A guest blog entry from Irene Sankoff, writer of Come From Away to be presented at this year’s Festival of New Musicals.  
On August 6th, I delivered a brand new production that my husband and co-author, David Hein, and I had been working on for nine months. At 6 lbs, 1 ounce, she was heavier than most of our scripts (although nowhere near if you counted every draft). The delivery took 37 hours, but thanks to a crazy rotating team of doctors, nurses, residents, doulas and David, trying (in vain) to look calm and distract me by reading all the parts from Peter And The Starcatcher, opening night was (relatively) painless. We named her Molly.
Two days later, with a newborn in one hand and a keyboard in another – with the wi-fi password from Mt. Sinai hospital – we delivered the NAMT Act One 45-minute cut of our musical, Come From Away: Molly’s sibling. This cut and the entire presentation at NAMT took no less of a stellar team of professionals to accompany its birth.
We’d been working on Come From Away for longer than nine months – we started writing it in 2011, when we traveled out to Newfoundland to research it. Come From Away tells the true story of when thousands of international residents were stranded in a tiny, Canadian community in Newfoundland – and how the experience changed the lives of the passengers and the people there. It’s an inspiring story of cross-border collaboration during an international tragedy. We spent almost a month out in Newfoundland interviewing countless passengers, flight crew, locals and more. We returned home, continued to interview people across the world over Skype and then finally started putting the pieces together in workshops at Sheridan College’s Canadian Musical Theatre Project and then at Goodspeed Musicals’ Festival of New Artists. Then we got the incredible honor of being accepted into NAMT’s Festival… and did I mention I had just discovered through a series of (not so) subtle signs and discomforts that I was pregnant?
As Canadian playwrights, we don’t know many people in the New York Theatre world, so we considered it good fortune when

we knew at least one of our NAMT advisors – Bob Alwine from Goodspeed. Bob is awesome. Not only had he welcomed us warmly to Goodspeed’s Festival earlier this year, but he had traveled to a different country to see our shows continued growth at Sheridan’s Canadian Musical Theatre Project. Bob’s great and knows our show inside out. Lucky Canadian playwrights.

Dana Harrel from La Jolla Playhouse was a complete stranger though and we still have only talked to her on the phone (we only figured out 2 calls later that “Dana” is pronounced “Donna”). She’d never seen our show or knew us from Adam, but to quote a lyric from our show, she “jumped right in with both feet tied.” Our first conversation with Bob, Dana and Branden from NAMT was incredibly exciting – tossing ideas around and getting feedback from people who had been developing incredible theatre for years. Near the end of the conversation we nervously mentioned that we would get totally derailed from the process by our third co-writer’s arrival, somewhere around Aug. 14 – two months before the festival. Dana, a mother herself, told us that she also had put on a show with a ONE-month old! She promised she would be “an overbearing mother” to me, that she would help us with whatever we needed, baby stuff, babysitting, etc. but she couldn’t promise that we wouldn’t be exhausted. And she said it was completely worth it. Lucky lucky Canadian playwrights.
As the process continued, we added more team members: Brian Hill (of Bartram & Hill fame) came on board. Brian had directed the workshops at Sheridan and Goodspeed and his show, The Story of My Life, was also part of the NAMT Festival in 2007. Bob made it possible for Dan Pardo, our music director at Goodspeed, to join us. Michael Rubinoff, our terrific producer at Sheridan checked in and advised every other day. Michael originally suggested the idea for the show, and since it was the first show in The Canadian Musical Theatre Project, I think he feels kind of fatherly about the show. Robb Nanus, our NAMT line producer, and John Michael Crotty, our stage manager, hopped on board. Every day our team grew larger – and then we started casting.
Bob, Dana, Branden, Brian and Michael all threw a million suggestions into the hat. Again, being Canadian, we barely recognized most of the names, so every night was spent googling and youtubing each actor – all incredible performers that we could only dream of working with. Bob and Dana, having worked with what seemed like EVERY actor at Goodspeed and La Jolla, had an encyclopedic list of amazing actors. Meanwhile, we kept refining the script, developing our demo recordings, choosing band members, re-orchestrating, sending out invitations – all the while going to prenatal classes and installing baby gates. But we still had plenty of time to get it all done before my Aug. 14th delivery date…until my water broke on Aug. 4.
We sent out a mass email, volunteering our director to take charge of the casting process (thank you again, Brian!), and our wonderful advisers  Bob and Dana, also sprang into action. FYI, show updates are a great distraction from labor pain. We spent the next ten days or so in two hospitals (welcome to Canadian healthcare!). Molly was perfect, but they wanted to run tests and keep an eye on her. And our team didn’t bat an eye, continuing to put together an incredible band and cast.
As I type this, Molly is lying on one side of me on our couch and David is next to me typing on his computer on the other. We are book-ended by our cats. In the past couple weeks a succession of family and friends have paraded through, helping us with everything from dinner to diapers. It truly takes a village to raise a child.
And the same can be said for a NAMT show – and especially for this show about cross-border collaboration. We’ve been blessed to have so many wonderful (former) strangers donating their time and passion to our show. Come From Away is about Canadians and Americans coming together to create something magical – and the story behind the show’s development is the same. Bob just wrote to confirm a casting question we had. Dana, who worked on the true stories behind Hands On A Hardbody, is helping us with waivers for the people we interviewed. Emails come in literally every day from Branden, Robb, Brian, Dan and John.


Lucky lucky lucky Canadian playwrights. 

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