Seattle Repertory Theatre Artistic Director Braden Abraham Talks About Taking A Chance on “Come From Away”

Seattle Rep and La Jolla Playhouse co-production at Seattle Repertory Theatre.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, the Citizens of Gander including Claude the mayor, Oz the police constable, Beulah the teacher, Bonnie the SPCA worker and others describe life in Newfoundland, and how they learn of the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, DC.

The attacks resulted in all US airports being closed, forcing 38 international flights to be diverted and land unexpectedly at the Gander airport. Which increased the population of the small community of Gander, that was not equipped for the stranded travelers.

The citizens began preparing to house, feed, clothe the nearly 7,000 passengers along with their 19 animals, blankets, and beds. Meanwhile, the pilots, flight attendants, and passengers were initially not permitted to leave the planes, forcing them to deal with confusing and conflicting information about what had happened, and why they were suddenly grounded.

Once the passengers could depart from the planes they were transferred to various emergency shelters in and around Gander. The passengers and crew watched replays of the attacks on the news and learned the real explanation of why they were grounded.

The frightened and lonely passengers desperately tried to contact their families, and prayed for their loved ones, while the locals worked through the night to help them in any and every way they could.


To alleviate rising fear and mounting tensions the passengers were invited to be inducted as honorary Newfoundlanders at the local bar.  The “islanders” in Gander and the surrounding towns opened their places to the passengers, regardless of their guests’ race, nationality or sexual orientation.  The travelers were initially taken aback by their hosts’ uncommon hospitality, but they slowly let their guard down and started to bond with the locals.


The gravity of the attacks nevertheless continued to set in as US airports would eventually reopen.  One of the pilots by name of Beverley Bass comments on how she once had an optimistic view of the universe, and how it suddenly changed “Me and the Sky”.  While one pair of passengers started to develop a romance despite the awful sequence of events that brought them together, and another pair saw their long-term relationship fall apart under the stress of the case.


As the passengers and crew flew away to their homes, they joyously exchanged stories of the immense kindness and generosity that was expressed to them by the Newfoundland strangers in their time of need, but not before a Muslim traveler, faced with increasing prejudice from his fellow passengers, undergoes a humiliating strip search prior to boarding.  The passengers who return to New York City were faced with the horror of the attack, including a mother who gets wind that her firefighter son lost his life during the rescue efforts.  The townsfolk in Gander return to normal life, but comment on how empty their town now seemed, and how different the world felt.

During 2012 and 2013, ‘Come From Away’ was first created as a workshop, and was produced at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario Canada. The Musical would go on to break records at La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego California, and the Seattle Repertory Theatre in 2015.   In 2017, ‘Come From Away’ was nominated for Seven Tony Awards and eventually winning in the category of Best Direction of a Musical.

The Hype Magazine recently had the opportunity to speak with the Seattle Repertory Threatre’s Artistic Director “Braden Abraham”

OFFICIAL Braden Abraham, by Alan Alabastro

A lifelong Washingtonian, Braden Abraham grew up in the San Juan Islands and received a B.A. In English from Western Washington University.  He has served on the artistic staff of Seattle Rep since 2003 and was appointed Associate Artistic Director in 2008.  Under Jerry Manning’s leadership, Abraham became an integral piece of the planning team.  He helped re-envision the New Play Program, starting the Writers Group for local playwrights and bringing exciting new parts such as Samuel D. Hunter, Laura Schellhardt, and Anna Ziegler to the Rep. He advocated for the adaptation of Kirsten Grind’s book The Lost Bank and a new adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s The Enemy of the People, both of which are under development at the Rep.

An accomplished director, Abraham’s credits for the Rep include Laura Schellhardt’s The Comparables, Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Samuel D. Hunter’s A Great Wilderness, Anna Ziegler’s Photograph 51, Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, Bruce Norris’ Clybourne Park, Michael Hollinger’s Opus, Harold Pinter’s Betrayal, Melissa James Gibson’s This, Laura Schellhardt’s The K of D, an urban legend, Breakin’ Hearts and Takin’ Names by Kevin Kling and Simone Perrin, and My Name is Rachel Corrie, adapted by Alan Rickman and Katherine Viner. Other directing credits include Marya Sea Kaminski’s Riddled (Richard Hugo House), Tommy Smith’s White Hot (Marxiano Productions, West of Lenin), Laura Schellhardt’s The K of D, an urban legend (Pistol Cat Productions, FringeNYC Encore Series, Illusion Theater), Paul Mullin’s The Ten Thousand Things (Washington Ensemble Theatre), and Vincent Delaney’s Kuwait (Theatre Schmeater).

Abraham has developed plays with Seattle Rep, The O’Neill Playwrights Conference, Ojai Playwrights Conference, The Denver Center, The William Inge Theater Festival, Portland Center Stage, The Playwrights Center, and New Century Theatre Company. He has been a guest artist at Stanford University, Gonzaga University, the University of Idaho, and Seattle University.

The interview with Braden Abraham can be seen below

Seattle Rep and La Jolla Playhouse co-production at Seattle Repertory Theatre.

Can you tell us what made the Seattle Repertory Theatre take a chance on the Musical “Come from Away” back in 2015?

I was incredibly moved by COME FROM AWAY from the first reading I saw in 2014. It’s a remarkable story about a day that remains vivid in our collective memory, told in an authentic and surprising way. I really trusted the team and the direction they were headed.

The musical won a Tony Award for “Best Direction” category. What does that mean to Seattle Repertory Theatre knowing that it was a part of the launch of this musical?

Chris Ashley is a phenomenal director and he did incredible work on the piece at every step of the way. It was wonderful to see him get the Award on Sunday.   For Seattle Rep, it’s an honor to have helped COME FROM AWAY reach an international audience. Developing and premiering new work is a big part of what we do at Seattle Rep, and we’re committed to continuing to do so.

In your own word can you tell us what the energy is like in the Seattle Repertory Theatre when a lively act performs?

That’s the energy we run on. It’s our fuel. Theatre is only really made in the moment, in the exchange of energy between people. That energy is a unique mix of emotion, ideas, experiences, and imagination that changes every performance.

Did you have a good Idea that it would reach Broadway in New York City one day?

I knew it would be powerful, but it wasn’t until we saw the passionate audience reaction in those first few performances in La Jolla and Seattle that I knew it was going to have a much longer life.

What do you think?

Written by Landon Buford

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