In her history-making acceptance speech at the Tony Awards Sunday night, Ali Stroker spoke directly to the millions of young people watching with dreams like hers.
“This award is for every kid watching tonight who has a disability, who has a limitation or a challenge, who has been waiting to see themselves represented in this arena,” she said. “You are.”
Stroker, 31, became the first actor in a wheelchair to win a Tony Award, earning Best Supporting Actress in a Musical for her turn as Ado Annie in the widely celebrated revival of “Oklahoma!”
She won wide praise for her contemporary reinvention of a character often portrayed as a comically dim, boy-crazy foil to the show’s romantic female lead. In this production, which also won Best Revival of a Musical, her fearless Annie isn’t defined by her chair: she dances and flirts with equal ease.
Stroker waited backstage to accept her award, though most nominees are expected to walk down the theater’s aisles and up the stage steps once they’ve won. She told reporters after her win she hopes theater owners work to make backstage areas more accessible to performers in wheelchairs.
She made history in her first appearance on Broadway, too: with her role in 2015’s “Spring Awakening,” she became the first Broadway actor to use a wheelchair for mobility use in a production that also starred deaf actors who performed in sign language. She also appeared on “The Glee Project,” a reality show that earned her a guest spot on “Glee.”
Paralyzed after a car accident at age 2, Stroker decided to pursue musical theatre even though there were few, if any, performers like her. Now, she’s setting the example she didn’t have as a kid.
“I wasn’t going to be playing soccer. I wasn’t going to be doing gymnastics,” she told CNN affiliate WLNY. “But I could sing and do theatre, so my parents encouraged me to put all my attention on the things that I could do, my strengths.
“Living with a disability, you can feel limited at times. But when I sing, I can fly. I am free.”