Ever since Broadway shows began to become cultural phenomena in the early 1900s, the stage has been home to hundreds, if not thousands, of diverse performers. Thus, Broadway has been one of the leaders when it comes to presenting diversity in its performers. However, the Great White Way is not totally inclusive yet.
Disabled performers have seldom been able to perform on Broadway for various reasons. Even roles meant to be portrayed by disabled performers, like Nessarose in “Wicked,” are typically performed by able-bodied individuals.
In my opinion, if a role is specifically written for a disabled individual, it should be performed by one. It wouldn’t be acceptable for a Caucasian individual to play a Puerto Rican character in “In the Heights,” so why should an able-bodied individual be able to play a character confined to a wheel chair?
That being said, Broadway made one of its greatest leaps toward full inclusion by letting Ali Stroker, a performer permanently confined to a wheelchair, perform onstage as Ado Annie in Daniel Fish’s reimagined revival of “Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!” Due to her spectacular performance, she was nominated for a Tony Award this year and won.
In her deeply emotional acceptance speech, Stroker said “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. You are.”
Before Stroker, there had never been any physically disabled people on Broadway, but hopefully her historic triumph at the Tony Awards will usher in a new age of disabled performers.
Following her win, Stroker has made it her mission to implore for Broadway theaters to become more accessible and accommodating to all of its patrons and performers.
“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,” said Stroker.
As an aspiring performer with a physical disability myself, seeing Broadway’s strides of inclusion on the stage provides me with hope that Broadway will one day allow all people, regardless of disabilities, to perform onstage.