To say that the musical “Come From Away” is a phenomenon is an understatement. From record-breaking engagements on Broadway to shows in Toronto, Melbourne, London, Dublin, Shanghai and Sydney, the musical about the Newfoundland towns that pulled together to show kindness and compassion to displaced airline passengers during 9/11 has taken the world by storm and inspired many. The hit musical is also the inspiration behind Business & Art NL’s #ComePlayWithMeNL public piano at Gander International Airport.
This very special instrument was unveiled on December 12 and is sponsored by Come From Away Broadway (the show’s own Petrina Bromley was also on hand during the event to perform a few tunes). Painted by artist Jennifer Young, the piano encapsulates the spirit of the musical, featuring the colours of the production’s set design and the musical instruments that help bring the foot-stomping story to life. This week, we chat with the artist about how the design came together and how she conquered creative challenges along the way.
Business & Arts NL: Come From Away has taken the world by storm and it’s quite a high-profile production. Were there any nervous feelings on your end with taking this project on, and were there any challenges you faced with regards to nailing down the concept for the piano design?
Jennifer Young: The call asked for the painting to reflect the show and the production. To me, the idea of making it look like the set was the obvious approach. The set used on Broadway and all the productions that have happened in various cities are very similar. The look and feel, as well as functionality of the set, is deceptively simple: the backdrop like the rough wood siding on a shed or fishing stage, the simple use of mismatched furniture, and the use of traditional instruments (it is a musical after all).
Business & Arts NL: Were the any other ideas you entertained, and did the final design come out the way you had pictured it?
JY: I never had any other ideas for the design – to reflect the set is to reflect the essence of the show.
There were some differences between my original concept design drawing and the final product, mostly the result of the actual piano I was given to paint. The donated piano was a very delicate, small instrument which did not have the same “square footage” of paneling that I was expecting (based on other Business & Arts NL pianos), so I had to move some of the images around to accommodate the ideas. In the end it worked out very well and gave me wonderful platform to be creative.
Business & Arts NL: What’s your favourite aspect of the design?
JY: Creating the wood siding effect with paint was a wonderful challenge and I really enjoyed painting the various instruments, including the ugly stick.
Business & Arts NL: What was the most gratifying part of this project for you?
JY: Feeling I was part of the story. I painted the piano backstage at the Gander Arts & Culture Centre and over the week I got to meet and know the staff of the centre, all of whom were in Gander during the 9/11 crisis. I got to hear firsthand some wonderful personal stories of how each of them had contributed and been affected by the events of that week. The launch was also very special. Meeting Petrina, hearing about the importance of the show and how much it has meant to all the people of Gander – I felt so privileged to have been a part of capturing that feeling.
Business & Arts NL: If there’s anything else you’d like to mention, please feel free!
JY: I had had some involvement and seen the public piano project from the other side, but to actually be the artist in the middle of the corporate and community partners was fascinating. I was very conscious throughout the process that I had multiple “clients.” I was not just an artist hired to do a painting. I was there to bring several visions and ideas to life and I needed to make sure I kept all the partners’ requirements in mind as I created.