For a one-time-only performance that would have been under an hour, the saga of Tarleton State University’s “gay Jesus” play sure has been a long one. In the latest plot twist, a Tarleton State journalism student has uncovered yet another flap.
Here’s the background: That “gay Jesus” play is Terrence McNally’s Corpus Christi. Student John Jordan Otte chose to put it on for a project in his advanced directing class. Word leaked out and people got upset. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst preemptively condemned the performance. At the eleventh hour, as the school prepared for swarms of protestors, Otte's professor canceled it, citing safety concerns and insisting that political pressure played no role in the decision. Later, it was announced that Otte would get the chance to stage the play at Fort Worth’s Rose Marine Theater. Then that performance was canceled. Now it looks like Cathedral of Hope in Dallas will host a professional production of the show in June.
This week, Tarleton State University student reporter Rachel Dudley (who you should read because she's doing superlative work following this story) noticed that Dr. Steven Hotze, the president of Conservative Republicans of Texas, has a different take on why Otte’s original class production was canceled. In a note posted on conservative blogger Norman Adams' website, he credits the "behind the scenes work" of Gov. Rick Perry and his chief of staff, Ray Sullivan, for shutting down Corpus Christi.
Here’s Hotze’s full letter:
The following is a thank you note regarding Lt. Gov. Dewhurst condemning the play entitled "Corpus Christi."
Greetings! Thank you for getting the information about the blasphemous, homosexual play, "Corpus Christi," to Lt. Gov. Dewhurst. Please be sure to thank Lt. Gov. Dewhurst for issuing a press release condemning the play. With much appreciation for your support in this matter.
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. I remain, as always,
Steven Hotze, M.D.
Conservative Republicans of Texas
So, who are the bloggers to believe: government and university officials or their own impression of what happened? Dudley went looking for the answer:
Theater professor Mark Holtorf also disputed Hotze’s contention that the governor played any role in his decision. The university said the decision to cancel the play was Holtorf’s alone.
“Gov. Perry did not affect my decision, and Lt. Gov. Dewhurst did not weigh in on my decision to cancel the play,” Holtorf said. “I am confused by what is being said. It was my decision.”
Perry’s chief of staff declined comment. But Perry’s office said he had no involvement.
“The decision to cancel the play was the university’s and the governor didn’t have anything to do with it,” said Perry spokeswoman Lucy Nashed. She also referred questions about the posting to Adams.
In an interview, political blogger Adams said, “Of course Perry and Dewhurst had something to do with it, but I don’t know what steps were taken.” Adams is the co-founder of Texans for Sensible Immigration Policy and founding director of Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (“CALA”)...
...“You should ask the head of the university,” Adams said. ”They know what happened.”
[Tarleton State University President F. Dominic] Dottavio said the university was not politically coerced into cancelling the play. “That did not happen,” he said.
Tarleton State administrators, who had been vocally backing the play’s right to be performed prior to its cancellation, insist they had no contact with Dewhurst or Perry on the matter. Nor will they cop to pressuring Holtorf to cancel it.
N.B.: There’s an interesting note about other actions taken by Tarleton State administators at the end of Dudley’s article:
The university says there are thousands of emails about the play to Dottavio, Holtorf and others. The Texan News Service has requested copies of some of those emails. The university has said it would cost $2,627.50 to make those records available.
Tarleton has also suspended student journalists’ access to its YouTube channel. Students had used the channel to post Texan TV News newscasts, including stories about the play and its aftermath.
The university said it was suspending student access to that channel until policies governing its use can be created.