When an autistic child screamed out in the middle of a Broadway production, the star whose big performance was interrupted made his feelings on the matter clear. After the show, the actor wrote a letter, letting the child and his mother know exactly how he felt about the ordeal.
Kelvin Moon Loh was in the middle of a Broadway performance of “The King and I” when an autistic child in the crowd interrupted him by shouting out. During a whipping scene that often evokes a strong emotional reaction, the child screamed out loudly. The disruption during this quiet moment of the show annoyed many in the audience who paid to see the production, and they made their displeasure known, reacting negatively to the child and his mother.
The star of the show felt compelled to address the incident as soon as he left the stage. Wanting to reach out to the guests who were peeved as well as the child and his mother and anyone else who ever found themselves in such a situation, Kelvin wrote a letter and posted it to social media. “I am angry and sad,” Kelvin admitted, explaining what happened during his matinee performance that day.
Kelvin said some might expect him to admonish the mother for bringing her autistic child to the theater, herald the audience members who yelled at her for it, or express sympathy for those whose performances were disturbed. Instead, he questioned theater people, performers, and audience members, wanting to know when they became so concerned with their own experience that they lost compassion.
To Kelvin, the theater has always been a way to examine and dissect the human experience and present it back to ourselves. “Something very real was happening in the seats” that admittedly “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,” Kelvin explained.
“It sounded like terror,” Kelvin wrote, describing the child’s outburst during the intense whipping scene. “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?'” he recalled.
Kelvin found the reaction to be “plainly wrong,” since, less than a week earlier, a young girl in the front row screamed and cried loudly during the same scene and no one said anything. That girl didn’t appear to be autistic, however. “How is this any different?” he asked.
“What they didn’t see was a mother desperately pleading with her child as he gripped the railing refusing — yelping more out of defiance,” Kelvin said, recounting the more recent incident with the autistic child. “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?!'”
Kelvin said he would gladly do the performance over again and refund any ticket because that mother, bringing her autistic child to the theater, is brave. “You don’t know what her life is like,” he reminded others. “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,” he added. “She paid the same price to see the show as you did,” Kelvin pointed out.
“Her plan, as was yours, was to have an enjoyable afternoon at the theater and slowly her worst fears came true,” he said, adding, “theater is created for all people.” Reminding others that “The Kind and I” on Broadway is a family-friendly show, Kelvin concluded by saying, “that means entire families — with disabilities or not. Not only for special performances but for all performances.”
After the unanticipated response that he received to his post, Kelvin Moon Loh followed-up to say, “There is an incredible need in this world for compassionate and understanding.” And, we couldn’t agree more — not just in the theater or for those with special needs but everywhere and for everyone.
All parents, regardless of their child’s unique challenges, have faced a moment in which things have gone horribly wrong during a public outing. While we should be expected to address such situations, we shouldn’t be scourged by others when we struggle to regain control. Even the best parents can fall short, and even the most well-behaved kids can act out unexpectedly at one time or another. We don’t need scrutiny in those moments, we need support.