Friday, December 30, 2022

You Are Here: A Come from Away Story

September 2019

Eighteen years have passed since the horrifying event that ended the lives of so many innocents and left the survivors’ lives forever changed. Fathom Events sponsored the first wide US release of HBO Canada’s documentary You Are Here: A Come from Away Story. It tells the story of the amazing response by several small communities in Newfoundland when thousands of people from around the world were suddenly stranded “somewhere in the middle of nowhere.”

Several of All Things Broadway’s bloggers attended showings of the documentary in different parts of the country. Their thoughts follow.

Taking a Gander at Gander

By Michael Kape

When I arrived home from seeing You Are Here at the local cinema, my house guest asked, “So, how was it?” To which I replied, “I laughed. I cried. I was exhilarated. I was depressed. What more can you ask of a documentary than that?”

What more indeed? For those of us who’ve been blown away (and who hasn’t?) by the perfect musical, Come From Away, the opportunity to see the real people behind the fabulous story was too, too tempting. Onstage, we are charmed and delighted by the generosity of human spirit as exemplified by the people of Gander, Newfoundland. But, it’s a musical. Liberties must be taken with the facts (surprisingly few, actually). Could the real people of Gander be so self-effacing (“All I did was make sandwiches,” one Gander woman says in the film) and so thoroughly delightful at the same time?

Yes, they could. And they are. They are Gander, and it might be one of the most wonderful places on the planet.

We all know the story. On September 11, 2001, 38 planes filled with almost 7,000 scared passengers landed at the Gander airport. And that’s when the 9,000 people of Gander went to work. In five days, as the mayor notes, the Come From Aways (as people not from Newfoundland are called) went from being strangers to being friends to being family. And after seeing the real people behind Come From Away, I truly believe the people of Gander are exactly as portrayed in the musical.

The people of Gander can be uproariously funny as they go about the business of providing (and by providing, I include just about everything humanly possible). They move us to tears at times. Their stories thrill us by just how seemingly ordinary they are (though I would never call the people of Gander ordinary).

Yet, for those of us who remember 9/11, it was one of the most depressing moments in history. For those of us who witnessed the Twin Towers collapse before our eyes (I was stranded in New Jersey looking east from the office patio, and saw the buildings fall), it was horrifying. In a constant battering by bad news, one small story did stand out—the reports of what was happening in Gander. These left us all wanting to know more, but so little information was available at that time, and the efforts got lost in a raging sea of alarm.

No, we must never forget what happened on 9/11, but we should always remember that one single spark of bravura humanity lighting the way from a rock in the Atlantic Ocean. Gander. That sums up so much.


Returning to Gander and Paying it Forward

By Steven Sauke

We sat there in the movie theater staring at those images. We couldn’t look away. Snow flurries blew over a peaceful waterfall at the 9/11 memorial in New York while the audio from the black box on one of the planes played. It went back to the news footage from that horrible morning 18 years ago. It was like I was standing in my living room once again, aghast and emotional after all these years, even though I knew this time what would happen. Watching that plane fly into the World Trade Center. The ball of fire, the sudden gasp of shock, and then New Yorkers running for their lives.

Over the next hour, we would meet the people of the small town of Gander, Newfoundland and surrounding communities, who welcomed nearly 7000 “come from aways” suddenly stranded in a small town in the middle of nowhere. Many didn’t even know where they were at first. At least one come from away found out where he was when he called home and his family told him they had been tracking his flight. So many Ganderites dropped everything and worked together to provide for the needs of strangers. Teachers helped prepare their schools for guests. Bus drivers broke off their strike to transport everyone, because “our beef is with our employer, not these people.” The local news media broadcast the needs as they became known, and the citizens of Gander and the surrounding towns rose to the occasion. Over the next few days, they would offer rides, provide meals, clothes and other essentials. A couple would meet and fall in love. A mother and father would desperately search for their son, a firefighter in New York, and be helped and comforted by the mother of a firefighter in Gander. One plane was delayed leaving Gander because a passenger’s host had taken him moose hunting and they had to track him down. One line that really struck me was when Mayor Claude Elliott said that they welcomed nearly 7000 strangers on September 11 and 12. Soon they had 7000 guests. After five days, they said good bye to 7000 family members. Ten years later, many of the come from aways returned to Newfoundland. Throughout the reunion, visitors and Newfoundlanders alike spoke with a young couple who some took for college students, and were perplexed when they found out this husband and wife were planning to write a musical based on…making sandwiches?

They would be blown away by the result. As one person observed, Come from Away nailed it. The documentary continued through the workshop and Broadway premiere stages of producing the musical. You Are Here: A Come from Away Story was a beautiful retelling and intimate conversation with the people who made it possible. I felt like they were my friends. Since I met some of them a year ago, some of them are.

Rewind a bit.

A year ago, I interviewed several of the come from aways and Ganderites for an article on what happened those five days and following. When the national tour of Come from Away opened in Seattle, many of the people involved visited, and I was hoping to be able to meet some of them. After being showing unconditional love and kindness, Kevin Tuerff founded an initiative called “Pay It Forward 9/11.” Every year, he gives his employees $100 to go into the community and do random acts of kindness for strangers. Last year, I was one of his recipients. He told me he was giving me two tickets to a special screening of You Are Here in Ballard, a neighborhood in Seattle. My brother and I arrived at the theater and were welcomed by the owner, who said, “You are here, so you belong.” When he asked who we were connected with, I explained Kevin Tuerff had invited us. (That owner is well connected, as he appears briefly in the documentary at the Broadway debut.) Come to find out, almost everyone at the showing was somehow directly connected with Come from Away. Many of the come from aways and Newfoundlanders were there. I introduced myself to Nick and Diane Marson and thanked them for the interview. They then introduced me to Bonnie Harris and her sister. After the show, we were standing in the lobby next to Beulah Cooper, and she gave us hugs. Complete strangers. Oz Fudge was wearing his “STFD” t-shirt. Kevin Jung sat down the row from me, as did Brian Mosher and Janice Goudie. We sat behind Bonnie Harris, Beulah Cooper and Hannah O’Rourke. David Hein and Irene Sankoff were there, though I unfortunately did not get to meet them. Kevin Tuerff recognized me, and we got to talk and get a picture. Just now looking through my pictures from that day, I noticed Appleton Mayor Derm Flynn was also there. (Claude Elliott, Beverley Bass and Diane Davis were unable to make it to the screening, but I would get to meet Diane Davis a couple weeks later when she came to the show.) It was an unforgettable day, and I wanted to share this experience with others.

Oz and Lisa Fudge,
Director Moze Mossanen,
Producer Peter Gentile,
Kevin Tuerff

Hannah O’Rourke,
Beulah Cooper,
Bonnie Harris

Photos by Steven Sauke

Fast forward a year, and Fathom Events was finally hosting the first wide release showing in the US of the documentary. Kevin’s lesson is one I have endeavored to put into practice throughout the year, and this time, the opportunity presented itself again. I arranged for my family and two friends to watch the show. It was only after I ordered the tickets that I found out that one of my friends I ordered tickets for would be out of town and unable to make it. Kevin specifically advises showing kindness to strangers, so I posted in the Come from Away Fans Facebook group that I had a free ticket for anyone in the Seattle area who wanted it. I had exactly one taker, so it worked out perfectly. She brought her husband, who got a ticket at the box office, and when she offered to pay me back for her ticket, I politely declined and changed the subject. 

Steven Sauke and Michael Kape are recurring bloggers for All Things Broadway.


This was a collaborative post that we wrote for the All Things Broadway blog, which is no longer online. I am sharing as much of the post as the respective authors have authorized me to reshare. :-)

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