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Broadway Q&A: Astrid Van Wieren of ‘Come From Away’

Category Broadway

|by Jeryl Brunner |

“We are all capable of heroic moments, and those moments needn’t be epic.”

During 9/11, 38 planes containing 6,579 passengers and crew members (and several animals) were diverted and forced to land in Gander, Newfoundland. Suddenly this little town (population: 9,651) swelled with terrified people. But comfort came with the Newfoundlanders. The Broadway musical Come From Away beautifully tells the story of what happened over the course of five days when the “plane people” landed in Newfoundland. Astrid Van Wieren has played Beulah Davis since Come From Away opened in 2017. (Real-life Beulah Cooper and Diane Davis make up the composite character). The show marks Van Wieren's Broadway debut. Just last year, she and Lisa Horner, who plays Beulah in Toronto, visited Newfoundland. They called the odyssey the “Beulah Bonanza Trip to Bountiful.”

Astrid Van Wieren (center) and the cast of 'Come From Away' on Broadway (Photo: Matthew Murphy)

Astrid Van Wieren (center) and the cast of 'Come From Away' on Broadway (Photo: Matthew Murphy)

If someone were to ask, "Why should I see Come From Away?," what would you say?  
Astrid Van Wieren
: The show is so entertaining and engaging. It moves quickly, so your attention can never wander. There are moments of great sadness. But always in the next breath one is filled with joy. Also, this show is a keen reminder of the practice of kindness. We are all capable of heroic moments, and those moments needn’t be epic. This show has changed me and kindled in me a desire to be better, kinder and more present for others. It may sound slightly flakey, but it is rock solid truth. We are all capable of incredible charity and goodness. 

How has being in Come From Away changed you? 
: This beautiful show has probably spoiled me for all others. Because the show is lifted and told by a true and ever-moving ensemble, I feel constantly connected to the story telling. We play a strong community on stage, and have genuinely become one off-stage as well. When I’m not directly in a scene, I may be on stage watching my fellow actors’ genius. I’m being paid, in essence, to attend master classes. Also, we all play people from Gander (and surrounding towns) and at least one "Come From Away." I think that brings it home that in any situation, one can find themselves able to help, or in need of it! 

What has surprised you when you visited Newfoundland? 
: I had been to Newfoundland three times before. The first time was for my very good friend Rhona Buchan’s wedding. My second trip to the Rock was to perform in an incredible play, The Colony of Unrequited Dreams in St. John’s. It was another amazing experience. And then our generous producers of Come From Away arranged a cast concert in the Gander hockey rink to honor the generous people of the town and surrounding areas who spent five days helping the stranded passengers. And THAT was a life highlight. And then this trip was what we call "Beulah Bonanza Trip to Bountiful." The trip of all trips! 

The landscape is absolutely breathtaking, especially Gross Morne National Park. And so is Fogo Island. It is so barren and serene, all earth and sky. But even with all that natural beauty, it is the spirit of the people, especially the Ganderites, who just astonish with their continuous kindness and love of fun.   

On your most recent trip to Newfoundland, what was it like to visit Fogo Island? 
: Fogo Island was unlike any other landscape I have experienced. After Lisa and I were picked up at the ferry, which is a breathtaking 40-minute trip on the water, we drove for a bit towards Fogo Island Inn. And after a turn, there were no more trees! Just earth and sky. Fogo Island Inn is absolutely extraordinary, with brilliant architecture. Though modern, it somehow fits the landscape like a glove. Everything inside is made locally, like the quilts on the bed and the art. The staff are amazing. The food is glorious, and so is the view. And best of all, Zita Cobb, founder of Fogo Island Inn, has completely revitalized the surrounding area. For example, punt or small boat making was becoming a dying art. So she initiated boat races that have reestablished the boat building industry.

Before we left Fogo Island, Diane Davis gave us a brilliant “We don’t have time for dat!” tour, as we had to catch the ferry. But we managed to pack in so much beauty in just a couple of hours. Diane is an avid iceberg watcher, and even has a Facebook page devoted to these icecapades! 

You and Lisa Horner, who plays the role of Beulah in the Come From Away production in Toronto, have a deep connection. Can you share more details? 
: Lisa Horner and I have been friends since Ryerson Theatre School, but we have grown very close the last few years. We first worked together on My Mother’s Lesbian, Jewish, Wiccan Wedding. (The show was written by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, who also wrote Come From Away.) Lisa was the lead, and just brilliant. Then we worked together again on another amazing musical: Belles Soeurs (a twelve-woman ensemble). During the two runs we did in Montreal and then in Ottawa, we became even closer. I benefited so much from Lisa’s wisdom and support, as I was tackling an epic and difficult role. She is a class act, and funny as hell!  We would also have brunch at a greasy spoon once or more a month in Toronto just to “jaw” and catch up. And now, she is playing Beulah, and spectacularly I might add. I took a personal day to attend the Toronto company’s opening. 

The idea of our epic trip started as a whim during one of our texting or FaceTime sessions, and suddenly we had booked our vacations simultaneously and arranged to get to Newfoundland. I knew she would just absorb all the beauty, culture and fun. And I really wanted to be the one to experience it with her! And I just felt called to go back, too.

What was it like meeting Beulah Cooper and Diane Davis the first time? 
: I met Beulah and Diane for the first time when the Come From Away company went to Gander to do two concerts. It was like meeting family and meeting myself. They both have such mischievous spirits and big loving hearts. They’re definitely individuals, but our writers David and Irene did an amazing job of combining their strengths, passions and adventures. Diane is also representative of all the teachers at Gander academy. It was lovely to know that we carry their hearts and stories from those intense five days with us on stage, too. I think they’re all very pleased how they’re represented and how Newfoundlanders are represented in our piece. 

For more of the best of Broadway, check out our list of the Top Shows in New York in April 2019.

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