We all know what theater rules are. Unwrap your candies before the show begins, no texting/talking during the play, applaud when everybody else does. For the most part, everyone tends to follow these rules and things go pretty smoothly. But this is live theater we’re talking about, every once in a while something unpredictable happens.
The classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “The King and I” is currently enjoying a Broadway revival, and during a recent performance, a young child with autism became agitated during an emotionally intense scene. The child, vocal and upset during a quiet moment, was promptly shushed by those in the surrounding seats, and from the stage, the actors could hear audience members say things like “Why would you bring a child like that to the theater?”
As Playbill reports, ensemble member/Lun Tha understudy Kelvin Moon Loh took to Facebook to stand up for the child and his mother, and berate the audience members that came down so hard on this little boy.
In a Facebook post that has since gone super-viral (i.e. over 54,000 likes and 18,000 shares), Loh writes:
“…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.”
He went on to praise the mother that brought her son to the show, because it was that important for this woman to share the magic of theater with her child.
“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.”
At the very end, Loh leaves his readers with a plea for greater compassion and understanding.
“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.”
We are so glad that this actor took a stand for this family, and for all families who include children with disabilities. An unexpected moment from a young audience member every once in a while is a price well worth paying for being a magical theatrical experience that includes everybody.
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