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Come From Away: Welcome to the Rock
An Inside Look at the Hit Musical
By David Hein
With Laurence Maslon
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The Tony Award-winning Broadway musical Come From Away tells the remarkable true story of a small town that welcomed the world. On September 11, 2001, 38 planes and 6,579 passengers were forced to land in the provincial town of Gander, Newfoundland. The local residents opened their arms to the displaced visitors, offering food, shelter, and friendship. In the days that followed, cultures clashed and nerves ran high, but uneasiness turned into trust, music soared into the night, and gratitude grew into enduring friendships.
Copyright © 2019 by Irene Sankoff and David Hein
Cover copyright © 2019 by Hachette Book Group, Inc.
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ISBNs: 978-0-316-42222-2 (paper over board), 978-0-316-42221-5 (ebook)
Printed in the United States of America
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Prayer of St. Francis
Dedicated to Mrs. Frances Tracy. © 1967, OCP, 5536 NE Hassalo Street, Portland, OR 97213.
All rights reserved. Used with permission.
“My Heart Will Go On”
Words and Music by Will Jennings and (James Horner)
© IRVING MUSIC, INC. on behalf of BLUE SKY RIDER SONGS (BMI)
Used by permission of Sony/ATV Music Publishing
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Since 2013, Come From Away has told the story of strangers turning into friends—and shone a light on the thousands of people who, in the wake of one of the darkest days we’ve experienced, showed us humanity at its best.
From Beverley Bass to Oz and Claude, Beulah and Hannah to Diane and Nick, the characters in Come From Away give voice to the experience of thousands of people—in Newfoundland, across North America, and around the world—who grappled with the aftermath of September 11. We see their fear and uncertainty, their pain and grief—but also their courage, their resilience, and their unfailing humanity. In the connections between the “plane people” and the thousands of residents who welcomed them, everyday kindness becomes an extraordinary act.
In a matter of hours, thirty-eight planes of stranded passengers temporarily doubled Gander’s population. Together with the communities of Glenwood, Lewisporte, Appleton, Gambo, and Norris Arm, residents welcomed “come-from-aways” into their homes—sharing connections and forging friendships along the way. Beyond the practical challenge of providing shelter, bedding, and food for seven thousand people, they worked to give comfort and support in a time of profound loss. Through it, residents and newcomers built relationships and became friends across languages and cultures. They stood together at a time when fear threatened to divide. But that’s no surprise to anyone familiar with the generosity that marks communities throughout Newfoundland and Labrador. As the show’s very first number tells us, “If you’re hoping for a harbour, then you’ll find an open door.”
Come From Away is a Canadian musical, written by Canadians, about Canadians. It brought Canadian creativity to Broadway, and showcased the Canadian spirit of compassion, resourcefulness, and generosity. It’s a unique story, rooted in a singular tragedy—but it’s emblematic of what it means to be a neighbour and a friend. When a grieving United States shut down its airspace for the first time in history, Come From Away’s communities—like so many others—did what neighbours do: pitched in, stepped up, and opened their arms.
When I saw Come From Away in New York, I got to see firsthand its remarkable impact—bringing us together across borders to witness the courage and kindness that made so many people heroes. As this play touches audiences in North America and beyond, it will continue to remind us to keep faith—even, and perhaps especially, when that seems most impossible. Come From Away showed us how, in one of our darkest times, thousands found solace and hope by looking at it. Together, right along with the cast of characters, we “honour what was lost—but we also commemorate what we found.”
—Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
When we first traveled out to Gander, Newfoundland, on the tenth anniversary of September 11 to research our second musical (then tentatively and unimaginatively called “Gander”) we never expected to hear so many incredible stories or to be welcomed so warmly into the community there, just as they had a decade earlier welcomed the stranded Come From Aways (a much better title, referring to anyone not from Newfoundland, but also, when displayed on a sign, a welcome message). The Newfoundlanders told us that the kindness they’d shown is “just what people do.” And it should be.
We’re often asked which stories we couldn’t fit in to Come From Away—and for the most part, we tried to fit them all in.
But one story we’ve never told is how Matt Kane predicted the future.
Our first interview for the show was over the phone with Matt’s daughter, Crystal. When she heard we were traveling to Newfoundland, she put us in touch with her parents, Matt and Brenda, who live in Gambo, one of the many Newfoundland towns that housed and helped stranded passengers. And even though we were complete strangers, they put us up for several weeks—wouldn’t let us spend money on a hotel—and gave us the keys to their house while they left for their tiny cabin (“to get away from it all”).
And one night, in that cabin, they made us dinner by candlelight, and Matt predicted the future, which he apparently often did and (according to everyone) with much success.
“This project you’re working on? It’s going to be big.”
At that point, we were just hoping that Canadian high schools would be forced to do this show because of the large number of parts and the Canadian content, so we were somewhat skeptical.
So was everyone else. Reg Wright, president of the Gander airport, after an extensive three-hour tour, asked us, “Now what are you doing? A musical about… people making sandwiches? Good luck with that.”
But it wasn’t just luck that got us here. Like Gander, we had a remarkable community supporting us, starting with Michael Rubinoff, who introduced us to the story (after five other skeptical writing teams passed on it), the students and staff at Sheridan College and Goodspeed Musicals who helped us develop it, and the incredible National Alliance of Music Theatre team who showcased it. Our producers, Junkyard Dog Productions, assembled the best team you could dream of, led by our brilliant director, Christopher Ashley, our music supervisor, Ian Eisendrath, and choreographer, Kelly Devine. From our amazing cast and band to our designers, advisors, producers, music and marketing teams, backstage crews, theatre staff, ushers, and front of house crews, we have been blessed to work with such a talented and wonderful family, all telling this story as one.
That family helped us develop a show that has earned Best Musical accolades across North America, breaking box office records and playing some of the finest theatres in North America—definitely including the Gander Community Centre hockey rink (“the world’s largest walk-in refrigerator”). And eight years after we first traveled to Newfoundland, we are now the longest running Canadian musical on Broadway—with five unique and exciting companies sharing Newfoundland kindness with the world on Broadway, in our home town of Toronto, across North America, in London and Australia.
It’s a tribute to the story and the people we are celebrating that the show continues to perform to sold out houses and standing ovations. But more important, we are amazed, but not surprised, that telling this story on stage has inspired a movement of Kindness. From the bucket we passed at our first workshop for the Gander area SPCA because it was kitten season, to the hundreds of thousands of dollars in Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS donations by our audiences; from our cast’s “Come From Kindness” campaigns and concerts and fundraisers for the families of Humboldt, Daffodil house and other Newfoundland charities, to Pay-It-Forward 9/11 days, inspired by the people we interviewed, spreading random acts of kindness to strangers. This story has taught us that we can respond to tragedies with kindness and that we don’t need to wait for a tragedy: We can respond with kindness every day. We see it every night in our theatres: audience members sharing a tissue, smile or hug after the show, making new friends and even planning trips out to Newfoundland—sometimes with complete strangers who then become friends.
All of this started because of the kindness that was shown to strangers and the friendships that were made in towns across Newfoundland and across Canada, where many other flights were diverted. We are incredibly grateful for the kindness that has been shown to us, and for the friends we’ve made from the Rock and From Away who join us at each opening, reuniting as they did at the Tenth Anniversary when they first shared their experiences with us. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for trusting us to be the channel of your stories.
We are also honoured and humbled by the 9/11 community of family members and survivors who have joined us for previews, tours, and discussions, sharing with us that “this story has helped them to heal” or has provided some hope in humanity. We promise to always honour what was lost while we commemorate what we found.
At each step of the way we’ve collected our own stories, along with material cut from the musical which we’re thrilled to share here for the first time, accompanied by Laurence Maslon’s excellent history and interviews. From the beginning, Larry told us that he believed this book was not just a piece of theatre history, but also an important piece of world history. His commitment to tell that story led him to Newfoundland himself, unearthing even more untold stories, information and photos which have never been published (and yes, we made sure he got screeched in while he was there). These pages document a story that we never expected to go as far as it has gone—and we are profoundly grateful to every friend who supported us along the way, and every member of our CFA family and audience who made this journey possible.
Back in 2011, in that candlelit cabin—and after a few drinks—we jokingly asked Matt, “… are you saying the show is going to go to Broadway?”
“Oh,” Matt answered, looking off into the distance. “It’s going to be much bigger than that.”
You were so right, Matt. You were so right.
—Irene Sankoff and David Hein
It is an island that has welcomed come-from-aways as far back as the time before clocks.
In a gallery in The Rooms, the Provincial Museum of Newfoundland and Labrador, there’s a display that sums up what contact with come-from-aways means to the province’s cultural character:
“Contact” is one of the most powerful agents of cultural change. Contact-driven cultural change had occurred many times in Newfoundland and Labrador, as resident cultures and new arrivals met and adapted to each other’s presence. The ensuing relations between the newcomers and those who were already “home” have had long-lasting effects on both.
Perhaps it is whimsical to suggest that one of the reasons that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians—these robust residents of the North Atlantic—are so good at contact with folks from across the ocean is that they were once part of the same continent. When the tectonic plates shifted after three hundred million years, North America tore itself away from Europe and Africa and started floating east, it took some of the Old World with it like a memento for its long voyage.
There is a massive continental shelf offshore of the province that provided a fertile—and unmatched—breeding ground for codfish. It turned Newfoundland and Labrador into a piscine breadbasket that had sustained its own populace for millennia and provided an important staple for cultures as far-reaching as Portugal, Spain, the West Indies, and West Africa. It also transformed Newfoundland and Labrador into a very attractive place for all varieties of visitors.
When the ice retreated after the last ice age, indigenous groups started to move in, drawn, no doubt, to the swarms of sustenance. A small but vibrant and peripatetic aboriginal people called the Beothuk inhabited the island for millennia. More than a thousand years ago, the first European come-from-aways were intrepid Norse travelers who sailed to “the Rock”; driven by exploration and survival rather than by conquest, these hearty visitors vanished seemingly as unpredictably as they arrived. Half a century later, a fleet with more pecuniary interests sailed around the rocky island. A Venetian merchant and sailor with the Anglicized name of John Cabot traveled from the English sea town of Bristol in 1497 to the coast of Newfoundland, the farthest point east on the North American continent; in fact, it was he who dubbed it “New-Founde-Lande.” His ship made landfall at Cape Bonavista on the island’s northeast coast—probably 115 kilometers (about seventy miles), as the crow flies, from Gander. Most historians concur that Cabot and his crew never made direct contact with the Beothuk people, but what Cabot did encounter was codfish—and lots of it: “[swarms of ] fish,” as he reported, “which can be taken not only with the net, but in baskets let down with a stone.”
By the time the sixteenth century vanished into the history books, French and Portuguese sailors and fishermen joined British settlers on the island—which had been named a British colony—diversifying its European influence. Also, by that point in time, the European sailors and traders would have encountered the tribal successors to the Beothuk, the Mi’kmaq (on the west coast of the island) and, much later, the Innu people, communities that continued the harvesting of the natural resources of the island. Contact between indigenous groups and the European traders over these resources often ended tragically; it was a universe increasingly swirling with different nationalities and agendas in that heady, avaricious, and often mercenary time. Newfoundland became a frequent pawn in the European wars of conquest in the eighteenth century, but by 1763, this scrappy, rugged island with its copious and enticing waters, became a colony of British Canada; 144 years later, Newfoundland and Labrador achieved dominion status as a self-governing part of the British Commonwealth.
Along with mining and forestry, the fishing industry, begot of the island’s geology idiosyncrasies, was not only the heartbeat of its economy, but also of its culture. Dotted along the zigzagging coastline were hundreds of outports—small, tightly knit communities, whose economy was based on fishing, fisheries, or other commerce, such as seal-hunting and, beginning in the early-twentieth century, whaling. The courageous seamen who risked death to harvest the water’s bounty have been the bedrock of the island’s traditions, music, language, crafts, and its moral compass; there seemed to be no recipe that a fresh hunk of cod couldn’t make better.
The geographic isolation of the island of Newfoundland is often a metaphor for its strong, independent streak. Skepticism of the larger Canadian government and society—the world of “mainlanders”—is braided into Newfoundland’s DNA. With the Second World War, though, Newfoundland and Labrador were brought into greater contact with the United States and the rest of the globe; this was a determinate tipping point. Vigorously prodded by Joseph Smallwood, a local politician born in Gambo, a majority of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians agreed to join the Canadian Confederation, and on March 31, 1949, with the slim margin of a referendum, became Canadian citizens. Among those in the hard-won majority, the Confederation was felt to be a necessary step to improve infrastructure, utilities, and resources, but there are still those on the Rock who bewail the loss of an independent spirit, and the homogenization of tradition that was brought along by Confederation with Canada.
In the twenty-first century, Newfoundland and Labrador is a vibrant province with over half a million inhabitants stretched across the seventy thousand square miles (111,000 km) of the island. Its capital, St. John’s, on the east coast, is a bustling and charming town, with idiosyncratic Victorian architecture, vertiginous streets, and colorful facades perched over a craggy and breathtaking harbor. Following a cod moratorium in July 1992, when the Canadian government imposed a halt to cod fishery along the country’s east coast, putting a dead stop to a way of life half-a-millennium old, fishing now takes up only about 12 percent of its economy, but oil and gas resources and a robust tourist industry have grown to contribute mightily to the local economy.
Yet, its contradictions are baked into its existence; along with the burgeoning cosmopolitanism of St. John’s, one can drive through the small towns of Goobies, Cupids, Cow Head, Heart’s Delight-Islington, and, yes, Dildo. The waters are still bounteous, but as Newfoundland and Labrador comedian, Mark Critch put it, “Our soil is as deep and fertile as a tray of kitty litter.” Even its time zone is personal and idiosyncratic: Newfoundland and Labrador have their own time zone, which deviates from the regular standard time zone scheme by a half-hour—“That’s 10:00 tonight on Canadian television, 10:30 in Newfoundland”—and ninety minutes later than Eastern Standard Time. It’s a point of local pride; a 1963 resolution to bring the time zone in line with the rest of the world was roundly defeated.
Contradiction is character: a story goes that when a local zoning proposal for a video arcade went out, the petitions came back equally for and against, and both sides had the same signatures. Apparently, no one wanted to hurt his neighbor’s feelings. As journalist Jim DeFede put it, “Their willingness to help others is arguably the single most important trait that defines them as Newfoundlanders. Today, it is an identity they cling to, in part, because it is something that cannot be taken away from them.”
Perhaps kindness is the best attribute to manage the omnipresent struggle between life and death that has informed every aspect of life in Newfoundland and Labrador for millennia. Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are at the tail end of an often-destructive hurricane system and also in the middle of what’s called Iceberg Alley (the first distress call from the Titanic was received south of St. John’s at Cape Race and the ocean liner sank 425 miles southeast of Newfoundland in 1912). They are a people who have witnessed and been ravaged by numerous catastrophes of the sea and air—and yet welcome the new day, and all that it brings, with open arms. Chris Oravec, a guide at the awe-inspiring Gros Morne National Park said, “The real lesson of Newfoundland is how tenacious life is. Life really, really wants to hang on.”
On the island of Newfoundland, tribulation and triumph have been locked in mortal combat for thousands of years. Nature has thrown everything in its merciless bag of tricks at the settlers of this place—and yet, it has survived; more than that, it has endured and prospered. Being an islander is a choice and a calling at the same time. As Gander’s former mayor, Claude Elliott put it: “It’s our culture, it’s our way of life. We live on an island where most of the time the weather is harsh and we survive by helping each other. If someone in the community was in need, everyone came forward to help and that’s passed down from generation to generation.”
Welcome to the Rock.
A bodhran beats a fast rhythm.
On the northeast tip of North America, on an island called Newfoundland, there’s an airport—it used to be one of the biggest airports in the world. And next to it, is a town called Gander.
There’s a two-person police department.
An elementary school.
A local TV station.
- "The catharsis we need in this American moment."—Ben Brantley, The New York Times
- "It does what all the best musicals do. Takes you to a place you never want to leave."—Joe Westerfield, Newsweek
"NOT JUST A SPARK OF LIGHT IN A DARK TIME - IT'S A SPOTLIGHT OF BLAZINGLY BRIGHT PROPORTIONS. I CAN'T IMAGINE A MUSICAL WE NEED MORE RIGHT NOW.... TRULY REMARKABLE! GLORIOUS AND LIFE-AFFIRMING!"
- "A big-hearted, feel-good musical!"—The New York Times
"This miraculous masterpiece is totally, soul-feedingly wonderful.... A beautifully crafted hymn to the power of community."
"Irresistible and inspiring. It takes all of ten seconds to be in this show's generous embrace.... It's a musical that gets everything right."
- "A moving, irresistible show that unapologetically champions kindness."—Financial Times
- "This is the show we all need right now."—The Sunday Times
- "THIS STORY TOUCHED THE WORLD AND CELEBRATES THE BEST THAT WE CAN ALL BE. It speaks to what people really feel in their hearts. I've seen Come From Away twice and I'm still very moved by it. We need it, especially right now.—Tom Brokaw, NBC News
- "This timeless and emotionally fulfilling musical by Irene Sankoff and David Hein is a celebration of hope and optimism."—Johnny Oleksinski, New York Post
- "AN EFFERVESCENT MUSICAL ANTIDOTE FOR WHAT AILS THE AMERICAN SOUL."—Peter Marks, Washington Post
- "A PHENOM ON BROADWAY AND ABROAD! OPENHEARTED AND EXHILARATING."—Misha Berson, The Seattle Times
- "As beautifully and thoughtfully crafted as the show itself.... A must-read for any "islanders": a stirring companion to a remarkable production, and further accounts of the best of humanity - which light up the darkest times."—BroadwayWorld.com
"This hefty hardcover delivers an authentic backstage view....Maslon puts the story in context with historical text, interviews and photos. Not a snoozy cod in the bunch here, b'y....This book will be the ultimate book for the "come from away-ers" and musical theatre fans on your gift list."
—Winnipeg Free Press
- On Sale
- Sep 24, 2019
- Page Count
- 224 pages
- Hachette Books