The mother of a teenager with developmental disabilities says she was subjected to discrimination at a Sydney theatre when they were asked to leave 10 minutes into a performance.
Amanda Hirst – who had travelled from Wollongong – was enjoying the matinee performance of Matilda at the Sydney Lyric Theatre with her 15-year-old daughter Eliza on Sunday when she noticed a staff member watching her daughter.
Eliza, who has cerebral palsy and is developmentally delayed, was seated in a disability access area with her mother, two friends and their friend's daughter, who also has a disability.
"The gentleman was staring at me and Eliza, to the point that I turned to my friend and asked her 'why does this man keep staring at us'," Ms Hirst said.
"We had been there about 10 minutes and Eliza was clapping and cheering with everyone else and rocking back and forwards in her wheelchair," Mr Hirst said.
But the theatre's management said Eliza's actions were disruptive to other patrons, and the floor manager was obliged to intervene.
The floor manager crouched down behind Ms Hirst and asked if there was anything he could do for her daughter.
"He said we had to minimise the noise for the show. He said that usually they have to ask people who are making too much noise to quieten down and if they don't we ask them to leave," Ms Hirst said.
Ms Hirst asked the floor manager if he wanted her to leave.
She claims she was told that her daughter would be more comfortable watching the show on a television screen in the lobby.
"I was so intimidated by him," Ms Hirst said, who wheeled her daughter out of the theatre with the floor manager.
"He told me he had been watching Eliza for 10 minutes and it looked [like] she was not going to settle. He said he was observing the people around us too," she said.
"If she was distressed or throwing things or having a seizure, or upsetting other people I would have taken her out myself but she was just happy and enjoying the show," Ms Hirst said.
"She loves music and loves to dance, and she cried out in excitement once when a big balloon popped as part of the show," Ms Hirst said.
"I heard a baby crying, other people were clapping and laughing. I just couldn't understand why Eliza was a problem for him," she said.
"It's just so wrong. It's discrimination. I am just disgusted that my daughter has been put out of a show," she said.
Ms Hirst was also told that there were more appropriate shows for her daughter to attend.
"I told him this show was appropriate for my daughter," she said of the production adapted by Tim Minchin from the Roald Dahl children's book.
The floor manager apologised a number of times and when Ms Hirst asked for her money back he arranged for a refund.
"The way I feel, I would never walk back in there again," Ms Hirst said.
The theatre's general manager Graeme Kearns said the floor manager had observed Eliza "expressing herself pretty loudly with a lot of movement" and deemed her to have been disruptive to other patrons.
While no formal complaint was made, Mr Kearns said "there were a lot of people around her who ... were indicating that they wanted to enjoy the performance".
"Her noises and movement was quite accentuated," he said after reading the floor manager's report on the incident.
"We approached the carer a number of times and asked her to settle Eliza down and invited her to come back into the theatre when she was ready," he said.
Mr Kearns said there was no win in this situation.
"If we didn't do anything [I'd] have other patrons complaining … I'd have a hundred letters on my desk this morning from people wanting their money back," he said.
"Maybe we pre-empted [a complaint about Ms Hirst]. It was only 10 minutes into the show," Mr Kearns said, adding the beginning of the show was fairly quiet.
According to the script, the opening act of Matilda involves an ensemble at a birthday party and the song Miracle.
Mr Kearns personally contacted Ms Hirst on Monday afternoon to offer his apologies and invited her and Eliza to attend another performance as the theatre's guest.
"We have hundreds of disabled patrons every week, we welcome them and they have a great time with us," Mr Kearns said.
"We respect the right [for] them to come to the theatre and [we] support them in every way we can," he said.