DVtv: In wake of Tarleton State controversy, 'Corpus Christi' arrives at Cathedral of Hope

Terrence McNally’s “Corpus Christi” is set in Texas, but it’s never before been staged in the Lone Star State. That will change this weekend, when the Cathedral of Hope hosts a Los Angeles-based production of the play about a gay Christ-like figure named Joshua. This weekend’s shows grew out of the recent controversy at Tarleton State University in Stephenville. TSU student John Jordan Otte wanted to stage an excerpt from “Corpus Christi” as a class project, but the university canceled the production, citing security concerns. We later learned that Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and even Gov. Rick Perry may have been responsible for cancellation of Otte’s project.

For the DVtv segments previewing this weekend’s shows, we sat down with the Los Angeles-based co-producers of “Corpus Christi,” Nic Arnzen and James Brandon (who also plays Joshua); with Otte and with the Rev. Jo Hudson, senior pastor at the Cathdral. Our interviews with Otte and Hudson are after the jump. Showtimes are Friday through Sunday at 7 p.m., with a Saturday matinee at 3 p.m. Tickets are $32–$52 and can be purchased at the door of the Cathedral, 5910 Cedar Springs Road.

—  John Wright

Shocker! Dewhurst ignores request for meeting from student behind gay Jesus play

John Jordan-Otte
John Jordan-Otte

John Jordan-Otte, the Tarleton State University student whose production of the gay-themed play “Corpus Christi” was cancelled amid controversy in March, issued a press release last night alleging that Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is ignoring his request to meet and discuss how to prevent a similar episode in the future.

Otte says he submitted a letter to Dewhurst’s office last Thursday, letting the lieutenant governor know that he’ll be in Austin this weekend and would like to chat. Dewhurst has been accused of prompting cancellation of the “gay Jesus play” by issuing  a press release condemning it and possibly contacting TSU administrators and threatening their jobs. It’s also been suggested that Dewhurst was merely doing the dirty work of his buddy Rick Perry.

“The torrent of media and political attention changed my life forever, and I don’t want another student to face the same criticism,” Otte wrote in his letter to Dewhurst.

Last week, Dewhurst claimed he was exercising his right to free speech when he squelched Otte’s free expression. Dewhurst also said he would have intervened regardless of what religious leader was portrayed as gay, even Buddha, because the school receives state funding and shouldn’t be allowed to “denigrate” anyone’s faith. Read Otte’s full letter to Dewhurst after the jump.

—  John Wright

Dewhurst says he was exercising free speech when he stifled free expression and got the gay Jesus play canceled at Tarleton State

I rushed into the office at 8 a.m. this morning, hoping to catch The Texas Tribune‘s interview with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, because I knew they’d ask about his recent decision to issue a press release calling for the cancellation of a gay-themed play at Tarleton State University. As it turns out, The Tribune doesn’t broadcast its live chats live, but they have now posted Dewhurst’s response to the question on YouTube. Above is the video, and below is my transcript.

Dewhurst: First of all if that particular play had been in any other venue, a private school, some theater, none of my business. None of my business. I exercised my First Amendment right to say something when a lot of people were calling all around the state of Texas saying, “What in the world is going on at a state school that receives state money?” That was the only reason I said something. There were two elements. One, it was at a state school that was receiving state money. Two, it was ridiculing, in my judgment, you may not agree, but ridiculing one religion. It doesn’t make any difference to me — on this, and I want to use this word carefully, I’m agnostic on this — it doesn’t make any difference, in my judgment: If a play ridiculed anybody’s religion, I would have reacted the same way.

TT: So a play about gay Buddha would have received the same press release?

Dewhurst: Yes, it would have, because I don’t believe it’s right to denigrate anybody’s religion.

—  John Wright

Otte: Safety on campus was the main concern

john 1John Otte, the student involved in the “Corpus Christi” controversy, reflected on the incident in a recent e-mail to Dallas Voice. He said if campus safety was the main concern, he’s happy with the decision to cancel the production at Tarleton State University in Stephenville.

A plan to bring the production to Fort Worth has not moved forward this week, although Todd Camp said other theaters have stepped forward to offer space after Rose Marine Theater “rescinded” their invitation.

Here’s what Otte said in the e-mail:

Innuendo and rumor exists in political and populous opinion claiming there were other reasons for canceling the Tarleton class production of “Corpus Christi,” but I want to make it clear that I have no factual knowledge of any interference.

That being said if pressure was or was not received, I know the Tarleton administration, my dean and my professor did everything in their power to preserve academic freedom and to ensure the safety of all students at Tarleton State University.  They fought for as long as they could to stave off censorship and preserve this institution of higher learning.

In no way do I blame them for their decisions. I know that my professor, caring deeply about each one of his students in the department, weighed every issue before him and in the end our safety was much more important than the presentation of a play.

While I fear this can set a precedent for censorship through fear mongering, I in no way judge the decision of my professor. If our safety could not be ensured I am happier with the outcome at hand.

I hope that we can simply move forward and learn from everything that has occurred. After all why else are we pursuing knowledge in a higher education setting? The message remains clear from “Corpus Christi” unconditional love through all adversity.

—  David Taffet

'Corpus Christi' to be performed in Fort Worth

John Otte

John Otte

The controversial class production of the Terrence McNally play “Corpus Christi” will be performed in Fort Worth.

John Jordan Otte, the student who chose the play as a project for his advanced directing class, said that a date has not been set but he wants to finish the semester first. He said the date will probably be sometime in late May.

He is working with Elaine Liner and Mark Lowry of Theater Jones to bring the production to the Metroplex and the production will be held at the Rose Marine Theater west of downtown. The Fort Worth theater is more than 2 1/2 times larger than the space it would have been presented in at Tarleton State University.

—  David Taffet

‘Corpus Christi’ controversy continues at another college

John Otte at Tarleton State University might have started a new college trend. For a class project he prepared an excerpt from the Terrence McNally play “Corpus Christi,” which presents Jesus as gay.

gallaudetNow Gallaudet University in Washington D.C. is presenting the play with some additional twists to rankle the radical right who protested the Texas production into cancellation for safety reasons. (A presentation of Otte’s class production in the Metroplex in a larger venue is still pending).

The show was just recently added to the theater department’s schedule.

While Otte’s production was simply a class project and presentation was not open to the public, the Gallaudet presentation is theater department presentation. The D.C. production will be performed three times. At Tarleton, the play was slated for one performance.

Gallaudet University is a school for the deaf. So in this production Jesus will be deaf and gay. And that added “imperfection” of hearing impairment in this presentation is sure to rile the homophobes who don’t believe that Jesus embraced anyone other than married, suburban heterosexuals.

The protesters in D.C. are at work again but the university is standing by its production.

So by threatening violence against a student in a directing class in a small school 70 miles southwest of Fort Worth, the right-wing haters in Stephenville have turned this relatively unknown and rarely performed play into a must-produce phenomenon for any theater company or college group that wants to prove its independence and avant garde credentials.

A story on Christian Newswire says, ” The lewd production was recently canceled at Tarleton State University in Texas due to peaceful protest.”

By peaceful, I assume they mean the threats of violence that were phoned or emailed to everyone from the president of the school for not knowing every student’s homework assignment to Dallas Voice for reporting on the play.

I’m looking forward even more to bringing Otte and company to Dallas.

—  David Taffet

Tarleton State University cancels performance of gay-themed play, citing safety concerns

So much for free expression.

The much-publicized performance of a gay-themed play at Tarleton State University, scheduled for Saturday morning, was canceled Friday night due to safety concerns, The Dallas Morning News reports.

Tarleton State President F. Dominic Dottavio issued a statement earlier Friday calling the play “offensive, crude and irreverent,” but adding that stopping the production would amount to a violation of free expression. However, the university issued a statement later saying the class’s professor canceled the play due to concerns about students’ safety and the need to maintain an orderly academic environment.

Also, Friday, Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst issued a statement condemning the play, according to The Texas Tribune. Here’s what Dewhurst said:

“Every citizen is entitled to the freedom of speech, but no one should have the right to use government funds or institutions to portray acts that are morally reprehensible to the majority of Americans.

Texans don’t deserve to see their hard-earned tax money used to debase their religion. This lewd display runs completely contrary to the standards of scholastic excellence and common decency that we demand in our publicly-funded institutions for higher learning.”

—  John Wright

Letter to the editor from the president of Tarleton State University

The president of Tarleton State University sent this letter to the editor clarifying the school’s position on the controversy that has arisen about a class project that involved production of an except of the Terrence McNally play “Corpus Christi.” Click here for original story.

To the Editor:

In the past week, our community has heard and read passionate statements as a result of a student’s decision to present selected material from the play “Corpus Christi.”  The opinions expressed in the emails and phone calls received at Tarleton range from those declaring the play blasphemous and degrading to those stating the need for us to support the freedom of speech rights of the student.   Emotions surrounding the issue were heightened by some misunderstanding about Tarleton’s association with the production.  Please allow me to give some information.

  • The university does not endorse the play.
  • The play is not a University-sponsored production in the Fine Arts series at Tarleton.
  • The play is a project for a class.  It is not intended for the public any more than a student’s math assignment.

—  David Taffet

Early morning curtain time for controversial play for security

John Jordan Otte
John Jordan Otte

An excerpt from the gay-themed Terrence McNally play “Corpus Christi” will be presented at Tarleton State University at 8 a.m. on Saturday, March 27.  The production, originally set for afternoon, has been rescheduled for security reasons, and only friends, family and invited guests will be admitted.

The controversy began several weeks ago when members of the community in Stephenville heard  gay student John Jordan Otte has chosen the play as a project for his directing class.

Local preachers denounced the play from the pulpit. Letters to the editor of The Stephenville Empire Tribune claimed blasphemy. Callers flooded the school administration with complaints. None of those who complained claimed to have ever actually seen or read the play.

Otte said that he chose “Corpus Christi” because of its theme of tolerance, and he called McNally a hero of his.

Although the time has changed, the play was always scheduled to be presented in the small 95-seat theater and was never advertised to the public.

The administration has defended the play’s presentation on free speech and academic freedom grounds.

—  David Taffet

Does anti-gay protest at Tarleton State merit a response from the LGBT community?

Stephenville is about 106 miles from Dallas.
Stephenville is approximately 106 miles southwest of Dallas.

The Star-Telegram of Fort Worth is reporting that Tarleton State University police will need 50 extra local and state officers on Saturday, when student-director John Jordan Otte presents an excerpt from the gay-themed play “Corpus Christi” as a drama class project. As DV staffer David Taffet, who broke this story last week, has noted, the right-wingers in Stephenville are raising hell about the play, which depicts a gay Jesus.  They say the content is particularly offensive the week before Easter. And according to The S-T, they’re now planning to protest and “witness” in the parking lot outside the theater. So I’m just wondering out loud here, are any LGBT groups planning to make the 100-mile trek from Dallas? It’s a long drive, but doesn’t this situation warrant a show of support from the community in the nearest metropolitan area? Or in the interest of logistics and strategy, should we just ignore these nutjobs? Please feel free to discuss in the comments.

—  John Wright