Anita Hollander was just 21 when she faced her first bout of cancer—a malignant tumor in her left leg. That was 1977 and Hollander, who was a theater major at Carnegie Mellon University, returned to school just a few weeks after surgery. Her cancer came back five years later and that time her leg could not be saved. In a recent interview with JewishBoston, Hollander said: “What I know better than anything else is theater. After the amputation, I was always going to go back to work. Going back on stage helped me to heal.”

Her experience as a disabled actor and disability advocate is on display in her autobiographical solo show “Still Standing,” which she will be performing at Kerem Shalom in Concord on Sunday, Feb. 4. Hollander first strides onto the stage wearing her prosthetic leg, proving that she can play any role. After a while, she removes her leg, drapes it over her shoulder and tells her cancer story. “I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t advocating for people with disabilities,” Hollander said. After she lost her leg in 1982, she went back to work two weeks later. The American Cancer Society learned of her situation and contacted her to perform on the road as part of its series about celebrities with cancer. “I was a sign of hope for people,” she said. “I eventually got married and had a child.”

Hollander’s advocacy includes maintaining what she described as a “‘watchdog report’ to track everything in the media that pertains to disabilities. If there was a disabled character in a television show or a movie, was it played by a disabled actor? Or vice versa—did an actor with a disability play someone who didn’t because she was great for the part?” She’s grateful to the Ruderman Family Foundation for supporting her vision of seeing more disabled actors in a variety of roles.

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Anita Hollander in “Still Standing” (Courtesy photo)

Hollander grew up in the Cleveland area. Her father, Bernard Hollander, was a part-time cantor at a Reform congregation in Beechwood, Ohio. She noted that before she or any of her three sisters could walk, they were singing. Hollander said her father, a civil rights activist, lawyer and part of the legal team during the Kent State trials, inspired her Judaism. The elder Hollander died at 48 but left behind an impressive legacy of interfaith work. Hollander recalled that “on Sundays my dad invited people from different backgrounds and we sat around the brunch table and talked about philosophical subjects. Religion was not an answer for him, but a way to ask important questions about the universe.” Shortly after his death in 1975, a local university established the Bernard Hollander Lectureship in Jewish Studies.


Hollander said her father’s Judaism not only inspired her, but for the past three decades she has invoked his spirit as the part-time musical director at the The Village Temple in New York City. During that time, she was also gathering and synthesizing material for “Still Standing.” She wrote her first song for the show in 1977 after a professor in college challenged her to write her own material. She wrote a song that appears in the show called “The Choice,” which she described as an emotional piece that deeply reflects her own choice to live.

“Still Standing” debuted as a cabaret performance in 1993 in New York City, where Hollander lives. At the time, there was a full cast and live music. Hollander, however, also wanted to take the show on the road. “I needed to be more portable,” she quipped. “Now I have the background music I need on a CD. The show has grown with me. I’m working on a new solo show, but ‘Still Standing’ continues to follow me around.”

Over the years, Hollander has played roles that she said, “you don’t expect an actor with an artificial leg to play.” She has been Golda in “Fiddler on the Roof” and Emma Goldman in “Ragtime.” In “Cats,” her passion for acting and her advocacy for disabled actors came together when, without her artificial leg, she played Isabella, a three-legged cat. “I wasn’t just a disabled actor limping across the stage,” she said. “I was a disabled actor playing a cat who has been through a lot. It’s a revelation that an actor with a disability can be an asset in that role. I brought something to that role that no one else could bring. It showed that I fought for something, survived something and brought wisdom to the role.”

“Still Standing” is scheduled to return to Boston in 2019 for a run at the New Rep Theatre in Watertown.

For information and tickets to Hollander’s Feb. 4 show, click here.