During a matinee performance of The King and I on Broadway, a mother and her autistic child were embarrassingly told by audience members to leave the show. The autistic child had screamed during a “particularly intense whipping scene” which was supposedly put in the play for the sole purpose of making children cry. When the autistic child screamed the audience became angry with some vocally asking the mother to take her son out of the theatre.
Kelvin Moon Loh, one of the ensemble members and an understudy in the show, wrote on his Facebook page a letter defending the reaction of the autistic child and asked angry viewers to be more compassionate. A similar incident happened the week before when a young girl screamed during the intense scene and audience members didn’t react to her because she wasn’t autistic.
Kelvin defends the mother on her decision to bring her autistic child to see the show describing her as ‘brave’.
Kelvin wrote, ’Perhaps she chooses to no longer live in fear, and refuses to compromise the experience of her child. Maybe she scouted the aisle seat for a very popular show in case such an episode would occur. She paid the same price to see the show as you did for her family. Her plan, as was yours, was to have an enjoyable afternoon at the theater and slowly her worst fears came true.’
Kelvin watched helplessly as the autistic child would not comply to his mother’s pleas to calm down during the scene. The audience made a scene during the episode to tell the mother and her child to leave the theatre so they could continue to enjoy the performance.
The show is family-friendly (despite the whipping scene) and Kelvin explained reactions to different scenes are part of the human experience.
Here is Kelvin’s full post, which has been shared over 26,000 times on Facebook.
I am angry and sad.
Just got off stage from today’s matinee and yes, something happened. Someone brought their autistic child to the theater.
That being said- this post won’t go the way you think it will.
You think I will admonish that mother for bringing a child who yelped during a quiet moment in the show. You think I will herald an audience that yelled at this mother for bringing their child to the theater. You think that I will have sympathy for my own company whose performances were disturbed from a foreign sound coming from in front of them.
Instead, I ask you- when did we as theater people, performers and audience members become so concerned with our own experience that we lose compassion for others?
The theater to me has always been a way to examine/dissect the human experience and present it back to ourselves. Today, something very real was happening in the seats and, yes, it interrupted the fantasy that was supposed to be this matinee but ultimately theater is created to bring people together, not just for entertainment, but to enhance our lives when we walk out the door again.
It so happened that during “the whipping scene”, a rather intense moment in the second act, a child was heard yelping in the audience. It sounded like terror. Not more than one week earlier, during the same scene, a young girl in the front row- seemingly not autistic screamed and cried loudly and no one said anything then. How is this any different?
His voice pierced the theater. The audience started to rally against the mother and her child to be removed. I heard murmurs of “why would you bring a child like that to the theater?”. This is wrong. Plainly wrong.
Because what you didn’t see was a mother desperately trying to do just that. But her son was not compliant. What they didn’t see was a mother desperately pleading with her child as he gripped the railing refusing- yelping more out of defiance. I could not look away. I wanted to scream and stop the show and say- “EVERYONE RELAX. SHE IS TRYING. CAN YOU NOT SEE THAT SHE IS TRYING???!!!!” I will gladly do the entire performance over again. Refund any ticket because-
For her to bring her child to the theater is brave. You don’t know what her life is like. Perhaps, they have great days where he can sit still and not make much noise because this is a rare occurrence. Perhaps she chooses to no longer live in fear, and refuses to compromise the experience of her child. Maybe she scouted the aisle seat for a very popular show in case such an episode would occur. She paid the same price to see the show as you did for her family. Her plan, as was yours, was to have an enjoyable afternoon at the theater and slowly her worst fears came true.
I leave you with this- Shows that have special performances for autistic audiences should be commended for their efforts to make theater inclusive for all audiences. I believe like Joseph Papp that theater is created for all people. I stand by that and also for once, I am in a show that is completely FAMILY FRIENDLY. The King and I on Broadway is just that- FAMILY FRIENDLY- and that means entire families- with disabilities or not. Not only for special performances but for all performances. A night at the theater is special on any night you get to go.
And no, I don’t care how much you spent on the tickets.
What do you think? Should the mother have taken her autistic child to the theatre? Are we less compassionate as a society towards autism? How would you have reacted if you were part of the audience?