A beautiful Mom of my acquaintance posted to her private social media about an experience she had at the theatre. Hers mirrored many I’ve had with my S-Bear. S-Bear has Cerebral Palsy, sensory issues, and autism, so I worry about her reactions to things. As a result, I seek out “sensitive” performances where the audience is more forgiving. However, not all presentations offer a sensory friendly performance.
My kid loves theatre and musicals. She asks for the same present every year for Christmas – tickets to the Nutcracker ballet. Since she was five, if I could afford to take her, she has attended the amazing performances by the Pittsburgh Ballet at the beautiful Benedum Center. She knows the music and the story. She quietly sways in her seat and sometimes asks whispered questions. I shush her and remind her questions are for intermission and the conclusion of the show. She does her best to comply.
I purchase end of aisle tickets to offer a sort of buffer between my girl and the other patrons. We arrive a bit early in the hopes of preventing annoying anyone. We don’t want to interfere with anyone’s appreciation of the performances. Our goal is to enjoy the show, too.
My friend wrote of her experience with her son, J, “Asking for your thoughts on this… While watching “Wicked,” a woman tapped me on my shoulder and asked if J could stop “fidgeting.” Anyone who know J, knows he uses a lanyard when focusing on things of intense interest to him. It’s really not something he can help, and the woman was polite. I explained he couldn’t control it, but suddenly the play was less fun for both of us. J couldn’t stop fidgeting, and I couldn’t stop worrying about the other patrons’ discomfort. So I felt conflicted. Sorry for my boy who faces a myriad of challenges just to get through the day. Sorry for the discomfort of my fellow theatre patrons. But more sorry that we live in a world where intolerance of differences is so rampant. I was struck by the irony of the words in Defying Gravity towards the end of Act 1. J will defy gravity – and intolerance and find acceptance in a world where there is little to be found.”
Beautiful sentiment expressed by one of the world’s dearest souls. I hope to borrow a bit of her grace during trials.
Last year at the Nutcracker, an unsympathetic usher complain about our slow pace when we followed to our seat. (S-bear hurried as best she could, but the aisle is sloped, she uses forearm crutches, and safety is a concern if she rushes.) When we assumed our seat, the usher glared with disgust at S-Bear’s stiff legs and crutches peeking out from alongside the seats. “Now how are other people supposed to get in and out of the aisle?” My shocked reply, “The same way they would with anyone else sitting in the end seat. They will ask to get through, and we will accommodate them.” The usher looked affronted. “How’s she getting up to do that?” I summoned patience and said, “I’ll help her, of course.” However, this atypical volunteer then complained, “You know, there are handicapped seats for people like her.” She spoke as though my daughter was not sitting there or capable of hearing or understanding. My temper flared, and I fumbled for words. Before I could express myself, however, a fellow patron said, “You know, Ms. Usher, that girl has as much right to sit in that seat as any other person in this hall. And you should seriously consider some sensitivity training.” I nearly embraced the elegantly-clad woman to express my gratitude as the usher stalked away, muttering about our rudeness.
After performances, we wait for the bulk of the crowd to leave before we depart, hoping to avoid the crush to escape. As Edith Wharton once expressed, we Americans are as eager to leave our diversions as we are to attend them. Hurrying people might trip on crutches or bump my girl over. It seems prudent to wait, therefore. As the patrons trickled out, ushers came to collect discarded programs and tidy up. My girl and I prepared to leave. However, as we donned our coats, a couple from our row made a comment about “inconsiderate people” loitering in the presentation hall, probably “hoping for charity or some sort of special treatment.” We did not block their exit. In fact, we moved out of the way as soon as the standing ovation concluded. As he said it, he glared at my daughter and me. I blinked incomprehension, hoping the comment was not intended for us. However, as they passed, he said, “Pathetic” and his date laughed, looking over her shoulder as they flounced toward the exit. The unpleasant usher did not wish us a happy evening, nor did she notice the tears stinging my eyes or the roses of embarrassment coloring my cheeks.
My girl studied my face. “Are you okay, Momma?”
“Let’s go, darling. Did you enjoy the show?”
The worry-wrinkles melted from her expression as she gushed, “Oh, yes, I loved it!”
For that I felt grateful. For the intolerant people, I pray they might gain some insight into lives outside their own. I don’t like to disturb other people’s enjoyment, but our special needs kids have the right to enjoy theatrical shows, too.
My eldest daughter works at a facility for adults with disabilities, and she told me a story just today about a similar experience. She accompanied a couple of her clients to the library. These disabled adults were respectful and mostly quiet, but one rocks and the other hums very quietly to himself. My daughter took them to a quiet, out-of-the-way and relatively unoccupied corner. Still, two library patrons left in a huff, apparently disturbed by the presence of “noisy and disruptive” people. I don’t have an answer. I hate that we live in a world of too-often condoned intolerance and blatant ignorance, though.
In “Wicked,” the witch strives for acceptance despite her green skin and maligned reputation. In the “Nutcracker,” Clara saw through the spell and appreciated her valiant Nutcracker Prince despite his broken parts and fearsome appearance.
I hope there will come a day when acceptance of differences is the norm. Every one of us offers a unique perspective in this mad world, and to appreciate one another is a great form of love. With kindness and understanding, let’s Defy Gravity and orchestrate our own dances.
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