On Sunday night I watched Ali Stroker, a friend and fellow disabled actor, make history when she won the Tony Award for her stunning portrayal of Ado Annie in the Broadway revival of the musical “Oklahoma!”.
“This award is for every kid who is watching tonight who has a disability, who has a limitation or a challenge, who has been waiting to see themselves represented in this arena — you are,” said Stroker, as she accepted the statuette.
Stroker, who was injured in a car accident when she was 2 years old, has been active in theater since she was 7, when a neighbor cast her as the title role in a backyard production of “Annie”. She later attended New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, was a runner up on Season Two of “The Glee Project”, and in 2015, performed in Deaf West’s “Spring Awakening,” making her the first person who uses a wheelchair to appear on Broadway.
Like me, and many others, Stroker was aware growing up that people like her didn’t exist on stage and screen, and her win is a win for us all. It’s especially exciting as Stroker won for playing a character that is not written to be disabled. Ado Annie is strong, sexy and knows what she wants.
There was one important thing missing on Sunday night’s Tony Awards: a ramp to access the Radio City Music Hall stage. So Stroker stayed backstage, after the Oklahoma! cast performance, for when her category was announced. She was noticeably the only cast member not on stage to celebrate their “Best Revival of a Musical” win.
There was a ramp, though, to access the small stage in the press room and the first question Stroker was asked after her win was what she would do to make Broadway more accessible. She explained that theaters are often accessible for patrons but not for performers. “So, I would ask theater owners and producers to really look into how they can begin to make the backstage accessible so that performers with disabilities can get around.”
And in Stroker’s case (and hopefully in more disabled performers to come), accept awards.