Seven year old Thomas Waller just wanted to enjoy a Wednesday production of Aladdin at the Cadillac Palace Theater in Chicago with his family. Instead, Thomas, who has autism, got kicked out for being “disruptive to the cast”.
His mother, Kathy, brought him into a hall as the rest of the family proceeded to watch the show. An usher had tapped her on the shoulder and said that they needed to leave. Thomas was allegedly disturbing the cast. Kathy, who said she had been to many Broadway shows with her son, said there had never been a problem before.
“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.”
At first, when she’d gone to the ticket counter to get an immediate refund, her request was denied. But when Gemma Mulvihill, director of sales at the theatre, was being interviewed with Kathy, she started singing a different song. She said how she would “do anything” to take care of Kathy and her family, and offered her a full refund and for Thomas to see Aladdin again in full. She also said that the theatre is dedicated to people of “all kinds”.
Broadway disruptions are nothing new. Madonna texted throughout the second act of Hamilton. Patti LuPone snatched a cellphone from a texting audience member. Countless bootleggers are thrown out for illegal filming. But to eject a seven-year old boy over making some noise– even if the usher was not aware he was autistic– is unacceptable. To deny the family a refund, even when it was explained that Thomas has autism, until put on the spot in front of an audience is equally inexcusable.
Everyone involved in musical theatre knows that people in the audience talking or on their phones or making noise is a major distraction. It’s tough to focus and stay in the moment. But if Madonna can stay during Hamilton while lighting up the audience with her LED screen, Thomas should have been able to stay until the end of the show.
Many Broadway productions (such as Wicked, The Lion King, and Aladdin in New York) have alternate performances to accommodate patrons with autism, light sensitivities, and sound sensitivities. But when it comes to performances outside of New York, despite that Aladdin is kid-friendly and a good choice for sensory friendly productions, there is no option for these special shows. Without these accommodations, the cast and ushers have to keep in mind that there will be people with autism in the audience.