Based on real events, Come from away tells the story of a Canadian town that in a span of nine hours received 32 planes from different parts of the world when the air passage to the United States was closed, after the attacks on the twin towers on September 11, 2001. 21 years ago today.
On 9/11, as two planes crashed into the Twin Towers in New York, another exploded into the Pentagon in Washington, DC, and yet another, allegedly headed for the White House, crashed in Pennsylvania, US airspace was shut down. All the planes that were flying had to land immediately at the nearest airport and all those that came from abroad had to divert their routes to other airports outside the country. Canada and Mexico were the recipients of the largest number of international flights that could no longer return to their places of origin.
Among so many airports in Canada is that of Gander, a town located on the island of Newfoundland, northwest of the continent. Today it has more than 11,000 inhabitants. Gander airport used to be the largest in the world when it was created in 1938 and was the place of passage for planes coming from Europe that landed there for technical stops. As flights became more autonomous, the huge airport that had also been the United States military base during the Second World War went into disuse. By September 2001, it was barely receiving ten flights a day, and not every day. In the town they discussed whether it was necessary to preserve such a place or turn it into a club or simply a park.
It is seen that the airport was waiting for its great opportunity to return to being magnificent. That September 11, in nine hours, 32 planes landed. With them, almost 6,700 people from 97 different countries arrived. Many of them spent the first twenty hours locked in the planes without knowing what had happened, until the conditions were right for their disembarkation. There, all the passengers met buses and school buses that were waiting to take them to what was their home for the next five days.
The townspeople then began a crusade to attend to the needs of unsuspecting, distraught, and highly disoriented visitors. There were many languages that no one spoke, different cultures with schedules, customs, religions that were not always easy to get along with. There was the occasional fear of passengers from Arab countries, when the news became more detailed, and more fear and anguish. Passengers with specific medical needs or special diet. There were pets on the planes and even chimpanzees traveling to the New York Zoo. Villagers prepared schools, gyms, community halls and churches to welcome those who had been unable to get their bags off the planes due to security concerns. 32 planes, more than six thousand people, a friendly people.
It was necessary to manage food and the help that arrived from other towns. The ice hockey field was converted into a large freezer to store food and, little by little, the locals invited passengers to their homes, where they could be more comfortable. This is how friendships were forged that last to this day. It was not easy, there were fears, fights, discussions, necessary agreements to live together in peace. The children needed toys and the many babies, diapers, everything necessary for cleaning and clothing for more than 6,000 people with particular needs. Supermarkets and businesses opened their doors and everyone was able to help themselves to what they needed, for free.
David Hein and Irene Sankoffthe authors of Come from away (currently showing at the Teatro Maipo in Buenos Aires, with the production of The Stage Company) understood that there was a great story to tell in this occasional and completely spontaneous event. They traveled to Gander, met with all the protagonists and turned the anecdote into a musical that encompasses the chiaroscuro of that week in which more than 15,000 people lived together in a situation of extreme anguish, and who knew how to carry out the tragedy in a community way. and solidarity.
Come from away It has a more than simple set design, a band of seven musicians on stage and twelve actors and actresses who never leave the scene and act as all the characters in the comedy. The choreographies and a handful of chairs together with the lighting put together the ensemble that is seen throughout the work and the assembly is so precise that the chairs, the characters and the music create without stridency and with precision, the space within a plane, a bus, a bar or a gym. The cast as a whole each plays a variety of characters just by changing a shirt or donning a hat.
History does not leave out the harshest truths. A homosexual couple who is afraid to show themselves for fear of the people’s reaction; or the African passengers who believe that the Salvation Army are soldiers, the fights over using the telephone and, above all, the character of an Arab chef who is rejected by many people who blame him for the attack.
Come from away It can be translated as “come from far away” and is an invitation to think that humans have always been capable of doing wonderful things when it comes to others. To rescue someone in trouble regardless of our time or our own concerns. The story tells the lives and circumstances of a group of people who saw their lives turned upside down overnight. And it is the story of how they knew how to understand that if their lives had become complicated, the lives of all those who got off the more than 30 planes without knowing what was really going on and then the anguish of not knowing what was happening to the lives of their relatives, especially in New York, I needed your unconditional attention, time and love. Come from away is a magnificent musical comedy inspired by a magnificent story of resilience and community that restores our faith in ourselves.
* Come from Away It is presented on Fridays and Saturdays at 8:30 p.m., and Sundays at 7:30 p.m. at the Maipo Theater (Esmeralda 443, CABA).