Ali Stroker is the first actor in a wheelchair to perform on Broadway. Now, she’s also the first actor in a wheelchair to win a Tony Award.
When Ali Stroker was two a car accident left her paralysed from the chest down.
Since then the actor has used a wheelchair, but she has never let her disability get in the way of her dreams. All through her childhood she acted in school plays before studying at the prestigious Tisch School of the Arts. In 2015, she became the first actor in a wheelchair to perform on Broadway in Spring Awakening. Then, in 2018 she was cast as Oklahoma!’s resident saucy cowgirl Ado Annie Carnes.
Now, Stroker has made history once more by winning a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her sexy, unforgettable performance in Oklahoma!. Accepting her award, Stroker became the first actor in a wheelchair in Broadway history to win a Tony.
“This award is for every kid who is watching tonight who has a disability, a limitation, a challenge, who has been waiting to see themselves represented in this arena,” Stroker said in her powerful acceptance speech. “You are.”
In a moment of unbelievable oversight, the Tony Awards had not build a ramp from the audience to the stage, but when Stroker’s award was announced she was still backstage after her performance of ‘I Cain’t Say No’ from Okhlahoma!.
The error is a reminder that despite the gains made when it comes to representation thanks to the work of actors like Stroker, there is still a long way to go. When it comes to accessibility, producers and theatres themselves also need to put in the work.
The venues that stage productions need to be made accessible for performers of all abilities, Stroker affirmed backstage at the Tony Awards. “I would ask theatre owners and producers to really look into how they can begin to make the backstage accessible so that performers with disabilities can get around,” Stroker said after her win.
Stroker’s award wasn’t the only gong picked up by the Oklahoma! revival at the Tony Awards. The musical is a very sexy, very intimate reimagining of the beloved Rodgers & Hammerstein original, with Stroker’s ‘I Cain’t Say No’ as one of its most scintillating and promiscuous moments.
Unlike previous incarnations of the character, Stroker’s Annie is empowered and confident and fully in tune with her own sexuality. For Stroker, playing a disabled character who was also sex positive was paramount.
“I feel like I have arrived in my sexual power, meaning that I feel the most confident I’ve ever felt in my life,” the actor told Vulture. “Especially growing up and as a teenager, I was always looking for role models who were in chairs. I always felt like a sexual person – I just didn’t know how to always portray that, and I never really was sure, as a kid, if being in a wheelchair could be sexy. So, to arrive at this point is so exciting – more than exciting, it’s like a relief in many ways.”
We can’t wait to see what Stroker does next.