You were in a car accident at age two that paralyzed you from the chest down. How did your parents handle that?
My parents were exceptional. Because I had limitations, they always put emphasis on where my strengths and gifts were. We really put our attention on what I could do and not what I couldn’t.
How did you get into theater?
In high school, I did shows with the New Players Company, which is Ridgewood High School’s theater program. If you weren’t in a show you were required to do crew hours. I used to help with wardrobe and costumes and makeup. I loved that.
Before you played Olive in Paper Mill Playhouse’s The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee in 2011, you participated in the theater company’s summer conservatory. What was that like?
Each summer they picked a composer. One summer it was Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein. We did basically a musical revue. We took acting classes, dance classes, musical theater, music theory and vocal performance classes.
You made your Broadway debut in 2015 as Anna in a revival of Spring Awakening with Deaf West Theatre. How was that unique?
[They] create theater for both hearing and deaf audiences, and they use sign language to enhance the story. It went right along with my mission, which is to turn your limitations into opportunities.
You won a 2019 Tony Award for your performance as Ado Annie in a revival of Oklahoma! on Broadway. Talk about that character.
She does not apologize for who she is. She just has so many questions about the people and the circumstances around her. And singing “I Cain’t Say No”—it’s just a really fun, exciting number.
What’s the reaction to your wheelchair during rehearsals?
Usually there isn’t really any reaction in the room because they know ahead of time. I feel like it’s important for any person with a disability to be up front about it. Once I’m cast in something, the team has questions and they’re curious, and they want to have a dialogue about what’s possible. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with really great directors and choreographers, and they allow me to give ideas and express myself authentically.
Have you encountered accessibility obstacles backstage?
Specifically with the theater I’m working in now at Circle in the Square, it was not accessible backstage so we had to make accommodations. We put in a stair lift and ramps so that I can get around. But accessibility is always the first thing that I go to. For me, I just look at it as an opportunity to get creative and have to collaborate.
You were the first person who uses a wheelchair to graduate from NYU’s Tisch Drama program, the first to be on Broadway, the first to be nominated for a Tony and the first to win a Tony. How do you view performing with your chair?
It’s my life. I don’t really know anything else. I know that the world views it as exceptional, but for me, it’s my normal.
Click here to leave a comment