“The King and I” was one of the musicals of broadway 2015. During one of their crowded performances, a child with autism started screaming. The mother, concerned about not disturbing the audience, tried to help him calm down and take him out to the hallway, but the child refused and continued screaming. The audience was not very patient and did not take long to recriminate and insult the mother for having taken the child to that show, as if he had no right to be there.
This situation had a profound impact on , one of the actors in the play and wrote a letter to show his indignation at the lack of compassion and solidarity that people showed towards the mother and child.
The letter was published on Facebook and managed to go viral, today it has more than 100 thousand likes and has been shared more than 23 thousand times, which has helped other relatives of children with autism to share their experiences and perhaps help society can learn and be more inclusive.
The complete letter:
I am angry and sad. I just came off stage at today’s matinee and yes, something happened. Someone took his son with autism to the theater. That being said, this post will not be as you thought.
You think I’ll reprimand the mom for bringing the kid who howled during a moment of silence at the show. You think I’m going to support an audience that reproached that mother for taking her son to the theater. You think I will have solidarity with my own company because their performance was disturbed by a strange noise coming from somewhere in front of them. No. Instead I ask you: When did we – theater people, actors and audience members – become so concerned with our own experience that we lost compassion for others?
Theater for me has always been a way to examine/dissect the human experience and present it ourselves. Today, something very real was happening in the audience, yes, it interrupted the fantasy that this matinee was, but the ultimate goal of theater is to bring people together, not only to entertain, but to improve our lives when we walk through the theater door.
This occurred during the “crying scene,” an intense moment in the second act. A child began howling in the audience. It sounded like a scream of terror. Not more than a week ago, during the same scene, a little girl in the front row, apparently not autistic, screamed and cried loudly and no one said anything. What is the difference?
His voice pierced the theater. The audience began to unite against this mother so that her son would be thrown out. I heard murmurs like, “How can you bring a kid like that to the theater?” That’s bad, very bad.
Because what was not seen was a mother desperately trying to silence the child. But her son wasn’t helping. What they didn’t see was a mother desperately pleading with her son as he grabbed the railing, howling louder in defiance. She couldn’t look away. He wanted to scream, stop the show and say, “EVERYONE RELAX. SHE’S TRYING. CAN’T YOU SEE WHAT HE’S TRYING???!!!!” She would have done the whole play again. He returned the money for the tickets. Because for her taking the child to the theater is something brave.
They don’t know what their life is like. Maybe they have good days when he can sit still and not make any noise and this was a strange occurrence. Perhaps she chose to no longer live in fear and refused to compromise the experience of her son. Maybe she bought the aisle seat to a popular show in case something like what happened happened. She paid the same price to see the show as your family. Her plan, like yours, was to have a great afternoon at the theater and slowly her worst fears came true.
I’ll leave you with this: shows that have special performances for autistic audiences should be praised for their efforts to make theater inclusive for all audiences. I think, like Joseph Papp, that theater is created for all people. I believe in that and also that I am in a show that is completely FAMILIAR. “The King and I” on Broadway is just that – FAMILY FRIENDLY – and that means entire families, with or without disabilities. Not just for special performances but for all performances. A night at the theater is special, any night you go.
And no, I don’t care how much you spent on the tickets.
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