For those who follow the NYC theater scene, this has been a year of strained relations between the actors and their eager audience members.
Rebukes from the stage for those who answer cellphones mid-show. Derision for audience members who sneak onto the stage because they think they can plug in their cellphone for a recharge.
But now, a response of a different kind. Recently, at a performance of Broadway’s The King and I, a mother brought her autistic child to the performance. The child was making sounds during some quieter moments that elicited shushes from the neighboring audience members.
One of the members of the company, and a friend of Shake Rattle & Roll, Kelvin Moon Loh, took to Facebook to voice his opinion, and in his words, “this post won’t go the way you think it will.”
He defended the mother, and chided the audience for their lack of compassion and understanding. Calling her choice “brave”, his post has received international attention from families and media alike.
Certainly, this is a moment for performers of all stripes and styles to take a quick gut-check as to how we would have reacted, in similar circumstances. Bending to the will of a crowd (drunk or otherwise) is certainly easier. Bravo to Kelvin for taking a stand that is also “brave”.
Here is his FB post in its entirety:
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.
– See more at: http://playbill.com/news/article/king-and-i-actor-shares-the-cast-reaction-to-his-defense-of-audience-member-with-autism-364217#sthash.6MYItx86.dpuf