King and I Actor Shares the Cast Reaction to His Defense of Audience Member with Autism

News   King and I Actor Shares the Cast Reaction to His Defense of Audience Member with Autism
 
Kelvin Moon Loh, a member of the ensemble and Lun Tha understudy in the Broadway revival of The King and I, took to Facebook to react to the behavior of a child with autism at the show's Sept. 23 matinee.

The unnamed child made sounds during quiet moments in the show that brought shushes from surrounding audience members. But, as Loh notes in his remarks, "this post won't go the way you think it will."

Instead of upbraiding the mother for bringing the child, Loh defends the mother's courage in trying to share the show with the child, and instead upbraids the audience for lacking compassion and patience.

Kelvin Moon Loh
Kelvin Moon Loh

The incident occurred at the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center, just upstairs from the Mitzi Newhouse Theater where Patti LuPone snatched away a cell phone from an audience member who was creating a very different kind of distraction July 8.

Loh told Playbill.com that he got immediate supportive feedback from his fellow cast members, "The cast and crew—everyone at Lincoln Center has been super supportive. The cast was amazing with the idea that 'the show must go on,' and they made it very clear that it would not have bothered anyone to hit rewind on our performance if it was required. We have a lot of mothers in our cast and each one expressed their hurt and concern for what we saw that afternoon. Still—I have been contacted by some who were in the audience that afternoon and they said that there were some audience members that were trying to help. That warms my heart. But we all can stand to up our compassion levels no matter where we travel on life."

Loh said his viral post has brought him reaction from around the world, mostly supportive. "I had no idea that my post would reach so many. I wrote from my heart and in a fit of emotions. I have received letters from across the globe, almost every state from families with children who are autistic and other disabilities. I am out of tears. They have called me a 'hero' but I don't feel like one. I feel like only a friend and they in fact are my heroes for being brave and remaining strong." He said the experience gave him fresh perspective. "It reminds me that art and theatre is a powerful thing. What I get to do every night is so much more than singing and dancing. Theatre is magical because it can reflect back to us the best and the worst in humanity. It is this examination, we choose to put ourselves through by sitting in an audience or performing onstage, that can enrich our lives when we walk back out the door again. Theater is so very important— and important to allow anyone to experience it who wants to."

A production spokesperson said Lincoln Center Theater, the producer, had no comment.

Here is the full unedited text of Loh's post:

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.

 

When Loh refers to "special performances for autistic audiences," he was citing programs like these:

TDF Announces Fifth Season of Autism-Friendly Performances

Up And Away, Multi-Sensory Theatrical Experience for Young Audiences on Autism Spectrum, Sets Fall Dates

Matilda Is Latest Broadway Show to Offer Autism-Friendly Performance

Loh said, "I've been talking to the education department about programs for children with special needs. This is an initiative that LCT has been working on for quite some time."

Today’s Most Popular News: