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BWW Interview: COME FROM AWAY Creators Irene Sankoff & David Hein Talk 'This Is Canada Nice', Broadway's Return & More

Sankoff and Hein penned a new original song with Destination Canada, showcasing the beauty, diversity, and generosity of the people that make up Canada.

David Hein and Irene Sankoff, the Tony-nominated husband and wife creators of Come From Away, are back with a new venture! Partnering with Destination Canada, the creative duo penned an original song, 'This is Canada Nice', featuring visuals by animation studio Wonderlust. Celebrating Canada's beauty, generosity, and diversity, 'This is Canada Nice' showcases the incredible people that make Canada so famously friendly, and highlights Canada's milestones and achievements.

'This is Canada Nice' features a roster of Canada's best and brightest, including Canadian cast members from Come From Away, celebrated Quebecois drag queen Rita Baga, Indigenous singer-songwriter iskw?", Canada's first female astronaut and first neurologist in space Roberta Bondar, as well as Canada's most well-known artists, authors, and athletes.

See the video below!

We spoke with David Hein and Irene Sankoff about the creative process behind 'This is Canada Nice', about what they are most looking forward to when theater returns, and much more!

How did the This is Canada Nice project come about?

D: We were approached months ago.

I: Months ago, I think we had just actually come back to Canada from Manhattan when Destination Canada reached out to us and told us that we might be good representatives for talking about what made Canada so nice given our past history with Come From Away. I know some Canadians get a little itchy when they hear, "Oh we're so nice," but we both really wanted to show that nice is brave, nice is...

D: Nice is kind, smart... one of the things we really wanted to show was that once you dig under the surface of the word 'nice', it actually represents a million things about Canada.

I: It shows ingenuity! It's easy to turn away, it's easy to be turned off, but it's harder to be nice, and to think of ways to be nice, especially in a time like this.

D: Especially right now, it's these stories of Canadian niceness, which are getting us through this, and are riding on how brave, how good we can be. And so, we started to get excited about the fact that we could celebrate Canada's diversity, not only with different ways that we think of the word 'nice', but also the diversity of our music across the entire country, art styles, performers... And what was really exciting for us, especially right now when so many artists and people are out of work, we were given an opportunity to create a community and create art and bring people into recording studios across the country to create something that celebrates this place that we're so proud of.

I: And just to show the best that there is as Canadians, from the gentleman who started Peace by Chocolate who's a refugee, to Angela James who crashed the boys' hockey team so that she could become a hockey player, Roberta Bondar, she's a neurologist who was the first female Canadian astronaut.

D: Rita Baga, the Montreal drag queen who is a fabulous performer... and it was really incredible working with both our heroes like Bruce Cockburn, who we grew up listening to and who created some of our favorite songs. But also new artists like Wolf Castle, this incredible indigenous rapper, or Saleema Nawaz, a novelist who just put out a book basically about a pandemic right before the pandemic happened, and it's this incredible model. It's wonderful to celebrate Canadians who we love and meet new Canadians.

How did you go about creating this song? How did you make sure you got everything across that you wanted to?

I: I don't know if we could ever get everything across, but it did start as this big brainstorming session of writing down all of the things that make Canada nice.

D: I still have all of it, it's this massive post-it note, this piece of art on our wall that we stuck up that we just wrote down everything that we could think of and everything we could research about Canada, and then we reached out to other people to tell us what they loved about Canada, and we tried to cram it all in. And we couldn't fit it all in, but what we wanted to do was to bring many of the things people would recognize about Canada, and also so many things that people might not know, like Viola Desmond, and Klondike Kate, things that people would have to deep dive into.

What does it mean to you to be Canada nice?

I: It's people waving at each other on the street, it's about people helping each other in ways that are, right now, socially distanced, but it comes back to the Newfoundlanders who welcomed people off the planes on 9/11. It's helping and being present in whatever way is appropriate given the circumstances that you're in. It's the fact that we were on lockdown for two weeks here and neighbors showed up with food at our door. We were like, "How did you even know?" It's stuff like that.

D: I think we're drawn to stories like Come From Away's story about people going above and beyond, not because they were asked to, but just because it was the right thing to do. It's just what you do in times of crisis for your neighbors, for your community, and in this moment we are a global community, we are a Canadian community, and you can see it every day. It's easy to gravitate towards stories of division and anger, but there are so many stories of people overcoming those differences and finding connections. I think that's what it is, it's going above and beyond to connect and help people and find out what they need, and offer it to them if you are able to.

How does it feel to have the opportunity to be creative during this time?

I: We feel very lucky for sure. And just to take a chance to get to know things we didn't know before, and get to know people that we didn't know before, even though most of the recording was done with us in our living room looking at our computer as somebody was Zooming in either their home studio or with one other person somewhere. I looked forward to it every day. And also the fact that I was going to learn something new. I sort of rabbit-holed on all of the different people we had discovered that had blazed the way in Canada for, whether it be women's hockey, or science, like Roberta Bondar, or we have two indigenous artists on this, the indigenous people who are making music, who were always here, and making sure that we represented as much of Canada as we could in 90 seconds.

What would you like to say to all of the Come From Away fans who are waiting for the day when the show is able to perform again?

D: Oh my goodness, we are too, and it will happen, we're all actively waiting. We have five companies around the world, and Australia is just going into rehearsals now, so we are going to overcome this, we are going to come back. What's been good for us is to still be talking about this story of people coming together in a time of crisis, and it feels more relevant than ever, we can't wait to bring this story back and to come together as a Come From Away community again. We're doing the One Night Only on December 19th reuniting a bunch of the creatives, but also cast members from our various companies, which is really exciting for us, celebrating that global community we were talking about. The minute Broadway is back, the minute Toronto theater is back, it's going to be such a release, can you imagine the tears and the joy? We all just going to be screaming!

I: It's going to be off the hook. When we get through all of this, we're going to have a renaissance period, it's going to be like the Roaring Twenties all over again, it's going to be nuts.

D: That's what's been exciting, during this pandemic, looking at our cast and our musicians and crew, and people in other shows, the amount of content and art that people are still creating, you can't stop it. You can't stop people's art, and especially now when they're unable to do it, the stuff that's being put online, it's this joy of sharing your art with the world. And that's what we were given the opportunity to do with this, and we're just thrilled with it.

What would you say you are most looking forward to when everything is back?

I: I think having people around! Just having people in our house. Watching TV without being like, "Why are they so close together, they're not wearing masks!" I think it's going to be so great to be able to walk into a place and not worry about how close you're getting to somebody else. To let my daughter have her friends over. It's going to be amazing.

D: At Come From Away we often stand at the back of the theater to give other people seats, and so, I am looking forward to being at the back of the house with the people at the bar and the front of house crew, because theater is not just the people on stage. Celebrating with them, and welcoming them back, and all of us watching the audience watching our performers who are just going to be over the moon to be back. And going backstage and celebrating the crew... just every single person who puts together a show, and cheering them on.

I: It' going to be bittersweet, I think it's going to be a little bit like after a war, not everyone is going to come back, we've already lost people. It's going to be different. It's going to be wonderful, but it's going to be different.

For more information on This is Canada Nice and Destination Canada, CLICK HERE!

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