One of the most striking things about Come From Away—the musical about kindness in the small Canadian town of Gander in the immediate aftermath of 9/11—is how good everyone is. The characters battle crankiness and irritability and tragedy but, in the face of such global devastation, they ultimately embrace goodness and charity, taking in strangers and, in turn, opening themselves up to new experiences.
Needless to say, performing in the musical eight times a week has had an effect on the cast and crew. “Kindness will always be a lesson,” says Chad Kimball. “The only reason we talk about and promote kindness and being ‘good’ is because we know we are capable of quite the opposite. The show reminds me every day that kindness takes initiative and effort. I think that’s why the show has been a boon to people’s spirits: Because we all know how unkindness works, but we want to hold up an example of kindness working so well.”
Kimball, like many of the actors, has been with the show for several years now. Another cast member of long-standing, Q. Smith, has found that her time with the show has left her feeling “wide awake more than ever. My heart is full and all I desire to do is love people and have compassion for everyone around me—even the guys on the subway who take up three seats for no reason!” She points to acts of kindness at the stage door as moments that stay with her.
“People who have taken hours to draw or bake something for you… it’s such a thoughtful thing to do for a stranger,” she says. “They have never met us. They are exemplifying the story of Gander.”
Julie Reiber, a standby in the show, agrees. “You can’t help but be affected by this show in your everyday life when you’re working on it like we do,” she says. “It heightens your awareness to humanity and reminds you to be your best self when engaging others. Being around this story every day just lightens you and makes you a better and kinder person in the world.”
For her part, she recalls a stranger paying for her groceries when she’d left her credit card at home as one of the kindnesses she most cherishes. And she points out that kindness is not necessarily attached to charitable donations. “Be kind. Be respectful. Smile at others. Open a door for someone or buy the person’s coffee in line behind you,” she says. “It’s incredible what a simple, random act of kindness can do for someone. You never know what people are going through and sometimes it is just what that person needs.”
And everyone with the show participates in Pay It Forward 9/11. Founded by Kevin Tuerff—one of the “come from aways” upon which the musical is based—the program initially provided Tuerff’s employees with a $100 bill to spend on acts of kindness. Now it has become an international phenomenon, one embraced by the Come From Away family.
“I will never not participate in this program on 9/11 and I strive to maintain the mindset of Pay It Forward every day,” Reiber says. “Simple acts of kindness and a smile from a stranger realizing what you’re doing is priceless and it changes you both for the better.”