"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..." Find out exactly why this Broadway actor's compassionate Facebook post has gone viral.
It’s not uncommon for Broadway shows to be interrupted by various noises, ranging from laughter, coughs and sneezes to mobile phone ring tones and other phone notifications.
So why did some members of a US audience at a recent performance of The King and I make a huge fuss when a child with autism made some noise during one of the scenes? How was it any different to a child without autism crying out in fear during the same scene of the same performance, a week earlier, to which the audience didn’t react?
These were the same questions Broadway actor Kelvin Moon Loh — a member of the ensemble and Lun Tha understudy — had after this incident.
Here’s what happened
During a quiet and intense scene of the show’s second act, reports say “an unnamed child made loud sounds.” Following this, several audience members started yelling at the mother of the child, while making “shush” noises. It so happened that this child has autism and his mother was trying her best to calm her child down.
Loh posted a very passionate public Facebook message to members of the public immediately after the show, calling for compassion and understanding.
“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.”
Loh applauds the mum’s choice to bring her child to the theatre, pointing out that “theater is created for all people,” and that others have no right to judge her, not knowing what her life is like. He points out that perhaps this mum refuses to compromise the experience of her child, and that maybe she chooses not to live in fear anymore.
When all those particular members of the audience could see was a seemingly disruptive child, Loh points out what they obviously didn’t see:
“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???!!!!'”
He also reiterates that the the theatre is for everyone, regardless of whether they are differently abled or not, and that The King and I is a “completely family friendly show.”
Striking a chord with the autism community
Loh’s passionate plea for compassion and understanding has struck a chord with others in the autism community.
Carrie Cariello is an author who runs the blog, ‘What Color is Monday?’ and is a mother of five, including a son, Jack, 11, who has autism. Speaking to TODAY Parents, she says she knows just how that mother must have felt in the situation.
“The thoughts for me, and I have been in those moments, are, ‘What have I done? What was I thinking? Why can’t he control this?’ It’s just so much at once. I applaud [Loh] for reaching out to the public that way and I applaud the mother. I think in the end we’ll have to have these little painful stepping stones in order pave the road.”
Reports say that before Loh was a Broadway actor, he was a school teacher who worked in an after-school program with a child with autism. His fellow cast and crew members were also sympathetic to the boy and kept performing despite the noise and audience reaction.
Loh’s message to the public is a good reminder to us all that disability is not inability. Differently abled people have the right to enjoy the same privileges that everyone else does. Discrimination must stop — and Loh’s message is a correct step in the right direction.
To read about another inspiring act of understanding and kindness that happened in Singapore, again involving a child with autism, please click this link.
Are you the parent of a child with autism? If you are, we’d love to hear about what you think of this article and what your own experiences have been like.