- OnStage Founder & Editor-in-Chief
According to reports coming in from Chicago news, at a recent performance of Disney's Aladdin, a woman and her son, who has autism, were asked to leave the Cadillac Palace Theater.
An article on NBC 5 Chicago states:
"Kathy Waller said she and Thomas made it through four acts of the play when an usher tapped her on the shoulder and said her son was a disruption and they needed to leave. The usher told her Thomas was disturbing the cast, she said. While the rest of her family watched the show, Waller says she and Thomas waited in the hall.
"He has autism, he makes noises, he can't speak," she said. "It's not in any regulation that a child with autism cannot come into the theater. I think it's discrimination."
To make matters worse, once the Wallers were booted from the show, they were initially denied refunds to their tickets.
Now before we all light torches and grab our pitchforks, let's look at this situation from all angles.
Was it wrong to deny this family a refund once it was explained that the son has autism? Yes. And I'm hearing reports that since this story came out, the theatre has refunded them and invited them back to a future performance.
But was it wrong to boot them from their seats initially? That is a tougher answer to pin down.
Disruptive noise of any kind makes it very hard to concentrate on what's happening on stage. If a cast and fellow audience members are distracted by noises from the crowd, involuntary or not, it can make it a tough performance to get through.
So I can see WHY the theatre booted these people from the show. However was it RIGHT? No.
The reason, is because the Chicago company of Aladdin booted an autistic child from a production of a show that doesn't offer an alternative performance that accommodates him. Many Broadway productions, especially ones that attract a large amount of children, offer sensory friendly performances for audiences with autism. Slight adjustments to the production will include reduction of any jarring sounds or strobe lights focused into the audience. In the theatre lobby there will be staffed quiet and play areas, if anyone needs to leave their seats during the performance.
In New York, musicals such as The Lion King, Wicked and Aladdin have all participated in this. However, these types of performances are arranged in collaboration with the New York based, Theatre Development Fund and when it comes to regional legs of these productions, these offerings are scarce. To my knowledge, the Chicago production of Aladdin does not offer sensory friendly productions.
So without these types of accommodations, families with autistic children are going to see regular performances so the theatre, cast and house staff need to be aware and empathetic to that.
I'm glad to see that the Cadillac Palace Theater and the production have taken steps to rectify the situation and I hope this situation serves as catalyst to include sensory friendly performances, especially at regional and touring productions, so that audiences can feel as welcome as possible.