Why ‘Come From Away’ is ‘life imitating art’: ‘Something like this is a reminder of the good in humanity’

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Why ‘Come From Away’ is ‘life imitating art’: ‘Something like this is a reminder of the good in humanity’

Come From Away

In a world of isolation, enforced distance and social media, sometimes a return to a sense of community is the right kind of therapy.

For one night, fall into the heart-warming richness of one musical that champions community above all else in the darkest of times. The musical phenomena Come From Away is returning to the Comedy Theatre in Melbourne next month and there has never been a better time to see this one-of-a-kind show.

Taking inspiration from the most unlikely source, this Tony award-winning production, written by Irene Sankoff and David Hein and directed by Christopher Ashley, has garnered consistent standing ovations and praise from enamoured audiences. Cast member Joe Kosky, who plays the oddly named local cop Oz Fudge, opens up about the moving nature of Come From Away and the heart-warming connection the show founders in its cast, crew and audience.

Check out Melbourne’s latest stage shows and theatrical events here.

“It’s often advertised as a 9/11 show, but for me it’s really a story about the kindness of the events surrounding 9/11,” Joe says. The show centres on “this incredible community in Gander that rallied together and basically put the minds of 7000 passengers at ease.”

After the initial attacks on the World Trade Centre, the skies over the United States of America had to be cleared pronto. But where would all of the planes already in the air be able to go? “38 planes were grounded in this tiny town in Newfoundland, (Canada). The people there are one of the rare relics left of community and generosity. Having met some of the people, it’s obvious to me that they operate in a way where they’re always thinking about others over themselves and I think we’ve lost that in many parts of the world. That’s why this show is so heartwarming.”

Joe believes that the sentimental core of Come From Away is allowed to shine due to its simplicity. “Part of the beauty of this show is its humility: that’s what keeps people coming back. People don’t get drawn in by the fancy advertising. They get drawn in because a friend of theirs saw it and told them they have to come and see it for themselves.”

The show itself is set in a time where the internet age was in its infancy – sometimes the old school methods can be the best way to get people into a theatre. “We find that word of mouth is the best advertising for this show,” Joe says, “because once people witness this story it is infectious and they want to tell everyone they know about it.”

A strength for any show in this post-lockdown era where theatre attendance still has not risen back to the pre-pandemic age, this musical shows a dedication to the wonders of community, thus creating a community amongst those who go to see live theatre. “It’s almost life imitating art,” says Joe. “Something like this is a reminder of the good in humanity. It is a super important thing to see in live performance in our day and age.”

The feeling of community encompasses all parts of the production in fact, as even the mechanisms in place to allow for the show to run smoothly involve everyone to work together as a team. This is “a 12-person ensemble piece where everything we do on stage is collaborative,” says Joe. “We’re constantly helping each other out. If you’re ever thinking purely about yourself, you’ll miss something for someone else. It is literally a reflection of those events. Where everyone is thinking about everyone else before themselves. That’s really part of the joy in finding this show at this stage in my career where we get to put others before ourselves and put on a show as a community.”

But Come From Away isn’t all about profound commentary on 21st-century society, it’s also just a great night out at the theatre. “The humour is a significant part of the show,” laughs Joe. “I actually think it’s a really funny show. The way it’s constructed takes you on this incredible emotional journey and it doesn’t force it on you. When we’re touching on the sadder moments surrounding 9/11, it moves along at such a pace that almost reflects the mentality of the locals in Gander. They acknowledge the sadness of the situation, but then say ‘let’s get on with it!’.

“It gives you the exact impression of what it’s like to be in their community at that time. They’re not in any way downplaying the tragedies, but it’s that incredible resilience and will to persevere that they embody. That’s what I love when people come and see the show, people who didn’t know what to expect, they just get taken on this hour and 45 rollercoaster that hits them everywhere from joy and laughter to tragedy and sadness right back to love and generosity.”

Theatre always has a great capacity to alter the opinions of those watching. As Joe states, “there’s something really important about good art that helps change people’s minds or at least help plant a seed for the future,” and he can guarantee that that experience will be had when you go to see Come From Away. “You leave slightly changed. That sounds really cliched, but you do, and I think any good art can do that to you.”

Come From Away returns to the Comedy Theatre for its final Melbourne season from September 1 onwards.