WSU actress breaking barriers

DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – A Wright State University student is breaking barriers before an audience, and getting rave reviews.

Nerissa Johnson has Cerebral Palsy. This week, she’ll become the first Wright State University student with a disability to take the stage in a performance, and she is excited. “Yes,” she smiled backstage.

The cast is performing A Streetcar Named Desire – an award-winning play by Tennessee Williams.

Nerissa is sharing a role as a flower vendor. “So, I will say part of a line and Nerissa will either echo me, or take one of the lines and I’ll take another one,” said Alejandria Solis, friend and actress.

The crew made a special wheelchair for Nerissa; one that fits the set and era of the play.

nerissa and friends

“It’s just touching, and to have a new friend along with a co-worker,” said Jacquelyn Duncan, stage manager.

They said Nerissa is just like any other cast member and inspires and pushes them in ways they had not explored before.

The director admits he was nervous at first because Nerissa was his first acting student with CP. However, he said things fell into place smoothly, and hopes the production inspires more like it and serves as a reflection of the community.

“This play looks like the world I see at Wright State,” said Jason Podplesky, director. “With the cast, not just Nerissa, there’s a real nice multi-cultural thing happening here and that’s important to me. That’s the world we live in and that’s the world I want to show on stage.”

Nerissa agreed, and said she would like to see more diversity in Hollywood so all kinds of actors and actresses can pursue their dreams. For her, it’s about showing the world your capabilities, not disabilities.

“I want to be a voice for kids and adults like me,” said Nerissa.

She also credited the welcoming and accommodating culture at Wright State University, which she said is nice for students with unique needs.

Click here for dates and showtimes, and to learn more about Wright State University Theatre. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others and keep the conversation on topic and civil. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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