Audience members, including about 20 Ole Miss football players, shouted derogatory slurs and heckled cast members in a university production of “The Laramie Project.”
The Daily Mississippian reported that many members of the audience, which was mostly students, interrupted the performance Tuesday night of the play, which depicts events following the killing of gay college student Matthew Shepard by homophobic men in Wyoming.
The play’s director, a faculty member, said audience members called cast members “fags” and made comments about actors’ physical appearance and sexual orientation that she characterized as “borderline hate speech.”
According to a performance report, the players took photos of cast members as they mocked them, talked on their cell phones during the play and talked to other audience members.
The play’s director said the players seemed to be the instigators of the unruly behavior, although she said other audience members joined in.
The football players attended the play because they’re enrolled in a freshman-level theater course that requires students to attend a specific number of plays during the semester, the newspaper reported.
A faculty member called a coach during the performance, and an athletic department official went to the theater and asked players to apologize to cast members after the performance.
The director noted the irony of the audience reaction to the play and its themes addressing homophobia and hate against gays.
“What happened in the audience was the very thing we were trying to portray in the show,” said director Rory Ledbetter. “(The incident) suggests we have a long way to go.”
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