When we are working, we might not think about the possibility of something going wrong during the day but it happens more often than we probably realize. None of us want things to go wrong and to change the workflow for the day, and it can be frustrating when it happens. That is especially true when you are performing in front of a live audience because any type of unexpected problem is going to cause issues that are difficult to rebound from.
One Broadway actor, who was performing The King and I on Broadway experienced something similar. His name is Kelvin Moon Loh and he is quite talented. If you have never had the opportunity to go to a Broadway show before, it really is something that you should strive to do in your lifetime. For some, it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity so when something disturbing happens in the audience, it can be frustrating. The actor decided to defend an interruption that occurred during a performance. It was an autistic child who shouted during the middle of the show.
There is a whipping scene that occurs during the show that is intended to make children cry. The autistic child was quite disturbed over what he saw and he screamed out loudly. His mother attempted to take him out of the theater but he struggled against her. This made many people angry because of the interruption. Some of them spent up to $6000 to see the live performance so you can see why they might be irritated.
Kelvin wanted to make sure that the angry viewers knew about his stand. He wants to make sure that everybody who has autism and wants to see the show is welcome.
He said this in his letter:
“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.”
Perhaps we should talk about phones that ring in the middle of a performance next.