Last night was the 73rd Annual Tony Awards, and there were so many firsts that night alone. Andre De Shields won his first Tony award at the age of 73, Rachel Chavkin moved everyone with her speech mentioning that there need to be more female directors in the theatre industry, and Ali Stroker made history being the first physically disabled actor to win a Tony Award. This has resonated with me the most, considering the fact that I am disabled myself and have been advocating for disability representation in the media and more disability accessibility in schools, workplaces, the arts, and more since early high school.
Stroker won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her performance as Ado Annie in the revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's classic, "Oklahoma!". She has been paralyzed from the waist down after suffering from a spinal cord injury in a car accident at the age of two, making her unable to walk. She also made history back in 2015 being the first physically disabled actress to play a leading role on the Broadway stage, playing Anna in the revival of "Spring Awakening". She has told her story for many years since she first appeared on "The Glee Project" in 2012.
Her being both disabled and queer, I have resonated with her for the longest time as someone who is also disabled and queer. This was not only the first time I ever saw someone like me on the Broadway stage but seeing someone like me win a Tony award gives me lots of hope for my future. I am on the autism spectrum that has dreamed about being on the Broadway stage since I was nine years old, so seeing Ali accepting her Tony Award was nothing less than an exciting moment for me.
Disability accessibility has not been common in the theatre, whether it be for the physically disabled who need ramps and elevators in order to travel from one floor to another, or even autistics like myself who have a hard time processing a large amount of light and sound all at once. Many theatres are attempting to change that, including the Papermill Playhouse doing autism-friendly performances of their shows by dimming down anything that can be considered to be over-stimulating, such as lights and sound. I have used theatre as a way for me to express myself and overcome my challenges, and seeing others overcome their challenges through theatre is one of the greatest things I could see during this year's Tony Awards.
When I met Stroker for the first time when I was sixteen years old, I remember being so touched by her story that I wanted to be just like her when I grew up. Since then, she has been a reminder to me and so many other aspiring artists and performers with disabilities that just because we are disabled does not mean that we will not be able to succeed. And succeeding is the one thing we all intend to do.