Rethinking Tiny Tim: Should a Disabled Actor Play the Role?

“It brought a dimension of honesty and truth to the show,” said the director, Mike Mazur.

And now, Broadway. A new adaptation of “A Christmas Carol,” starring Campbell Scott and opening Nov. 20, cast Sebastian and Jai to alternate in the role.

“One of my bugbears with ‘Christmas Carol’ is when Tiny Tim is not played by a disabled person, because he’s supposed to be a disabled character,” said Jack Thorne, the Tony Award-winning playwright (“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”) who wrote the new adaptation for the Old Vic Theater in London, where it has been running each holiday season since 2017.

Thorne, who for years struggled with the debilitating effects of chronic cholinergic urticaria, a skin ailment, has worked with a theater company championing the disabled, and insisted on casting disabled children in the role of Tiny Tim. “When there’s a shortage of parts for people with disabilities,” he said, “it’s really important we have disabled people play disabled parts.”

So in London, the casting call for the role made it clear: “Applicants without a disability will not be considered.” In New York, the language was subtler: “Performers with disabilities are encouraged to audition.”

The show’s New York casting director, Jillian Cimini, said she and her team had found Sebastian, Jai, and other candidates by reaching out to a variety of agents and programs who work with the disabled.

Sebastian, who lives in Manhattan, was referred by Dancing Dreams, a New York nonprofit that offers dance classes for children with medical or physical challenges. Jai, who lives in Virginia, learned about the opportunity by word of mouth; he has modeled clothing for people with disabilities from Tommy Hilfiger and Kohl’s.

Their casting comes at a time of increasing visibility for disabled performers onstage. This year, Ali Stroker became the first performer who uses a wheelchair to win a Tony Award, for her work as Ado Annie in a revival of “Oklahoma!” Last year, “Cost of Living,” a play by Martyna Majok about people with disabilities, won the Pulitzer Prize in drama.

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