I Believe Broadway Can Be Accessible

Posted by Reeve Staff in Life After Paralysis on April 21, 2022 # EmpowHer Stories

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved music. When I was a toddler, my parents recall me constantly saying, “Musica! Musica!” I grew up listening to my dad’s boom box on the porch during hot summer days and various Vampire Weekend songs on our family’s iPod. My mom and Grammie took my twin and me to see our first Broadway show when we were thirteen, and I remember the world fading into the shadows as the stage lit up. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen before: the professionalism, the talent, and the storytelling were on another level. I wanted to bring that sense of wonder, awe, and joy to an audience. I wanted to be a part of creating those big feelings for people!

The school I go to now, Mt. Abraham, goes from seventh to twelfth grade, and the year I was in seventh, we did Newsies. The fall musicals are always a staple here. Everyone from the surrounding towns came to see them as well, and I remember sitting in the audience every year before I got to Mt. Abe, thinking, “I’m going to do that someday!” So when I finally got to do my first show, it changed my life. Working hard for months and then finally getting to hear your audience clap so loudly you can feel the joy is one of my favorite things in the world. I fell in love with it instantly.

The only hard part about doing this is that I’m often the only person with a physical disability. It impacts my ability to do a dance sequence that looks really fun, or makes sure I can move freely enough on the stage with sets and props moving around me. Able-bodied people don’t often consider these things because they do not directly impact them, and I’ve had many a conversation with my directors and choreographer about making things more accessible or easier to do. I am also increasingly aware that proper representation is lacking in big theater industries like Broadway. For example, in Wicked, there’s a character who uses a wheelchair, but able-bodied actors only portray her, and her character’s goal is extremely stereotypical: to be “cured” and then she won’t be miserable. There are many cases of this, as well as actual accessibility issues getting into the theaters. Most theaters don’t have elevators or equitable seating options, and I wonder how easily a disabled performer would be able to move on the stages.

Because I love musical theater so much, it’s hard to see the lack of people who look like me and the limited access. Everyone, regardless of who they are or how they move through the world, should be able to do what brings them joy. If I could talk to choreographers, actors, casting directors, set designers, and wardrobe people today, I would tell them that disabled people are out there. We can be and want to be hired. I would tell writers and directors to skip the disability stereotypes when creating new shows, I would tell choreographers to make dance numbers inclusive for everyone, and I would tell everyone in musical theater to actively work to get more people with disabilities on the stage because our stories deserve to be told in this way. I hope to build a better and brighter future for young kids with disabilities who want to do theater and be able to provide them with role models because, as Elphaba says in Wicked: everyone deserves the chance to fly.

Hannah Gallivan, 16, is a proud disabled young woman from Bristol, Vermont. She is passionate about musical theater and is working on perfecting her macaron technique. When she is older, Hannah wants to pursue a career that involves disability advocacy and the arts.

Hannah wrote this blog as a part of the Disability EmpowHer Network and the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation collaborative blogging program which uplifts the voices of women and girls with spinal cord disabilities.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.