Come From Away

by Alexandra Lucchesi

photography by Mike Ford

A rapt audience of bright-eyed students gathered at York University’s Sandra Faire & Ivan Fecan Theatre in November to hear first-hand from the creators of the new Broadway-bound musical Come From Away – York alumni David Hein (BFA ’97) and Irene Sankoff (BA ’99),  along with co-producer Natalie Bartello (BFA ’04).

Based on the aftermath of the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, when the terrorist attacks in the United States forced 38 planes to divert to Gander, N.L., Come From Away tells the tales of the small-town residents who “opened their hearts and homes” to the 6,579 stranded travellers. Their stories resonated with much of the world – and especially with Hein and Sankoff, who were living in New York City at the time.

The musical has been a tremendous hit on its tour across North America, playing in San Diego, Seattle, Washington, Gander and Toronto. In March, it will become the fifth Canadian-written musical in history to make it to Broadway.

Speaking at York about the show’s success, Hein and Sankoff said they can hardly believe how much the musical has touched audiences. “It’s humbling and a real testament to the show’s power that the story resonated in Washington, on the opposite side of the continent, which was directly affected by 9/11,” said Hein. “We then brought it home to Toronto, where we first started writing the show, and where we get to share it with friends and family.”

Part of the Department of Theatre’s Prime Time event series, the intimate on-stage interview was moderated by York theatre Professor Peter McKinnon, who taught Hein, Sankoff and Bartello. The discussion provided fascinating insight into their individual university experiences and their journeys following graduation.

“David and I were unrepresented artists,” said Sankoff of their early days in theatre. “We had to put on our own show, do our own lights and do the cast’s laundry at the end of the night. We had to be our own two-person production team, and without that background in our first year at York, we wouldn’t have been able to do that.”