Come From Away opened in Melbourne last month to roaring applause, plenty of tears, and a well earned standing ovation.
The show is based on the real experiences of those involved in Operation Yellow Ribbon, a result of the 9/11 attacks. Approximately 7,000 passengers were unloaded off their planes into Gander airport, and were forced to take refuge in the town until the airspace was declared safe once more.
One of the romantic plotlines in Come From Away follows Nick and Diane – an unlikely match from opposite ends of the world. Over the 5 days spent together in Newfoundland, the couple formed such an incredible bond that they were married just months after. In the show, the roles of Nick and Diane are played by Nathan Carter and Katrina Retallick. The real pair were in Melbourne ahead of the show’s opening, and I was fortunate enough to sit down with them and discuss their experiences.
How did you feel when you found our that your story would be turned into a musical?
Diane: It was a little unbelievable, I don’t know that we thought anyone would really be interested in us. We just live very simple and normal lives.
Nick: When David and Irene approached us, on the 10th anniversary, they said they were going to be writing a musical about what happened on 9/11 and I said “You’re going to do what now? Good luck with that.” [laughs] We happily told them our story, because they were writing it for Sheridan College and we didn’t think it would get out of there. Then we Skyped in when they did the workshop at La Jolla, and then we went to the NAMT festival in 2013, which is where they picked up Junkyard Dog, the producers.
D: At NAMT 12 new musicals are selected from across North America. They were the only Canadian play there. You could present 45 mins of the play. it was open just to directors, producers, backers…
N: So we were there with Michael Rubinoff, he’s the brains behind it all, and David and Irene.
D: He had gotten the grant from the Canadian government for David and Irene to go spend a month in Newfoundland and collect the stories and write this play. And that’s who we talked to there, when we were there for the anniversary in 2011.
How was it watching yourselves as characters up on stage?
N: The first time we saw it, I was a bit apprehensive since we’d told this young couple our story, our special story, and they weren’t writing a documentary – they were writing a play. So they could have done whatever they wanted with it but they kept it. We’ve been 102 times.
D: We’ve seen it in 11 cities, 4 countries, and this is the 3rd continent.
And you aren’t sick of it after seeing it that many times?
D: Well, lots of times we have noticed different little things.
N: And the 5 different casts bring their own personality to the show.
D: Their own interpretation of some of the emotions, the happenings, the lines. And we love all of it. You know, sometimes people ask which is our favourite but they’re all our favourites. And we’re not sick of it.
N: Diane says when we go and see it, it’s like renewing our vows. And we love to meet the audience afterwards, see their reaction. To see what effect it’s had on them. People come up to us, mainly couples, and they tell us where they were born 9/11 and where they met their partner.
D: Everybody has that special time in their life where everything is new, you’ve just met your soon to be partner.
Have you been back to Newfoundland since?
D: We went back for our Honeymoon, that was true. We didn’t talk to any reporters that first year. We didn’t talk to anybody except for family and friends until 2009.
N: The survivor’s guilt… we didn’t feel comfortable telling people what a wonderful time we’d had in the wake of all that disaster, when 3000 families’ lives had been destroyed. But we’ve been back about 9 times now. Sometimes it’s with Come from Away, sometimes for anniversaries.
D: There’s actually a documentary called “You are Here” that was filmed there, so we went back with them to film that.
How has Come From Away changed your lives?
D: I don’t have any other family other than my kids. Both my parents were only children, both my grandparents died before I was born, so I never had aunts, uncles, cousins, grandmothers… so this [seeing the other Ganderites/Come From Aways] is like a big family reunion. Sometimes people say “Why do you keep going back to this stuff?” but it’s like a reunion! Number 1, we want to spend time with these people, who we’ve bonded with; and number 2, we want to tell the story of these wonderful people who took in almost 7000 strangers, took care of us for five days, the food those first few days came out of their homes…
N: The two families who were instrumental in looking after us in Gambo, we’ve kept in touch with them. But we’ve got a huge family now.
It’s hard to condense what happened over 5 days into a musical – did the show capture the essence of what happened to you both?
N: We could have been stuck in a hangar somewhere. If it hadn’t been for their generosity and kindness, taking us on rides and “screeching” us in, I wouldn’t have met this lady and I wouldn’t be here now.
D: It’s because of their generosity that we met. They could have kept us on the plane. And that’s just the way they are. when they were told they were going to have all these people… it’s just what they do. They help one another out, they take care of one another.
N: The MC in the Screeching, he did offer to marry us, they thought we were a married couple. And on the plane, the kiss on the forehead and the canoodling… that really happened [laughs]. It’s all word for word – even during “Stop The World,” Nick turns to Diane and says “I don’t want to go,” he didn’t want to leave Newfoundland. And I actually said that to her.
D: He actually proposed over the telephone. He was in England and I was in Texas, in November of ’01. What, two months after we’d met?
N: I told her I was on my knee, but…
D: [laughing] He was in his car, on a cell phone! My little apartment was not going to be big enough, so I went out and bought a house two weeks later.
N: And fortunately, the headquarters of the company I was working for in the UK was situated in Houston. So when I told them I was moving to Houston, I guess they wanted to hang on to me, so they enabled me to transfer within the company.
D: We got married the next September and then spent a week in Newfoundland with our friends there. It was during the first anniversary. Oh, and… I did kiss the fish!
Come From Away is playing at Melbourne’s Comedy Theatre.
For tickets and more information, please visit the Come From Away website.