Now, there is a new Broadway musical, Come From Away, about the 7,000 stranded passengers and the small town in Newfoundland that put their lives on hold and opened their homes to this world of strangers. On 9/11, the world stopped. On 9/12, their stories moved us all.
Caesar Samayoa is one of the actors who gets to share these stories eight times a week. Out of tragedy comes unity. And through this interview, Caesar reinforces how Broadway comes together to uplift during difficult times. It's hard to find the good when there is so much evil out there, but Caesar and the rest of the cast of Come From Away have found a way to share the love that took place in Newfoundland.
Come From Away plays the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre (236 West 45th Street, between Broadway & 8th Avenue). Click here for tickets!
1. Who or what inspired you to become a performer? I really owe it all to one of my teachers way back in grammar school, Mrs. Reynolds. I’m a first generation American and theatre was not really a part of our lives. My parents were extremely hard workers trying to get their family settled in a new country. My teacher approached a neighbor who had a child in an acting program and said she should bring me to it one day. And that was it. That was 5th grade and I was involved in the arts ever since. For some reason though it never occurred to me that I could do it professionally. I was in college majoring in International Relations when I happened to come to NYC and saw Anna Deavere Smith in Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992. Her performance shook me to the core. Multiple characters and each one completely transformational with such simplicity. A story that was so human and so relevant. I still get goosebumps thinking about it. The lights came up and I absolutely knew that I had to do THAT with my life. I transferred into a conservatory acting program and have been performing ever since. So thank you Mrs. Reynolds and Anna Deavere Smith!
2. What made you want to audition for Come From Away? What went through your head when you found out you booked the show? All my agent had told me was I have a script for you about a musical dealing with the week following 9/11. I’m a New Yorker - I was here during 9/11 and know people that were lost that day. I couldn't fathom what this was, and to be honest, was very trepidatious about even reading it. I never say no without reading so I sat down in my living room and from the first page I could NOT put it down. Even in that first version - the story, the characters, the heart - it was overwhelming. It was extremely moving and then there was the whole premise of playing multiple characters. I called my agent and said "I don’t know what I have to do to be a part of this but please get me an audition!"
My auditions and callbacks spanned about three months and when I finally got the call that I booked it I couldn't believe it. It’s exactly the kind of work I love to do. And there was no talk of Broadway, no talk about anything other than a developmental run at La Jolla at that point. I was going to be working with this dream team, telling such an important human story. I felt like I had hit the jackpot - and to be honest, I did!
3. Of the characters you play, what do you identify most with about them? I relate so strongly to "Kevin J." He’s one of the few characters that struggles with his time in Gander. And I get it. Like I said, I’m a New Yorker and had that been me stranded in Gander; YES I would have deeply appreciated what that community had done, but all my thoughts would be with my family back in NYC. I would try to do anything I could to get back home. And I also tend to be the guy that blurts out jokes in tense situations so there's that too.
There’s a gentle kindness about "Ali" that I love. I think of my Dad when I’m playing him. My Dad always chose kindness first, even when he was looked at as an outsider. And we were for a big part of my childhood. It’s hard to imagine it now, but when we moved into our neighborhoods growing up we were always the first Latino family moving in. We were outsiders and experienced everything that came along with that. I identify so strongly with that part of "Ali’s" storyline.
4. What do audiences tell you at the stage door after seeing this show? Our stage door interactions have just been incredible. The conversations are different with this show. It’ not so much about how good you or the show are, but about thanking us for just telling this story. It’s so humbling. Two stories stick out:
I remember this one young woman approached me and told me she was Muslim and never realized how much her parents lives changed after 9/11. Her parents always made her feel that being pulled out of security lines was just normal growing up. She promised to bring her parents back to the show and she did. Her father said "Thank you for telling this story. We see ourselves in your show and we so rarely do."
I’ll never forget this one night though. This woman stopped me and said "This is my second time seeing this show and I would like to give this to you." She handed me what looked like a card. She had worked in 1 World Trade Center and survived that day. One of the fortunate people that got out. It was her ID from 1 World Trade Center. She said "I finally have a different story of that day in my head. Thank you."
These are the kinds of interactions that are happening. They are so beautiful.
5. In rehearsing for this show or during the run of the show so far, what has gone through your mind as you play out this real-life story? Every time I take a step back to really look at what’s happening I get overwhelmed. I am so deeply grateful to be chosen to tell this story. I feel a great responsibility to every person that we are playing. To honor them and to do them proud. For me, doing the concert in Gander was the most important part of our two year journey to Broadway. We did a concert version of this show for 5000 people, IN the actual town the show takes place. The real people that we play were there. To experience the pride this community had of having their story told. I’ll never forget it.
6. Because Come From Away is about events that took place on 9/11, is there something special the cast does together either before or after each performance? What is so beautiful about this cast is that our two year journey with this extraordinary show has made us into a solid family. We couldn't be more different than each other, yet there is a connection between us that I don’t think I’ll experience again. This show is so much about community that we simply take a good amount of time to connect with each other before the show. We’re usually at the theatre early and just spend time with each other. This kind of connection translates onstage. There is a flag from Gander that flew over the Town Hall that is now hanging Stage Left and we all get to see it before the show. A reminder of the real people that we are honoring and the real stories we are sharing. Also, half the cast starts the show on Stage Left and the other Stage Right. Each side has a special tradition that they do to kick off each show. But that’s secret. :)
7. How do you prepare yourself each night to tell this moving story? We are ALL IN with this show. So my days are focused around being ready for the performance. I take my health and fitness very seriously in order to do this. I’m very careful about what I eat and I workout regularly, especially boxing. My part of the dressing room is filled with things that remind me of our journey and of the people that are part of this show. The real life people, the audiences we have met along the way, the experiences we’ve had. I take about five minutes to myself to focus and right before I step onstage I say a little Thank You. It’s different every night but my Dad is always part of it. He would have loved this show and he would have especially loved the characters I play in it. I always thank him right before I step out on stage.
8. On Come From Away's website's it states "On September 11, 2001 the world stopped. On September 12, their stories moved us all." What is a story, not necessarily about 9/11, that has moved/changed you? Last night I left the stage door and a woman approached me and said "I’m 73 years old and I have never waited by the stage door. I need to thank you and your cast for telling this story. We need to be reminded these days that people are good and all we want to do is help each other out." She gave me a hug that I will not forget and walked away.
9. You say as an actor, you never know when the next gig is coming and it’s always a surprise. What is something that you love about this lifestyle, but at the same time you hate it, but the positive outweighs the negative? The uncertainty. I remember hearing Meryll Streep say on Inside the Actors Studio- “As an actor - I’m always wondering what the next job will be." And it’s true!! And this was Meryll Streep of all people!! The uncertainty can make you crazy if you let it. But then there's the flip-side. This is one of the few careers where your life can literally change over night. You’re feeling like all those years of hard work and jobs and momentum aren't getting you anywhere, and all of a sudden - Boom!, you are in one of the most amazing experiences of your life. Like Come From Away. Come From Away is absolutely one of the most amazing experiences of my life and it came out of nowhere.
10. I read that you live to inspire life, love, excitement, power and creativity. Well, I too live to inspire. On "Call Me Adam" I have a section called One Percent Better, where through my own fitness commitment, I try to encourage people to improve their own life by one percent every day. What is something in your life that you want to improve by one percent better every day? Kindness. Living in NYC can be overwhelming. Just walking down the sidewalk. Thousands of people that refuse to look at each other. But have you noticed what happens when you just take a second to smile at someone? And if you take another extra moment to be kind in some way. To acknowledge someone or to help a stranger. You can physically feel the effect kindness has. It completely changes the energy. And other people notice it too. I try to simply be a kinder person. And it has a beautiful ripple effect. Be 1% kinder in your daily life and watch how your life can change.
Broadway: Sister Act, The Pee Wee Herman Show. Select Off-Broadway: Love's Labour's Lost (Delacorte Theater), Shakespeare's R&J, Bernstein's Mass (Carnegie Hall). Credits include leading roles in Film, TV, Off-Broadway and Regional Theatre Companies including The Public Theatre, Yale Rep, La Jolla Playhouse, Goodspeed Musicals, and Tectonic Theater Project. Caesar has also appeared as a soloist at Carnegie Hall, Kennedy Center and various national and international concert tours. BFA, Ithaca College.