From T.O. to the Tonys
How 9/11 shaped the love story of the couple behind Come From Away by Nikki Gill
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.
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.
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.
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.
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