My husband and I met, literally, on the stage of our college’s theatre. We had dreams of being some of the Young Bohemians, him working in a theatre while I wrote in a garret somewhere.
But we had kids instead and went down the path of semi-responsibility.
Our daughters both inherited our love of the stage, while our sons inherited the ability to be more behind the scenes. I won’t call myself a stage mom or theatre mom, because I’m not that. But I do allow my kids to embrace all sorts of creativity – it’s just how we’re all wired.
Maura loves to be in an audience. Maura loves a good performance. Maura can’t always behave correctly. I can’t always depend on the audience to embrace my daughter and her different ways. There are times I chose to leave her at home because I know that while she’d adore the experience of the performance, it would be too much for her. Sometimes she can be happy in the front row, sometimes we have to stand in the hallway.When I take her to the movies, I brace myself for her possibly getting loudly upset during sad scenes or for the chance she might let out a scream when the movie ends because she doesn’t want it to be over. We always choose aisle seats – they’re the quickest escape. But when I take Maura to a performance, it’s because it’s something she and I both love, and an experience we can share. And they are precious moments, which is why it’s always worth it to me to deal with the emotional roller coasters that come with such an experience.
And you’re thinking “Wait, I thought this was about some guy named Kelvin?”
See, Kelvin Moon Loh is an actor, currently in “The King and I” in NYC. He had an experience the other day that he had to share –
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.
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.
As the mother of a child who loves any sort of performance experience, this gave me a sense of relief. That an actor would see what I do, bringing my child to performances, as brave? He is spot on correct. It is an act of courage, every time. Because you know that the moment your child makes noise, people will start looking. Even if it’s a family friendly matinee or a junior high choir concert. But I can’t teach my daughter how to behave in situations if I don’t put her in said situations. And most of the time, she enjoys herself.
The actor went on to say…
…you could hear it clearly that he was pleading to stay. He wanted to stay and didn’t understand why he had to leave. More heartbreak for me.
And I could also hear clearly a man who shouted to “get rid of the kid” from the other side of the theater which was more disturbing than anything that child was doing or saying.
But if he were to really hear the message of our Rodgers and Hammerstein classic- what we were really saying- we are all inherently different. We all have our own sets of challenges and all it takes is a little understanding. We must cross the line of things we do not understand, reach a loving hand across and start to build a bridge.
The precious message of our show was lost upon him- in reality as well.
So because of the complainers in the audience, the mother removed her child from the show and left. Another person on Facebook told the actor that they hoped the mother would see this message, and he responded –
I was hoping that she would too. Perhaps that is why I wrote it. When I looked up at the curtain call and saw three empty seats where I knew they were sitting- I was heartbroken. I was heartbroken to know that she might never know that as a company (I must applaud my cast and crew) we continued the show and we were not bothered.
I want her to know that she is a brave and should continue to champion her child.
But I will continue to make theater for her. And that is the best I can do for now!
And this is why Kelvin Moon Loh is my new favorite person. Because I’ve been that mother at the show, torn between wanting this experience for my child, and knowing all eyes are on me, worried that my child’s reactions may “ruin” the experience for everyone else – and he gets that! He gets that and has our backs. I am not the mom he was speaking to, but I am grateful for his words, for his kindness, and for his understanding.
We all have our own sets of challenges and all it takes is a little understanding. – Kelvin Moon Loh