Who Is Ali Stroker? New Details On The First Disabled Woman To Win A Tony For Her Role In 'Oklahoma!'

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Who Is Ali Stroker? New Details On The First Disabled Woman To Win A Tony For Her Role In 'Oklahoma!'

Who is Ali Stroker? When I saw Ali Stroker take the stage in Oklahoma! I knew I was seeing something. Let the record show that well before the show made its way to Broadway I saw it during its original run at St. Anne's Warehouse in Brooklyn, so yeah, THEATER KID CRED, Y'all! As a woman in a wheelchair, Ali naturally stood out, but it was her performance and not her chair that was the most captivating. It seems the theater community agrees, but at the Tony awards this year she became the first person who uses a wheelchair to win one of the coveted theatrical awards. Ali won for her portrayal of the infamous and promiscuous character Ado Annie. Here's a little bit more about the stage star whose name is on everyone's lips following the awards. Meet Ali Stroker! 

1. First To Win 

On Sunday night's Tony awards, members of the theater community were recognized for their exceptional work on the stage. One of the most exciting awards of the night went out to Ali Stroker. Ali won best featured actress for her portrayal of Ado Annie in the musical Oklahoma!, and if you have a way to get to New York and see her in it, you best get on it before it's too late! Ali's win was significant for a couple of big reasons. The first is that she was awesome in the role and absolutely deserves the prize. The second and perhaps even more important reason is that on Sunday she became the first person EVER who uses a wheelchair fulltime to win any sort of Tony Award at all, let alone one for something like best featured actress. 

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2. Her Accident 

Ali, a 31-year-old woman originally from the proud if vaguely maligned state of New Jersey, couldn't have been happier to accept the award. She was definitely aware of its implications too, saying: “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." If that's not already enough to make you start ugly crying and wailing out words like "role model" and "my queen", then you need to know that she also made sure to shout out her parents on stage “for teaching me to use my gifts to help people.” Ali lost the use of her legs in car accident when she was 2-years-old, but it has never stopped her from reaching for her dreams. 

3. No Ramp?

When Ali's category was finally announced, she had just completed a performance of her big solo hit from the show, "I Can't Say No." This was extremely fortunate because believe it or not, no one thought to orchestrate having a ramp set up to lead up from the house onto the stage itself. Thankfully, she was waiting in the wings. After accepting her award when people began asking her about the lack of ramp gaffe, she shrugged it off and shared that while most of the theaters in Broadway are handicapped accessible for audience members, they very much aren't when it comes to the backstage areas. Starting this conversation is one more awesome byproduct of her win and she's making the most of it. 

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4. Speaking Out 

“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,” she said to reporters who were curious about how to begin making the changes needed for performers with needs like Ali's. While some might be frustrated that their win was overshadowed by their disability, that's not the case for Ali. 

She's proud to be a voice for others, having despaired of seeing anyone like her in the arts when she was growing up. “I’m very aware that when I was a little girl I wasn’t seeing anybody like me, and on days when I’m exhausted or discouraged about something, that lights a fire. I hope that for young people in chairs who feel that this is too hard, that they see that being in a chair is like getting a secret key to an unknown door — that they see what I’m doing and are reassured that anything is possible.”

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5. Theater Is Her Calling

Ali has always been passionate about theater, particularly musical theater but has often had to deal with theater makers who have a hard time believing just what she's capable of. “I find it to be fascinating that often people don’t think I can dance,” she said. “Who says that dance isn’t turning on wheels? Who says dancing isn’t throwing your arms up in the air and grabbing someone else’s arms to be propelled across the stage?”

In fact, Ali's first role ever on stage was when she was seven-years-old and was cast in a production of Annie where she played the leading role. “I really just have always felt like I belonged on stage. And once I got into theater, I really wanted to figure out the dancing part. I know what it’s like to not be able to move,” she said, “so in many ways the opportunity to move is a gift for me.”

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Rebecca Jane Stokes is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York with her cats, Batman and Margot. She's an experienced generalist with a passion for lifestyle, geek news, pop culture, and true crime.