At one point in your life, you may have experienced the inconvenience of having to deal with a stranger’s crying child. Or maybe not just at one point, but multiple times. If you’ll come to think of it, it’s a pretty normal situation.
Children do this all the time, and we expect their parents to magically make them stop. Perhaps inside a movie theater, you’ve heard a child say obvious innocent comments regarding the film being shown, or maybe inside a toy store, we hear a little boy crying over a toy truck he wanted but didn’t get.
The latter situation can be acceptable, but what happens when a child cries at a very important scene during a Broadway show?
Last September 2015, during a performance of “The King and I” at New York’s Lincoln Center, an autistic child cried out of fear while a scene of a character being whipped was on going. Broadway actor Kelvin Moon Loh noticed that a lot of theater patrons acted out and made sure that the parent of the crying child felt uncomfortable with their vocal and open criticism towards her child. The mother, of course, felt pressure and didn’t stop doing her best in stopping the child from crying.
Soon after the play finished, Kelvin posted an open letter regarding the incident. But instead of calling out the mother and child for disrupting the play, he talked about the narrow-minded people who acted out during the incident.
“I heard murmurs of ‘why would you bring a child like that to the theater?’ This is wrong. Plainly wrong.”
“I am angry and sad” were his starting lines. “When did we as theater people, performers and audience members become so concerned with our own experience that we lose compassion for others?” Kelvin asked. “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.”
According to Kelvin, this wasn’t a first, especially in Broadway. It happens often, but what surprised and disappointed him was how these theater patrons were extra harsh towards the autistic child. What it because of his condition? To Kevin, the mother already suffered undeserved embarrassment, and a little compassion towards the incident would have made a little difference, if only these patrons weren’t too entitled.
He also put an emphasis on the King and I being a family-friendly show, and that the theater is supposed to for everyone. “Performances should be acceptable to any and every single person. The stares and the glares are not helping. Instead, reach out and ask how you can help as a person.”
Kelvin’s open letter went viral in hopes that it will reach the mother and the autistic child, but they didn’t. Nonetheless, how Kelvin reacted to the incident is an impactful way in changing one’s perspectives towards similar situations. The next time we get annoyed at an uncontrollable, and noisy child, maybe we should think twice before acting out. Instead, see how we can help.
Below is the full text of Kelvin’s open letter which went viral on Facebook:
“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.
“No. 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.” — Kelvin Moon Loh
Watch an interview of Kelvin about the incident below: