You all probably know about my love of musicals very well by now. I know… you’re probably sick of me mentioning Hamilton every single time I possibly can. But don’t worry – this post is NOT about Hamilton!
This past weekend was the Tony Awards, which is Broadway’s version of the Oscars. Since I don’t live in New York, and don’t get there very often, the Tonys are a great way for me to see and hear some of the current shows on Broadway, before they begin their tours and make it here to Pittsburgh. This year’s Tony Awards was especially exciting for me to watch, because Ali Stroker was nominated for, and won, for her role in Oklahoma, and Ali is the first person who uses a wheelchair to win a Tony!
When she accepted her award, she started her speech with: “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.”
Ali is actually the first person who uses a wheelchair to ever perform on Broadway, and as far as I know, the only person who uses a wheelchair to currently be on Broadway. While there is a lot of talk about diversifying Broadway, it doesn’t seem to have included disability in that diversification. This isn’t a Broadway-specific issue – often, diversity issues and disability issues are considered separate.
But seeing Ali Stroker on stage, and hearing her speech, was really special. I think that people often don’t understand the importance of representation because they’re so used to being represented. But when you have never seen anyone like you in a certain place – whether it’s on stage, on TV, or somewhere else – it’s not just that you don’t have someone to look up to. It’s that you feel unwelcome, like there’s some invitation you haven’t received, some guest list that you were left off of. You think that it’s probably not even possible for you to ever get there, because if no one ever has, why would you be the first?
It’s 2019, and the very first ever person who uses a wheelchair won a Tony Award. It’s a little bittersweet – as exciting as it is, I can’t believe that it’s taken this long. My fingers are crossed that Ali’s win brings more disability to Broadway, and that I get to see more people in wheelchairs on stages all over.