“Everyone has an origin story of how they were brought into the theater and how it changed their lives,” says Ali Stroker, a Tony-winning actress who is encouraging kids and adults alike to create their own opportunities with the publication of a new picture book.
Inspired by her experiences putting on shows at her childhood home on the Jersey Shore, Stroker’s children’s book, entitled “Ali and the Sea Stars,” was released on May 17.
“Why wait?,” Stroker told Broadway News. “It’s not about getting something perfect. It’s about putting yourself out there and going after something that maybe you’re dreaming about or that maybe you’ve wanted for a long time.”
For the 34-year-old star of stage and screen, that means going after her dream of writing and developing something special for a young readership.
Stroker, currently in rehearsals for the Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park production of “Richard III” (set to begin performances on June 21 at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park), told Broadway News she’s always wanted to create a book for little ones.
“In so many ways I think that my community down on the beach were the first people who gave me green lights and believed in me,” Stroker says of the childhood experiences that inspired her book.
“Ali and the Sea Stars” follows enthusiastic young student Ali, who devises and presents a musical after it occurs to her that she can put on her own shows. With the help of family and friends, Ali pulls the show off — despite some bumps in the road that occur along the way.
“I realized you can create theater without adults. You can create theater with your friends. I wanted to inspire kids to use their creativity and imagination and not wait for permission from adults.”
That message helped Stroker blaze her own trail.
She graduated from New York University before placing second on season two of the reality series “The Glee Project.” From there, Stroker became the first actor in a wheelchair to appear on Broadway in Deaf West’s 2015 revival of “Spring Awakening.” Stroker then became the first actor in a wheelchair to win a Tony Award for her turn as Ado Annie in the 2019 revival of “Oklahoma.”
Her previous book, the nonillustrated “The Chance to Fly,” co-written with Stacy Davidowitz for a pre-teen audience, was published in April 2021. Both of Stroker’s books feature a wheelchair-using main character.
And while writing “Ali and the Sea Stars” helped Stroker reconnect with her roots, she hopes it can do the same for others.
“Everyone has an origin story of how they were brought into the theater and how it changed their lives. And I hope [this book] makes them feel good about where they come from.”
Stroker also aims to help parents teach their children about all kinds of people, with a wish that “Ali and the Sea Stars” can encourage them to engage in meaningful conversations.
“Maybe they don’t have a friend in a wheelchair or they don’t know anybody in a wheelchair, and this book can introduce them [through this] character,” Stroker says.
And the message remains important for folks of all ages as well, adds Stroker. “For adults, I think it’s so important to see that we can have leading characters that are different from us and they don’t need to explain why they’re different.”
As Broadway and the theater industry as a whole continues to rebound post-pandemic, this book’s key messages of celebrating all types of people and following one’s dreams hold especially true.
Stroker says that the process Ali goes through in the book is exactly the same process that artists and theater workers navigate when working on a Broadway show. In that regard, the book’s message resonates with folks of all ages.
“Creating this book reminded me of where I come from and why I started doing this from the beginning. I think it’s so important that we remember our why and the joy it brought to us as kids, and to bring that into our work now as adults.”