The actions the people of Gander took on Sept. 11, 2001 have been the subject of much discussion.
Often mentioned are the kindness and integrity the people of Gander, and other communities like Gambo, Glenwood, and Appleton showed in the face of adversity.
The stories are shown in documentaries, news articles, and probably college dissertations.
One medium one does not expect to find these stories is in musical theatre.
Beacon of Light is the newest play from Gander-native and playwright Dean Burry.
Currently being shown at Rising Tide Theatre in Trinity, Beacon of Light tells the tale of five Americans and one female pilot, focusing on the how they interact with the people of Newfoundland, who are waiting on the ground to great their new friends.
“9-11 affected everyone no matter where you were from, whether you were in New York, or in Gander for that matter,” said Mr. Burry from his home in Toronto, Ont. “Gander were dealing with all of the stranded passengers.
“Everybody was stuck in front of the television feeling a bit empty and a bit lost.”
It was never Mr, Burry’s intention to write a show based upon the actions of the day, but that changed after hearing some stories from his former home.
“It wasn’t until a couple of years ago when I learned more about the experiences in Gander,” said Mr. Burry, who still has a lot of family in the area.
As he heard more and more of the stories of how the area really took it upon themselves to help those stranded make it through, the wheels started turning.
“As I thought about it, this is maybe the one bright story that came out of 9-11,” said Mr. Burry. “Despite all of the darkness and the fear, people in Gander were able to show the other side of humanity, the lighter side of humanity.”
He said he wrote the story because of the effect the incident had internationally, but also as a homage of the people of Newfoundland.
“It’s showing a little hometown pride.”
Mr. Burry feels he is in a good position to write this story because of his removal from the province.
He does not feel he will be giving himself a pat on the back for the work of people in the Gander area.
“Its a little bit of a love letter to the town I grew up in,” said Mr. Burry.
Name draws from home
Showing the lighter side to the international incident was the main reason behind Mr. Burry’s decision to write the play, but what was the inspiration for the title?
“There were several inspirations for the title,” he said.
Gander being the one shining moment during the whole ideal is one of the reasons, he said.
Another one of those reasons ties into the airport.
“Growing up in Gander I remember a beacon from the airport,” he said. “I’m not sure if its still there now.”
Mr. Burry remembers watching the night sky as a kid and seeing the light from the beacon flashing against the darkness.
In his mind, the beacon was kind of like a lighthouse.
“A beacon is a light in the darkness that leads people to safe harbour,” said Mr. Burry.
He felt the beacon was associated with the town, and with the beacon bringing the planes into Gander International Airport, Mr. Burry thought it was a fitting metaphor.
“Its a little bit of a love letter to the town I grew up in.” Dean Burry
The whole story
When Mr. Burry told people of his desire to write a musical about 9-11, he was met with some questioning looks.
“People said, really you’re going to write a Broadway musical about 9-11,” he said. “What are you going to have tap dancing al-Qaida?”
Mr. Burry recognizes the challenges surrounding a musical production, but it will not change the meaning of the play.
While there is a strong message to the play, according to Mr. Burry, it is not the main focus.
“First and foremost it is a good story,” he said. “It is both meaningful and entertaining.
“It’s more of a character study about what happens when all of these different people get brought together, all of these people who never thought they would be together get brought together in this place.”
Mr. Burry said it connects with people from both Gander and the United States, which was one of the focuses in the writing process.
“It was important to not make it a story that only Gander residents would be interested in seeing,” he said. “That was something very important for me.”
Mr. Burry said the world has been captivated by the story of 9-11.
He, himself, has been contacted by Arabic news outlet al-Jazeera in both Canada and Qatar to do stories on Beacon of Light.
“It is absolutely a tribute to those who helped,” said Mr. Burry. “The musical really connects with people in Gander with people in New York.”
Beacon of Light is currently showing at Rising Tide Theatre in Trinity.
It finishes its run there Sunday, Sept. 4.
When that finishes, the play will be showed for two days, Sept. 8 and Sept. 9, at the Joseph R. Smallwood Arts and Culture Centre in Gander, as a part of the a month long tribute to 9-11.
It is something that Mr. Burry holds close to his heart.
“It’s very special,” he said. “It’s a big thing, there are probably going to be a lot of people back. I know a lot of people who were stranded here in 2001 frequently come back.
“It’s a big thing.”
Mr. Burry feels a bit of pressure with the showing,
“It’s nerve-racking,” he said. “Exciting, but nerve-racking. The audience are the people who lived that story.”
Brian Dove is the regional manager for the arts and culture centre.
He said it is a great thing to put off a great show done by a Gander native.
“You can’t get much more involved than all of that,” said Mr. Dove.
Mr. Dove said the show is very powerful.
“Some scenes in it, particularly the beginning and the end, are very emotional, powerful type scenes,” he said.
It is a good indication of the feeling that was involved with the people of Gander looking after all of these strangers.
“I think it’s a great show.”
When asked about what people in Gander can expect to see in the play, Mr. Burry said they can expect something funny and upbeat, but also a meaningful portrayal of the importance of the actions taken by Gander residents during 9-11.
“Although there are certainly moments of darkness in the piece, for the most part it is a celebration of what’s good in humanity.”