in his 18-year-old actor.
As the performance day approached, the time was changed from afternoon to 8 a.m. for security reasons, with only friends and family allowed to watch.
Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst entered the controversy, issuing a statement condemning the play and use of state money.
State money, however, was not being used. Otte paid for performance rights for the play out of his own pocket.
After a final run-through, the professor canceled the production and a grade was given based on that rehearsal.
He cited safety and security reasons. Though not confirmed, several people called Dallas Voice and claimed pressure was put on the professor and on the president of the school by the governor’s office.
Rachel Dudley, a student reporter at Tarleton State, connected Gov. Rick Perry to the controversy when she obtained a copy of note from Steven Hotze, who heads a group of clergy in Houston that had been one of Mayor Annise Parker’s biggest detractors.
“We also owe a debt of gratitude to Governor Perry for his behind the scenes work to stop the play at Tarleton State. Ray Sullivan, the Governor’s Chief of Staff, was notified of the play on Thursday and after discussing it with the Governor, the necessary steps were taken to ensure that its performance was canceled,” said the note from Hotze.
In response, Cathedral of Hope brought a national touring company of Corpus Christi to Dallas. QCinema, which started a live performance group, promises a production in Fort Worth next year.
— David Taffet
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 31, 2010.