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The folklore of theatre

International graduate student interviews Come from Away creator

Student Life

By Janet Harron

Like the travellers portrayed in Broadway’s Come from Away, international student Alina Sergachov was warmly welcomed by the people of Gander, N.L.

The cast of Come From Away performs in New York City.
Photo: Mirvish photo

But unlike those who unexpectedly found themselves in Central Newfoundland 17 years ago, Ms. Sergachov was very prepared for her visit.

The folklore graduate student — and self-confessed theatre geek — recently received the Helen Creighton grant for research projects related to the Atlantic Canada region.

“The goal of my project is to help the general public understand the day-to-day work of theatre personnel.” — Alina Sergachov

Her winning project is an examination of some of the 9/11 stories that inspired the Canada-produced musical and the resulting boost to the province’s tourism industry.

“It takes the work of many people to create a theatre performance, but most of them don’t get recognition for the range of their skills,” said Ms. Sergachov, who was born in Belarus and raised in Israel.

“For example, not many people know about the contributions of various theatre crew such as flymen, mechanists, board operator, fight directors, grips, prompters, designers, costume makers, dressers, set and prop builders, etc. The goal of my project is to help the general public understand the day-to-day work of theatre personnel.”

Internationally acclaimed playwright

The funding allowed for her field research in Gander, which included a special highlight: interviewing Come from Away playwright, David Hein.

The two chatted about the influence of musicals on audiences, artistic integrity and commercial viability, and definitions of failure and success.

You can watch Ms. Sergachov’s full interview in the video below.

In addition, Ms. Sergachov worked with Abby Moss, a co-ordinator with Gander’s 9/11-themed Beyond Words Tour, who helped her connect with potential interviewees. She also spoke with multiple Gander residents, some of whom were portrayed in the musical.

“It didn’t matter to me whether they inspired characters in Come from Away or not,” said Ms. Sergachov, who works part-time in the Memorial University Folklore Archive (MUNFLA).

“All of them had amazing stories to tell, regardless. And I’m very grateful for this unique opportunity. This trip to Gander reminded me that people can — and should — be kind. It inspired me to try to become a better, nicer person.”

Budding theatre professional

Ms. Sergachov is using the occupational folk-life project as an attempt to figure out how she can fit into the theatre industry herself when she finishes her master’s degree.

“Hopefully, [this experience] will help me to make my dreams come true. I mean, if I managed to interview David Hein, everything is possible, isn’t it?”

According to Pauline Cox, a MUNFLA archivist, there are no barriers to Ms. Sergachov’s future success.

“Alina is probably one of the most determined and focused individuals I have ever met in my life,” Ms. Cox said. “She has an incredible work ethic and doesn’t like to waste time. If there’s an opportunity, no matter how remote anyone may feel or suggest it is, she’s always ready, willing and able to give it a go.”

You can view all of Ms. Sergachov’s project interviews on YouTube.

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