Come From Away’s Kevin Tuerff Shares a Lesson in Compassion to Channel Peace During Trying Times

Headshot of author Kevin Tuerff.

“On the north-east tip of North America
On an island called Newfoundland
There’s an airport
It used to be one of the biggest airports in the world
And next to it is a town called Gander.

Anybody living at the time the planes crashed into the World Trade Center buildings remembers where they were on the morning of September 11, 2001. The images are etched in our brains, a forever reminder of the maleficence of that day.

But in the wake of 9/11, came stories of compassion, including the story of the “plane people” who landed in Gander, Newfoundland after the U.S. airspace was closed. Over 6,500 passengers on 38 planes were diverted to Gander nearly doubling the population of the town. In the course of four days, foreigners became friends and found solace in the kindness of strangers. And it is the story of the Ganderites who opened their hearts and homes to the world that is the subject of the musical Come From Away.

From its rousing score by Irene Sankoff and David Hein to the energy of the ensemble, this show is less about the ferocity of terrorism and more about the fearlessness of humanity. And that is what makes a show about 9/11, which on the surface might seem dismal and grim, so moving and uplifting.

“The people of Gander, if they wanted to just have kindness and empathy for the people on the planes, they could have sent thoughts and prayers and some boxes of pizza,” said Kevin Tuerff. “But when I interviewed the Mayor, he said, ‘we weren’t going to let you rot on those planes,’ and so there was no question. They were going to let us into their country and into their town, people from 90 countries, and they took a chance.”

Tuerff and his partner were on a flight from Paris to New York when they were diverted to Gander. Like many “come from aways” who landed there, he returned to Newfoundland on the tenth anniversary of the attacks. That’s when he first met Sankoff and Hein.

“I had been a fan of musical theater, so I wanted to support them in whatever way,” he said. “I wanted to tell the story to anybody who would listen.”

After an initial interview in person and a couple more via Skype, Tuerff says he got a call from Sankoff and Hein who told him they had not only written a musical, but that he was in it.

“You would think that a musical about what happened there would be all based on just the people who did all the wonderful, good deeds,” he said. “But they needed to tell the story through the eyes of some of the passengers, the come from aways, and so, my ex-partner and I were among those who were honored, I guess.”

Tuerff says the experience of seeing his story reenacted onstage has been surreal and hopes that the entire country will learn about the goodwill of the people of Gander. It’s his hope that Gander’s altruism will be contagious.

“My hope is that people, no matter where they are, will really take the time to study up on compassion,” he said. “We were meant to live in community, and we were meant to help each other.”

“That’s how they do it in Gander.”

To hear more about Kevin Tuerff’s real-life “Come From Away” story, listen to the RDU on Stage podcast interview (Ep. 50) available on Apple podcasts, your favorite provider, or this website.

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