Ole Miss officials are launching an investigation to determine what happened Tuesday night during a university theatre production of The Laramie Project.
Audience members, including Ole Miss football players, attended the play and allegedly caused a disturbance during the performance.
Garrison Gibbons, an openly gay Ole Miss student and actor in the play, described the incident.
“The audience started out like any other student audience that we have,” Gibbons said. “Cell phones and talking were noticeable but nothing too bad. After the first intermission, the mood shifted, however. Soon, the audience was mocking the portions of the play that revolve around hatred and serious subject matter.”
According to Gibbons it continued to get worse throughout the performance. The house manager and ushers reported to Gibbons they heard verbiage such as “queer” and “faggot” coming from the back row of the audience.
“It would be easy to generalize all the blame of this on the football players in attendance, but they weren’t the only ones,” Gibbons added. “Many other people in attendance responded this way, too.”
Musical theatre major Jade Genga, who plays multiple roles in the show, backed up Gibbons’s account citing “excessive talking and laughing”.
The stage manager came onstage in response and asked the audience to turn off their cell phones and remain quiet. She was cat-called and jeered while on stage. The behavior continued to escalate.
“It was so hurtful,” Genga said. “We had to get together backstage and there were a lot of tears. There was such an unbelieveable amount of disrespect (from the audience).”
Once backstage the cast members pulled themselves together and encouraged one another to go back onstage and perform. For Gibbons the hardest part came at the beginning of the second act when his character says “I’m 52 and gay”. The audience roared in laughter, pointed and took photos.
“After that I knew they weren’t judging the show anymore but us as human beings,” Gibbons said.
For Genga, the real problem was the quiet acceptance from the other audience members.
“Our peers from across the whole campus didn’t stand up for us or their LGBTQ community (during the show),” Genga said.
Although interpretations of the event differ, officials are actively trying to find out what happened. In a statement released on Thursday, Chancellor Dan Jones and Athletic Director Ross Bjork released a statement.
“While we work to determine with certainty who disrupted the Laramie Project play, we want everyone within our university community and beyond to know that we strongly condemn the behavior exhibited Tuesday night. As a member of the Ole Miss family, each of us has a responsibility to be accountable for our actions, and these individuals will be held accountable. Our investigation will determine the degree to which any and all students were involved.”
Ole Miss Head Football Coach Hugh Freeze tweeted “We certainly do not condone any actions that offend or hurt people in any way. We are working with all departments involved to find the facts.”
Audience members who were sitting in the front row told HottyToddy.com that they did not hear any epithets.
“There was some laughter in the audience, but I didn’t hear any name-calling,” Freshman Josh Peaster said.
Hollis Burrow, another student in attendance, agreed.
“I didn’t hear any slurs come from the audience at all. It was like any other performance I’ve been to,” he said. “You’ll hear the occasional whisper of somebody right next to somebody else. But definitely not audibly speaking.”
During the show, coaches were notified of the athletes’ behavior and an academic advisor was contacted. After the show was over the athletes were made to stay and apologize.
According to Genga one of the athletes told the cast that he “wasn’t laughing at you guys” but he was “laughing at the situation.”
The show depicts the reaction to the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, a 20-year-old gay college student who was brutally tortured and left to die.
“As a gay student, the actions last night personally struck a chord with me,” Gibbons said. “Gay rights and equality are the new hurdle I feel America is battling to overcome. I think through this we are reminded of why we did this show.”
—The HottyToddy.com Editorial Staff