An autistic child screamed out in the middle of Kelvin’s performance of ‘The King and I’. A number of the audience was left annoyed, and so the actor wrote an open letter after the show. His words went viral … and for the best reason.
Generally speaking, we do not like to be interrupted. Whether it is a speech, a play or a song, we usually get annoyed if someone interrupts us. It’s an unpleasant feeling that can lead into failure of the success of the things we planned to show the audience.
Sometimes we can manage such a situation, depending on the nature of the interruption. In most cases such situation, like it or not, can cause some unwanted feeling overcome our bodies.
Being interrupted by someone or something can make us nervous and distracted. The unexpected distraction can defocus us from the things that we have had in our minds. However, Kelvin Moon Loh, a Broadway actor, is not like the rest of us.
Since Broadway shows are expected to be one of the finest performances in the world of stage acting, they require high concentration and focus. With that in mind, Kevin and his team started their play ‘The King and I’. However, in the middle of the show, very unexpected visitor disturbed the flow of the show.
A kid diagnosed with autism started shouting loudly in the middle of the act.
What Kevin did after this situation is not something most us will do.
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Broadway shows are expensive part of fine arts world. With such high price for a ticket, the audience and the actors expect to have a show almost like a perfection. Slightest disturbance may be strongly criticized.
Kevin’s show was going very well. However, during a whipping scene, the kid started reacting quite loudly. He started shouting and his mother had to take him out of the theatre.
When the kid interrupted the show, part of the audience was not happy to witness that, while some of them had understanding about the incident. With all these mixed feelings in the audience, Kevin realised that he had to do something to settle the things out.
Kevin posted a letter on the social media regarding the kid’s interruption.
“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.”
Kevin’s letter is a great message sent to all of us. Being interrupted, no matter the level of defocusing of our concentration, is not the end of the world after all. Judging kids with mental disabilities, or the parents that try to give that kind of kid a normal life, is very wrong. As Kevin points out, some plays are for the whole family and, as such, is it ok to exclude some of the family members from enjoying the show?
Kevin did a great job with the letter. Whether you agree with him or not, he indeed made his point quite clearly. How would you react in such situation?