What would you do if 6,000 people suddenly showed up in your hometown with no place to stay? Come From Away tells the story of the 38 planes diverted to Gander, Newfoundland, Canada on September 11, 2001, and of the people of Gander who opened their homes and their hearts in the wake of tragedy.
“They’re very quick to be unsung and say, ‘Oh, you know, we gave out some sandwiches and changed some people’s underwear for them,’” says cast member Petrina Bromley, who is originally from Newfoundland. “[They act] like it was a tiny little thing that they did, but in the end it was life-altering for many people. It was an example of the best of humanity in the worst of times. They really deserve to be held up and praised for that.”
Bromley is one of three cast members originally from Canada and one of the only cast members who had heard about the “Come From Aways” (how people in Newfoundland refer to people who are not originally from there) before beginning work on the show.
Kendra Kassebaum, who plays news reporter Janice, had not heard the story of the “Come From Aways” until she started working on the production, but she wishes she had. She feels it would have been a “healing experience to know that there was something good happening [at the time].”
Writer Irene Sankoff explains her motivation in unearthing the impact of the Ganderian history. “There’s a Mr. Rodgers quote that his mother told him when he was watching scary things on TV: ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping,’” she says. “I think we can do more of that.”
Sankoff, along with her co-writer and husband, David Hein, attended a ceremony commemorating the events on September 11 in Gander and came back with 16,000 stories. “All of these passengers, pilots, and flight crew members were coming back to commemorate what had happened there, to reunite with old friends…people fell in love there, they made lifelong friendships, so everyone was going back and it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go there and interview both the people of Newfoundland and also the ‘Come from Aways,’” explains Hein. “There were over 6,000 passengers and around 9,000 people in town and we couldn’t wait to tell every single one of their stories.”
The expanded cast and creative team members experienced the community of Gander firsthand when they performed a benefit concert in October 2016. Chad Kimball, who plays Kevin, says that he feels it was important to get permission from the town to tell their story. “Not necessarily a permission down on paper,” he says, “but their permission as far as what their reaction to the piece was. We were so happy to see that their reaction was overwhelmingly positive.”
Cast member Caesar Samayoa shares a similar sentiment, “The community started standing for about the last 20 minutes of the show and I think that gave us the okay to go forward,” he laughs.
Sharon Wheatley and Lee MacDougall, who portray Diane and Nick Marson, a couple who met and fell in love in Gander, met the real couple and the family that hosted them in October. “It was one of those moments that cut through all of the crap,” Wheaton says.
Cast and creative team members agree that one of the most rewarding experiences throughout the process of creating the show has been witnessing audience reactions. “It’s a coming together,” says performer Rodney Hicks. “We watch an audience full of people who don’t know each other hug and embrace each other after the show and become friends with one another. It’s a powerful, powerful thing.”
Jenn Colella, who takes on the role of Beverley Bass, the first female American flight captain, finds comfort in the show’s overarching message. “We are all connected,” she says. “You can pretend that we’re separate all you like, but the truth is we’re connected.”