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David Hein & Irene Sankoff - Witness Interview

David Hein and Irene Sankoff are a Canadian married writing team best known for co-writing the Broadway musical Come From Away. Born in Regina, Saskatchewan, David was educated at York University in Toronto, Ontario. After graduating, he and his fiancée moved to New York City in 1999 where he worked at a music studio and she studied at The Actor's Studio. After spending several years studying and working in New York the couple returned to Toronto where Hein began writing music and getting involved in several successful theater projects. It was then that theatre producer Michael Rubinoff approached Hein and Sankoff with his idea about a show based on Operation Yellow Ribbon in which residents of Gander, Newfoundland, housed nearly 7,000 airline passengers who had been stranded at Gander Airport as a result of the grounding of all North American air flights following the September 11 terrorist attacks.

The show would become the hit-musical Come From Away. A huge hit in Toronto during its pre-Broadway run, the show opened in New York on March 12, 2017 to a tidal wave of glowing reviews. It landed on Broadway with eerily perfect timing: just as New Yorkers and many Americans were reeling from a leader who wanted to ban travel, build walls and put "America first." The soaring musical was the antithesis to all that a government was imposing. Come From Away is large-hearted and inclusive. The New York Times called it "the catharsis we need."

David and Irene call their musical a “9/12 show” because it's not about 9/11; it's about what followed and how we all have it within us to respond with kindness. It all started in 2011, when David and Irene found out that all of the travellers whose flights had been grounded in Gander on 9/11 were returning 10 years later.

Come From Away was developed at the Canadian Music Theatre Project and Goodspeed Musicals' Festival of New Artists, showcased at the NAMT Festival of New Works and enjoyed a record setting world premiere at the La Jolla Playhouse and Seattle Repertory, followed by Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C., the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto and the Gander Community Centre Hockey Rink. Come From Away won three 2017 Dora Mavor Moore Awards, four Helen Hayes Awards, five Outer Critics Circle Awards and three Drama Desk Awards including Best Musical. David and Irene were nominated for Tony Awards for Best Book and Score and won the 2017 Outer Critics Circle and Drama Desk awards for Best Book. Irene and David are proud members of the Dramatists Guild and ASCAP. Find them online @sankoffandhein.

Come From Away's message of hospitality, kindness, inter-religious dialogue, ecumenism - and in short - our common humanity - that we all "come from away," could not be more timely than now. David Hein and his wife, Irene Carl Sankoff deserve more than a few gold medals for their story! The final line of the Mayor of Gander, at the end of the play, sums up well what the show is all about: "Tonight, we honor what was lost. But we also commemorate what we found!"

David Hein and Irene Sankoff have done a marvelous job in weaving together the stories of thousands of people who became ‘Islanders’ those fateful yet memorable days in September 2001. The 12 cast members, who pitch in to portray both residents and visitors alike, wear the ordinariness of their characters with a very dignified difference. This is an everyman and everywoman musical performed by their thespian equivalents. Taken individually, their stories aren't enough to hang a musical on, but collectively they make for a very powerful and timely one-act show.

The Canadian production of Come From Away returned home to Toronto in February 2018 for a long run at the Royal Alexandra Theatre.