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Student Blog: How Disability Representation in Theater Changed How I See Myself

Disability representation is incredibly important when it comes to choosing a possible life path. Theater has its own special ups and downs.

Hi, my name is Paige and I have a disability. I have mobility issues and I walk with a cane full time. While my disability was recent, I've had plenty of time to think about it and what it means to me. One thing I did not think about a lot before I became disabled was representation in the media. I was aware of it, but I never thought about how chronically ill people are shown to the world. In this blog, I am just going to discuss theater, but there is a lot to be said about physical disabilities being shown in other forms of the media.

It's hard to find out how many physically disabled actors have been on Broadway, but it is not a long list. The most recent and most famous one is Ali Stroker. She played Ado Annie in the revival of Oklahoma! and won a Tony Award for it. Ali is a wheelchair user, but it never stopped her. For me, she is such a source of joy and happiness. She makes me feel like I can do what I want to do and my disability is not going to stop me. It was incredible to see her on stage because no one treated her differently for her wheelchair. There were no added lines to make sure the audience was totally aware that she was in a wheelchair. When I first became disabled, I thought my dreams of working in theater were totally over. But seeing Ali and seeing her get to do what she loves without anyone stopping her really made me feel like I also could do what I wanted.

There's also some parts of theater that make me feel less represented on stage. While Ali Stroker is an amazing actress and human, she is one of the only Broadway stars that has a physical disability. For example, roles of disabled characters often are given to able-bodied actors who then pretend to be disabled. While disabled actors should not be playing only disabled roles, they should be the ones representing themselves on stage. I think that there still is some stigma around disability when it comes to performance. People often think that, because someone has a physical disability, they cannot perform, dance, or be a part of a performance. When people think of disabilities, a lot of people immediately think of someone who is low-functioning, because that is what we are shown as what disability looks like. This idea closes doors for the people who have the ability to perform, but they are still disabled.

One theater company that has been changing the way disabilities have been seen on stage is the Deaf West Theater. Their most famous production is the 2015 revival of Spring Awakening. While I never got to see this show, I can look at pictures from it and listen to the cast speak about it and it makes things feel better. This show took disability and made it art. The use of sign language in the show brought it to a deeper level and it was beautiful. This show also featured the incredible Ali Stroker. She is just someone who I admire and will be inspired by for the rest of my life.

I think that the theater industry has a long way to go when it comes to the relationship between disabilities and the stage. Seeing disabled people succeed in this industry has given me the confidence I need to continue finding my path in theater. There are also times, in this industry, that make me feel small and misrepresented. But, in the future, we can just hope things get better.

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From This Author Student Blogger: Paige Rosko