I am a mess right now.
Every time a story, like the one I posted below, surfaces on social media, I become emotionally undone. And yet, I am grateful it has gotten the attention it deserves.
This story has been finding its way on social media threads for three years now. I have seen it before, and perhaps even read it, but the way it affected me this time was different. I decided it was time to share my emotional un-doing concerning this all-too-familiar subject matter. Fortunately, I now have an outlet (this blog), and my goal is to always be real and use it for good. So here goes it…
During my regular Sunday morning scroll through social, I saw that a dear friend had shared an article that rattled me to the core (please read the short article, posted below, before continuing with this blog).
September 25, 2015
Kelvin Moon Loh has come to the defense of an autistic child who interrupted his performance of The King and I on Broadway. The boy began screaming loudly when he witnessed an intense whipping scene in the second act. The child’s mother escorted him out of the theater, but that didn’t stop angry patrons from yelling at the boy.
With ticket prices as high as $6,000 for some seats, it’s unsurprising that the audience would be frustrated by the outburst, but Kelvin believes their response was inappropriate.
Kevin shared the following letter addressed to angry viewers and anyone with autism who would still like to see his show,
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.
The post was shared more than 8,000 times. In replies to readers, Mr. Loh wrote that he clearly heard a man who shouted to “get rid of the kid.” When Mr. Loh looked into the audience 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!”
After reading this article, I immediately took to social and shared it (and my .02):
I was a few paragraphs deep into this article when I felt my blood begin to boil, and then I read this line:
“EVERYONE RELAX. SHE IS TRYING. CAN YOU NOT SEE THAT SHE IS TRYING???!!!”
I put my head in my hands and nodded. Because, folks, this line above, delivered by Mr. Moon Lo, is the battle cry of every parent who has been gifted with an Autistic child.
As I sit here and think through this article, I can say with absolute certainty, there was a tremendous amount of thought and consideration that went into this mom’s decision to take her autistic son to a Broadway show. I would venture to bet that she had talked herself out of that decision many times before. On the day she finally clicked “Purchase Tickets”, she still doubted the decision, but she knew deep down that this was something she wanted her son to experience. This was something he would most likely enjoy, since most children with autism are drawn to music. So, she pushed past her fear and prepared for this day like none other. When I say ‘prepared’, most of us buy show tickets and forget about them till the day of the event. Not this mom. For this mom, ‘prepared’, means so much more.
She purchased those tickets and, from that moment on, worried and planned and prepared both herself and her son for the event. She and her son most definitely watched the play/movie on TV before deciding to see it live. Then, she likely read every single review of the show. Next, she probably went online to check out the seating chart to make sure her seats were near an easy escape (like the actor noted in this article) and probably double-checked the exit and bathroom locations. She likely called the theater to let them know she would be bringing her son with special needs and inquired about any available accommodations. And I am sure packed in her bag that day was noise-canceling headphones, snacks, iPad, sensory toys, etc.
Like most parents with Autistic children, she most likely went through the schedule with her son every day leading up to the event. She was prepared. At least, as prepared as a parent with a child with autism could be going into a new environment with unfamiliar sounds, sights, and people. Despite all that preparation and all her planning, she wasn’t prepared for her son’s outburst during a particular scene. She couldn’t have anticipated his resistance to leaving the show despite her pleas, trying to pry his hands off the rail he gripped so tightly.
I can say from experience that I have felt her humiliation and discomfort. I have felt her shame, her sadness, her anger, her rage, her everything. The thing is, what saddened me most about this incident is how not a single person in that entire 1,200 seat theater thought to help her. Instead, they shamed and judged her, not only yelling at the boy but also ridiculing his mother. Assholes filled the seats of that theatre that day. Assholes judged a situation they knew nothing about. Assholes that not only didn’t help, they made the situation that much worse.
But on stage, someone saw the situation differently. An actor, in character, who saw a struggling child with a mother trying to comfort him. An actor who saw a mother trying to leave the show with a child who wouldn’t let her. He saw a mother who embodied more compassion for those assholes trying to watch the show, than they ever considered sharing with her. King & I actor Kelvin Moon Loh saw it all and stayed in character. But, once the show was done, he needed an outlet, too. So, he put pen to paper and wrote about what he saw from the stage, what he felt for this child and his mother, and what he wants other human beings (specifically those in attendance that night) to improve upon: being more compassionate to those in need.
I am almost certain that, if you’re a parent of a child with special needs, you have been in this mom’s shoes. I certainly have. A year ago, I was at a local Dollar Tree store and my son didn’t want to leave, but we had an appointment to get to. After explaining to him the schedule for the day, he began to unravel into one of the most frightening meltdowns I ever experienced. He was flailing and hitting and kicking and biting, wanting to hurt himself– and me in the process. And there I was, on the sidewalk outside Dollar Tree, wrestling with my son, “trying” to prevent him from harming himself. As I was struggling to restrain him, I looked up and couldn’t believe what I saw. We had an audience of seven people standing there, just staring at us. Some in disbelief, some in disgust, but no one offered to help or asked if I needed something—anything! That’s when the sad realization sunk in that compassion and helping others in need are human traits on their way to extinction. Then, there was one woman– there’s always one– who came up to me and asked if I needed help. I looked at her with no words, and all she said was, “I know baby girl, I know.”
Just one month later, I was the “one” who witnessed a mom, “trying” to calm her aggressive, challenged child at the aquarium. Kellan and I turned a corner near the Otters, and saw a crowd standing and watching. But they weren’t admiring the Otters. They were watching a Mom, who was “trying” to help her son get through something he was struggling with. I took Kellan’s hand, pushed through the numb onlookers, bent down near the mom and said, “Tell me what you need me to do?”
She glanced up at me with the same look I had given the woman who approached Kellan and I in front of the Dollar Tree store. Unlike me, she was able to get words out. Four words I will never forget: “I need a hug.”
And there we were, hugging in front of the Otters, as the crowd of Assholes looked on.
Here’s the flat-out truth: I had never come across so many Assholes until I had a child with special needs.
Here’s my plea to whoever is reading this: if you see a mom or a dad with a child who is visibly challenged and struggling, please don’t be one of those Assholes who stand there and stare. The last thing a parent needs at that moment is an audience. We would much rather you ignore us and walk on by, than just stand there and stare. Actually, what we would really like is for you to tap into that compassionate core of yours and ask a simple question: “Is there anything I can do to help?”
Eight simple words that mean the world to those parents “trying” to comfort their child in need.
And to you, Kelvin Moon Loh, thank you. You see us, you get us, and by sharing this story maybe the other 1200 people in the theatre that night, now do too.
Janis Gaudelli is The Founder of The Daily Feels. She started this passion project to reveal the magic behind storytelling, and how truth-based narratives bring people together in the most heart-warming of ways. Fascinated by soul, depth, intellect, raw truths and rebellion with a cause. Often captivated by the awe of nature: star gazing, moon manifesting, sunset chasing, waves crashing, crickets singing. Fiercely curious about the inner-workings of the human psyche… she professionally studies human behavior for a living. Forever proud and grateful for being a mom to the force that fuels her life: her 7-year-old son, and greatest professor, Kellan.