Come From Away.
If that phrase is not familiar, I expect it soon will be.
In Newfoundland, a Come from Away is someone who is not from here. It might be the new guy at work or the new neighbour who seems to not be too sure about the whole burning wood to heat your house routine.
On September 11, 2001 it was the Plane People.
Passengers from 38 aircraft who were diverted to Gander after the tragic acts of terrorism in the United States. They had all come from away and for the most part, had no idea where they were.
I’ve written about this before. My experience as a teacher at Gander Academy can be found here along with related posts.
Today’s post is about another bunch of Come From Aways who I’ve met and admire.
On Friday, October 28 Leo and I were guests at a dinner in the International Lounge of Gander Airport. The dinner was hosted by Junkyard Dog Productions and we were excited to be included on the guest list. Junkyard Dog had brought their production of the Come from Away musical to Gander to do two benefit concerts for the communities who inspired the play.
I’d done interviews along with a number of other teachers in 2011 when Irene Sankoff and David Hein came to Gander doing research for a musical about Gander’s response to 9/11. Three years ago they came back and I did a tour of Gander Academy for them and we had dinner with people from Glenwood and Appleton and some teachers from the Academy. We also had some theatre producers and directors and when I Google searched them later that night, I realized I should have been auditioning.
But maybe, I didn’t need to…
Invitations to the airport dinner and the play were pleasant surprises but only the beginning of a very surprising weekend.
Seated at table 11, we were joined by Beulah Cooper, her son David and her friend Monica. Monica was one of the people hosted by Beulah 15 years ago when she arrived in Gander unexpectedly. They are obviously fast friends as this is not her first return trip to Gander.
We were also joined by Kim Wiseman and Kelly Sceviour, the latter who received high praise all evening in her role and special events co-ordinator with the Town of Gander. I’m sure dinner was the only time all weekend she actually sat down and her dinner was discretely interrupted a few times as she answered questions and ‘handled things’.
The final Table 11 guest was Astrid Van Wieren, an actress from the Come From Away musical.
I’ve been following the development since it was first web cast as a production from Sheridan College 5 years ago. I remember reading about when Astrid was cast in the production in California and reading her biography. I’d seen pictures and articles about the various productions of the musical to date. (Extended run in La Jolla, California, broke box office records in Seattle, Washington, sold out in Washington, DC and soon to be in Toronto on it’s way to Broadway). I was a bit star struck to know we were sitting with a cast member.
Then it got weird.
Casually, in the pleasantries, answering questions about my involvement as a teacher at Gander Academy, Astrid said something similar to ” yes, I play you, or actually, a character that combines you and Beulah’s stories”.
Somehow, in the whole experiences of being a groupie/cheerleader for this play and it’s playwrights, I missed the fact there’s a character called Beulah Davis.
It’s lovely and strange at the same time.
I was one of about 100 volunteers, including parents and teachers, at Gander Academy on September 11, 2001 and the days that followed.
We were one of probably a half dozen or more schools in the region who helped passengers and the stories I shared are a few of about 16 000 stories if we assume each passenger and citizen only had one story to tell.
As this weekend went on and as I met people and answered questions about what I did and what it was like, people who were with the show or had seen it would stay, “Oh, so you’re in the show”.
Um, no, I don’t think so….
So, we went to the Come From Away Benefit Concert on Saturday afternoon and yes, I’m a bit of a character…
Astrid’s role combines Beulah’s touching stories of Hana, who’s son was a New York City Fire Fighter and my stories of Gander Academy. I’m a bit of that character.
Even the Gander Academy story is a consolidation of experiences of various schools including Lewisporte’s Delta 15 Scholarship experience and Rockerfeller donations. I don’t want to say to much about story lines because I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone who does not know it or has not been yet.
I’m a bit of a character who gives directions on how to get off Newfoundland too.
Apparently I’m a bit of a character who helped the handsome pilot too. Must have had a tear in my eye that appeared as a twinkle. Again, see the show for the details.
See this preview for a tease.
There are lots of other characters too. Some are combinations of the various people involved and some played such unique roles that they carry the actual name of the Newfoundlander who’s story is told.
Bus drivers, Bonnie from the SPCA and our amazing Mayor Claude Elliott. In one scene they manage a cute acknowledgement of the other Mayors in the region.
Not telling.See the show!
I tried very hard to get other teachers to help tell the story to visitors this weekend but folks seem to be shy. They don’t like attention but I don’t mind telling a story and we know I can talk.
While I’m not fussy about all the cameras I loved the boys from the Toronto Star who helped move the dirty dishes out of the way but left the lovely pottery even though it was dirty too.
Gander Academy I just hope I represented you all well as a sang your praises this weekend and shared some of my stories and yours. I sure feel like Astrid represented us well as she sang our stories. Bravo!
Thank you to the production company, cast and crew for the beautiful portrayal of one of the most moving experiences in my life.
Thank you for inviting my friends recently arrived from Syria. We all love it!
I still feel blessed to have been able to help others on those terrible days. I still feel blessed to have worked along side the teachers and parents of Gander Academy to help others.
Get your tickets now!
Rehearsals start on Wednesday. Previews November 15, 2016 in Toronto and then February the show goes to Broadway.
You can thank me later.
And tell them I sent you.
Diane (alias Beulah Davis) #IAmAnIslander