The hus­band-and-wife team be­hind the hit mu­si­cal ‘Come From Away’ share their story

How 9/11 shaped the love story of the cou­ple be­hind Come From Away by Nikki Gill

Bayview Post - - Contents -

Come From Away, the mu­si­cal about the town of Gan­der, N.L., that tem­po­rar­ily dou­bled its pop­u­la­tion in the wake of 9/11 when planes were redi­rected there, is the broad­way hit of the year, snap­ping up seven Tony Award nom­i­na­tions. We chat­ted with the play’s cre­ators, Toron­to­ni­ans David Hein and Irene Sankoff, ahead of the Tony Awards on June 11, about how the events of 9/11 shaped their love story.

How they met

We met on the first day of frosh week (which is as crazy as it sounds) at York Uni­ver­sity. It was a wel­come bar­be­cue (David thinks it was a pan­cake break­fast, but he’s wrong). What we can agree on was that we liked each other from the start, but we were dat­ing other peo­ple.

The first date

We had been friends for about two years, and at one point, David said to me, “Can I take you out some­time?” I was shocked. I con­fessed I liked him for a long time and he said, “I’ve liked you for a long, long time,” and that was it. We had our first date at Piz­zadelic near Yonge and Bloor in the late ’90s. It was late win­ter, early spring, be­cause it was still cold, but the days were get­ting longer. We jumped into a photo booth at one point, and we still have those pic­tures some­where.

The pro­posal

We were at a pan­cake place, and I said to David (who is an Amer­i­can cit­i­zen and I’m Cana­dian), “You want to come to New York with me when I go to grad school, so, I have a busi­ness propo­si­tion for you. Let’s get mar­ried so I can get my cit­i­zen­ship.” I know, ro­man­tic. He nearly passed out. He said he wanted to do a real, ro­man­tic pro­posal, so a lit­tle while later, I came home to can­dles and rose petals strewn ev­ery­where. Ex­cept he needed more time to set ev­ery­thing up, and he wouldn’t let me in. He asked me to come back in five min­utes. Ro­man­tic.

The wed­ding

We were liv­ing in New York. It was about a month af­ter Sept. 11, and we were al­ready plan­ning our wed­ding a year later, when David said to me, “What are we wait­ing for?” We were part of the post-9/11 seize-the-day men­tal­ity that a lot of New York­ers had dur­ing that time. We got legally mar­ried at city hall in New York City in Oc­to­ber 2001. It was a beau­ti­ful, small wed­ding with David’s cousin as our wit­ness.

We didn’t tell al­most any­one at all that we had got­ten mar­ried, so it was both ro­man­tic and in some ways re­ally, re­ally sen­si­ble be­cause it was this sa­cred thing that was just about us, not any­one else’s ex­pec­ta­tions or be­liefs. I think it’s a part of what gave us such a solid foun­da­tion.

Af­ter, we went with David’s cousin to re­trace the path she had taken to es­cape the World Trade Cen­ter a month ear­lier. None of us re­ally thought about how we hadn’t been down­town in a month. I think we were all, hon­estly, in some sort of stage of shock. In many ways, that day re­minds us of Come From Away — this cel­e­bra­tion of love in the shadow of this hor­ri­ble event.

A year later we had our pre­vi­ously planned wed­ding with fam­ily and friends back at Heintz­man House out­side Toronto. Then we took a won­der­ful trip to Rome, Venice, Florence and Lago Mag­giore.

The kids

Molly is al­most four and has two cat sib­lings, El­phaba Pret­zel, 9, and Gambo Jet­pack, 6. Molly has also grown up next to Come From Away, so some days it feels like she and the show are sib­lings. We al­ways say it takes a vil­lage to raise a child, and it takes an even big­ger vil­lage to raise a mu­si­cal while rais­ing a child, and Molly’s been raised by our Come

From Away team, the best com­mu­nity we could ask for.

Work­ing to­gether

We started writ­ing to­gether be­cause, be­tween day jobs and night jobs, we never saw each other. And now we’re to­gether 24/7. It’s tricky to find the line be­tween work and life, so we have rules: we don’t talk about our shows when we’re tired, an­gry, hun­gry or in the morn­ing for me (I’m not a morn­ing per­son).

Come From Away will re­turn to Toronto in Fe­bru­ary 2018 at the Royal Alexan­dra The­atre.

Irene Sankoff and David Hein were mar­ried shortly af­ter 9/11

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