On June 9, actress Ali Stroker made history when she won a Tony Award for her role as Ado Annie in the revival of “Oklahoma!” She is the first wheelchair user to be nominated and win. Viewers who were watching, however, may have noticed something missing — a ramp to the stage allowing Stroker to accept her award from the audience like all the other winners. The Tony winner addressed the lack of accessibility in an interview.
The awards category Stroker was nominated in — Best Featured Actress in a Musical — was announced immediately after the cast of “Oklahoma!” performed onstage during the awards show. Because Stroker performed during the number, she was already backstage for the announcement of her category. According to HuffPost, she waited backstage in case she won so she could accept the award from backstage since there the Tonys did not build a ramp from the audience to the stage.
Later in the evening, the cast of “Oklahoma!” won the Tony for Best Revival of a Musical. Most of the cast and crew filed onto the Tony stage directly from their seats in the audience to accept the award via the stage stairs. But no ramp had been built to make the stage at Radio City Music Hall accessible from the audience. Stroker was not onstage to accept with the rest of the production.
Twitter users pointed out the Tony Awards’ production’s lack of accommodations made for Stroker online:
One step forward, one step removed: the Tonys did not provide an accessible ramp to the stage despite knowing there was a disabled nominee favored to win. @ALISTROKER recieved her award backstage.https://t.co/1CFmdyWvnA
— Jaipreet Virdi (@jaivirdi) June 10, 2019
tonight is the time to celebrate the hell out of Ali Stroker, whose performance truly is the season’s best. tomorrow is the time to ask why the fuck the Tonys and Radio City didn’t build a damn ramp so she could sit (and win) among her peers
— Nicole Silverberg (@nsilverberg) June 10, 2019
Tony winner @alistroker had to wait backstage before her name was called b/c the stage was inaccessible & there was no ramp. She also couldn't join her cast to accept Best Revival Award. Like I said, we have a LONG way to go. @elysewanshel breaks it down: https://t.co/wffMpDieZ2
— Wendy Lu (@wendyluwrites) June 10, 2019
Big congratulations to @AliStroker on winning best featured actress in a musical at @thetonyawards and helping to #EndTheStigma while doing it. Hopefully for her next win, there will be a ramp to the stage… #DearEverybody #RepresentationMatters #accessabilitymatters pic.twitter.com/SrpsPL6SyC
— Holland Bloorview (@HBKidsHospital) June 11, 2019
Congratulations, @ALISTROKER! But REALLY no ramp to allow her to get onstage?? ????♀️ I look forward to seeing more from Ali, and to seeing a new generation of performers with disabilities take center stage! ????♿️???? https://t.co/rjTRMo3BpD
— Tammy Duckworth (@TammyforIL) June 12, 2019
In a New York Times article, Stroker addressed the lack of accessibility during the awards show, noting that basic accommodations like a ramp are more than just a necessity. “I think I had a dream that maybe there could be a ramp built,” Stroker told the Times. She continued:
It’s more than just a logistical thing — it’s saying that you are accepted here, in every part of you. I know that the Tonys did the best that they could, and I know that Radio City did the best they could. I am not naïve — there are a lot of logistical things you have to deal with around buildings that were built a long, long time ago. They did put in a ramp backstage. And I had a seat in the front, but the way the night worked out, I never got to my seat.
Stroker addressed young aspiring performers with disabilities in her acceptance speech, highlighting how important it is that people with disabilities see themselves represented in theater. In her interview with The New York Times, she took that a step further by asking theaters to take steps to make their backstage areas accessible for everything. She said:
These theaters are really old in New York, and they’ve made the houses accessible for patrons, but the backstages have not been made accessible. If I were to get another show, it would be another conversation about how to make the backstage accessible. Here at Circle in the Square, they put in a chairlift for me, and full ramping so I can get to both sides of the stage, and an accessible bathroom. It’s great. It’s necessary. And it’s time.