From the Broadway stage to holiday rom-coms, Ali Stroker is continuing to break down barriers.
Last year, Stroker became the first actor in a wheelchair to win a Tony Award for her performance in the Rodgers & Hammerstein's Oklahoma! revival. Now, she's starring in Lifetime's Christmas Ever After.
In the movie, premiering Sunday at 8 p.m. ET, Stroker plays Izzi Simmons, a romance novelist who checks into the same snowy bed & breakfast every holiday season. This year, however, her trip is dampened by a case of writer's block — until she comes across the inn's new owner, Matt (Daniel di Tomasso), who looks strikingly similar to the handsome hero in Izzi's popular novels.
Stoker tells PEOPLE that bringing the character to life and playing the lead in a holiday film was "a dream come true."
"This character has a disability. She's in a wheelchair, and that doesn't mean that she doesn't have these romantic storylines in her life," says Stroker, 33. "Representation means so much to me."
She says that while playing Izzi, she thought of the "young girls out there" with disabilities who will watch Christmas Ever After and see that a romantic narrative "can exist for them."
"When I was growing up, I was always so nervous, like, 'Am I ever going to have a relationship? Am I going to have a love story in my life?' I wanted that so much," Stroker recalls. "I wish I had seen stories like this, I wish I had seen myself represented in that narrative, it would have made such a difference in my life."
"When things get really difficult, I remember that it is not just about me," the former Glee Project star continues. "It's about all of those people with disabilities, my community, seeing themselves represented in mainstream media, on screen and onstage."
To any young viewers who see a little bit of themselves in her character, Stoker says she would tell them, "That's you, baby! That story can be yours and love can exist for you — a holiday rom-com could be your real life. You matter and you count and your voice is important, and you are important."
As for filming the romance movie amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic? In addition to tests, quarantines and masks, Stroker and co-star di Tomasso had to adapt to filming their kisses through plexiglass.
"It's totally nuts," she says, laughing. "Kissing through plexiglass, it just feels like you're in high school — it was hilarious."
Christmas Ever After premieres Sunday at 8 p.m. ET on Lifetime.
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