It can often be a source of annoyance for people when they’re in the middle of something and find themselves interrupted or distracted.
Admit it, if you’re at work and get caught off guard by a noise, or have someone breaking your concentration, it’s not unusual to be overcome by a sudden feeling of frustration.
When such things happen you can either roll with the punches and accept that life is life, or you can allow any underlying frustrations to get the better of you.
Kelvin Moon Loh is an actor who was faced with a similar choice recently. Kelvin was in the middle of a performance of ‘The King and I’ on Broadway, when an autistic child in the crowd interrupted him by shouting out in the middle of the show.
Needless to say, a number of the other attendees were less than impressed. It’s how Kelvin handled the situation, and the aftermath, however, that made headlines …
When Kelvin was interrupted in the midst of a Broadway performance, he may well have been within his rights to reprimand the person responsible for the disturbance. In this case, that happened to be a child with autism.
Of course, for any reasonable adult this equates to extenuating circumstances. Even so, a number of the crowd were left annoyed at what had come to pass.
The incident happened during a whipping scene that usually evokes a strong emotional reaction. The autistic child in question screamed out loudly at the scene, and his mother had to take him out of the theater. Considering that some of the guests had paid $6,000 to see the show, there’s an argument for them having grounds for being a bit peeved.
Kelvin wanted to reach out to such people, and so wrote a letter after the performance and posted it to social media. We think he did an excellent job of summing things up.
“I am angry and sad,” he wrote.
“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.”
In today’s world of relative luxury and societal entitlement, it’s all too easy to forget the fundamental principles of being a good human being. Sure, having your show interrupted after paying large amounts of money isn’t ideal, but it’s not the end of the world! Far from it, in fact, and to condemn an autistic child for reacting to an emotional scene, or to condemn his mother for striving to give him a normal childhood is simply callous and wrong.
At the end of the day it’s one tiny moment in the storybook of your life. When you look back on said book, when you’re old and grey and your health has left you, do you want to think on how you kicked up a fuss over a child with disabilities acting out of the ordinary? Or would you rather look back with understanding and compassion?
Kelvin is a true hero for his letter, and we’d love for it to be spread far and wide to pass on his poignant message.
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