memorial lights

The memorial lights shine over where the twin towers stood in lower Manhattan.

When “Come from Away” opened on Broadway in March 2017 I was fortunate to receive a preview ticket. At the time I knew little, if anything, about the musical, only that it had something to do with 9/11. My recollection of that evening is vivid. When the curtain came down the audience, standing at their seats, burst into loud applause, and cheering. The sense of joy and lightness was palpable.

At exactly 9:26 a.m. on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington, the Federal Aviation Administration closed U.S. airspace. Approximately 4,000 flights had to be diverted. Thirty-eight civilian and four military planes were asked to land in Gander, Newfoundland. The 6,600 passengers and crew members who filled those planes, from airlines including Olympic Airways, Air France, Lufthansa, British Airways, and Alitalia, found themselves in a small, 40-square-mile community for up to six days, until the planes were cleared to take off.

It no longer mattered if you were traveling first class or were seated in the last row next to the bathrooms. Everything was equalized. There were no hotels to book or large convention centers to reconfigure, it was a matter of everyone coming together to figure out how to provide food, water, and places to sleep. Of course, not one of these people knew exactly what happened, what was going to happen next, how they were going to reach their destinations or when they might return to their homes.

The musical has been on my mind as I think about all the events being planned to “celebrate” Laconia and work to strengthen the sense of community. The Powerhouse Theatre Collaborative production of Thornton’s Wilder’s “Our Town” with a community cast and directed by Bryan Halperin is just one step. The collaborative is a program of the Belknap Mill and the resident company of the Colonial Theatre.

The Laconia Daily Sun is hosting a symposium on Sept. 21 designed to create a more civil dialogue and understanding among those who disagree. The forum is being held at the Colonial Theatre and will include Stephen Duprey, who played a role in Concord’s revitalization, local businesswoman Karen Bassett, Mayor Andrew Hosmer, and Meredith developer Rusty McLear.

The exquisite renovation of the Colonial Theatre in downtown Laconia is a reason to come together. To celebrate the history of the community and to plan the future. To think together about how to solve the myriad problems we face both as Americans and citizens of the planet.

It is through music, performance, theater and feeling a sense of community that change is accelerated. The creative process can lead to moments of compromise, through misunderstanding and eventual revelation.

When the curtain goes down on the community performance of “Our Town” at the Colonial, I expect the theater will be filled with applause and cheering in recognition not just for the performance, but for the people working together harmoniously to stage the play, and coming away to find comfort in home, the community of Laconia.

“Come From Away” was written by Canadians Irene Sankoff and Davi Hein and directed by Christopher Ashley. During the pandemic, when the Broadway was closed, a performance of the musical was filmed and released on Sept. 10 in time for the 20th anniversary of Sept. 11. It is reopening on Broadway in September.

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Listen to Elizabeth on the Short Fuse Podcast (found on Apple or Spotify), follow her on Instagram @elizh24 or send her a note at elizabeth@laconiadailysun.com. She is an author and journalist. Her books include Ned O’Gorman: A Glance Back, a book she edited (Easton Studio Press, 2015), A Day with Bonefish Joe (David R. Godinez, 2015), Queen Anne’s Lace and Wild Blackberry Pie, (Thornwillow Press, 2011).

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