by Ryan Leeds
Fans of televison’s Glee (also known as “Gleeks”) will probably recognize Ali Stroker from her 2013 appearance on the popular show. That project was the beginning of her successful climb in the world of entertainment. In 2015, she became the first actor in a wheelchair to have appeared on Broadway in the revival of Spring Awakening. Since then, she has continued her passion for charity work, has appeared on the runway of New York Fashion Week, and is preparing her notes for an upcoming TedX Talk she’ll be delivering in her native Garden State.
The Broadway Blog recently spoke over the phone with the tireless performer.
BB: Does it bother you that there is more emphasis placed on the fact that you are the first performer in a wheelchair as oppossed to an amazing performer to make her Broadway debut?
AS: No. It doesn’t at all. First and foremost, it is a dream come true for me. But I also think that being the first person in a wheelchair on Broadway is also a step forward for my community, so I celebrate it.
BB: What are some misconceptions that the general public has towards those with disabilities and how to do you, as an artist and a person, dispel them?
AS: People who don’t have a disability tend to view this community as somehow limited. So I think that gives my community an opportunity to be creative and tell our stories through television, theater, and movies.
BB: I read that you have turned many obstacles into opportunities. What other obstacles and challenges do you hope to overcome, either personally or professionally?
AS: I definetly want to do more theater and televison. Of course there will be struggles and obstacles, but now that I feel like I’m on my way, I don’t feel as though I have to push quite as hard because the projects I have done before have helped pave the way for what’s to come.
BB: You’ll be doing a Tedx Talk on March 8. Tell us about that.
AS: It will be a Tedx Talk at Bergen Community College. I’m from New Jersey, so it’s exciting so being going “home” in way. I’m going to talk about my journey to Broadway and how, as a disabled performer, I was able to step into my full power and gain self acceptance about who I am as an actor and as a person.
BB: You were recently featured in Rachel Antonoff’s show during New York Fashion Week. Had you thought about exploring the fashion world prior to this opportunity?
AS: Rachel and I grew up together on the Jersey shore and she actually introduced me to musical theater. When she asked me to be a part of her show, I was so excited. She likes do something other than the typical runway show, so we ended up doing the musical number, “A Secretary is Not a Toy” from How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying. It was a really creative way to show her line and display some fine New York talent. We did it at the Grace building on 42nd Street, where it was met with surprise and enjoyment.
BB: You do quite a bit of charity work as well, specifically with ArtsInsideOut, an organization that helps those affected with HIV/AIDS tell their stories. Talk about that experience.
AS: Yes. I’ve been to South Africa three times for teaching and every time I go, it opens my whole perspective to teaching, to the arts, and to humanity in general. The kids are so incredible and so full of life. It’s an equal exchange, though. I believe that what you give is what you get back.
BB: You also do work with the anti-bullying campaign, “Be More Heroic,” right?
AS: Yes. We spent a year going around to schools and sharing our stories. Instead of being an anti-campaign, we are standing for something instead of against it. About two years ago, we had a camp at Big Bear in California and filmed a documentary about an arts and leadership workshop. All of these outreach programs are so important because I feel like so much has been given to me that it just feels right to be giving.
BB: Any other charities that you’d like to work or align yourself with?
BB: Many who worked with you on Spring Awakening commented that you are a “force of nature” and an incredibly strong person. What is the source of that strength and reason for your positive energy?
AS: My family has been the biggest source of that strength. They have taught me what it means to show up for your life and achieve your dreams and not be afraid. Plus, all of the people along they way who have believed in me and have said yes to me.
Watch Ali in an excerpt from (Un)Lucky in Love, a new musical.
Ryan Leeds is a freelance theater journalist who lives in Manhattan. He is the Chief Theater Critic for Manhattan Digest and a frequent contributor to Dramatics Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @Ry_Runner or on Facebook