Ali Stroker Is Breaking Down Broadway Boundaries
Photo courtesy Glee- Wiki
Ali Stroker, Broadway performer and social activist, visited Skidmore on Nov. 29 to give an inspiring talk about how she overcame her disability and became the first wheelchair-using actress to appear on Broadway. Her career has taken her everywhere, from appearing on hit television shows like Glee, The Glee Project and Faking It to performing in Oklahoma and Spring Awakening. She has also worked with Be More Heroic, an anti-bullying campaign, United Cerebral Palsy of New York City, and ARTS InsideOut in South Africa, trying to help as many as she can feel empowered the way she does.
At the first annual Civic Engagement lecture, Stroker started her talk with a song, explaining she was doing so because “that’s how I roll,” granting the audience a small glance into the humorous outlook with which she lives her life. She then began talking about how she first started using a wheelchair.
Stroker was hurt in a car accident when she was just two years old, which left her paralyzed from the chest down. She explained how this injury was difficult for her, since she has no memory of the accident but will forever have the repercussions of it.
Yet, according to Stroker, the introduction of musical theatre into her life changed her forever. It happened when she was seven years old and performed Annie with her friends on her back porch, where she first discovered she could sing. Stroker had always had doctors’ appointments and physical therapy, but singing was her passion, and it let her be free. When she would sing, “nothing would hold me back.”
Stroker then talked about her college application process: she applied to only one school (New York University) and explained that if she didn’t get in, she wouldn’t go to college at all. When she visited other schools like Penn State, she would often become the center of attention with people staring at her all the time. However, at NYU, Stroker said she felt free, because, in New York, there are stranger things going on than a girl in a wheelchair. She got in and immediately began her career of defying the odds.
Her first instance of advocacy was when Glee premiered on television. The show, which aired from 2009-2015, starred a student in a wheelchair. But when Stroker found out the actor playing the character wasn’t actually disabled, she became angry.
After that incident, she vowed to advocate for disabled people, because of the way they bring authenticity to their roles. Still, Stroker found that often the sets were not accessible places. She would often need to be lifted onto the stage or the set, which took away the power she felt when acting. She explains how, on sets, she “wants to enter in my power—in my wheelchair.” She wanted to make her sets, as well as sets all over the world, more accessible for people with disabilities.
Using a wheelchair, Stoker explained, has given her the best opportunities in life. She has learned how to turn her limitations into her opportunities, and that has gotten her where she is today. Every person has limitations, Stroker exclaimed, and you “should wrap your arms around [them],” just like she did.
Michelle Hubbs, Co- Chair of The Subcommittee on Responsible Citizenship, who brought Stroker to campus, explained how Stroker “inspired our students to think about how to turn their limitations into opportunities. Several students have already begun to organize to continue the conversation.”
Throughout the lecture, Stroke would constantly engage with the audience, becoming impassioned by the stories and ideas that were shared. Grabbing any opportunity to help others have their voice and story heard, Stroker continues to be a strong voice for those who feel like they don’t have one, instantly becoming a role model to many.