come from away toronto

Actor who starred in Come From Away shares what life has been like since it shut down

For actor Steffi DiDomenicantonio, performing in the critically-acclaimed Canadian musical Come From Away at Toronto's Royal Alexandra Theatre six days a week was a dream come true. 

DiDomenicantonio played the role of young Rogers TV reporter Janice Mosher in Toronto's production of the Tony-award-winning musical — which tells the true story of the Newfoundland town that welcomed 7,000 airplane passengers whose planes were diverted to the Gander airport on Sept. 11, 2001 — before it shut down last March.

"Honest to god, it's not a part that I thought I was going to play so when the call came in... I really couldn't believe it. It was one of those life-changing phone calls. I could've never known what would ensue after that," DiDomenicantonio tells blogTO.

"The show had such an amazing impact that every night, hearing people clapping and leaping to their feet and sniffling and crying… honestly it's kind of unlike any theatrical experience I've had in my career so far."

The musical was an instant hit in Toronto, constantly selling out and eventually extending its stay in the city indefinitely. 

And with a gruelling schedule of eight performances a week, DiDomenicantonio stood on stage as Janice a total of 850 times — unknowingly completing her final performance on Friday, March 13, 2020.

"I just remember the show that night was really weird. We're usually basically sold out," she says. "That night it was really eery. There were a lot of seats that were empty. We went out there and still did the show, but it kinda felt like something was weird or off or strange."

The next day, the actor received a text message from the show's stage manager saying they'd be taking a hiatus for a month. 

Initially excited at the prospect of actually having some free time, DiDomenicantonio figured she'd catch up on some household chores and be back on stage within weeks.

But eventually, she says, it became clear that theatres wouldn't be reopening anytime soon.

"That's when the existential crisis settled in. I wondered, is theatre ever coming back?" she says. "Having that taken away felt really strange. It felt like being ripped away from something that was so much a part of who I was. It was kind of devastating."

Like so many of those who are unbelievably passionate about what they do, DiDomenicantonio says theatre was so much a part of her identity that she wasn't quite sure who she was without it. And whether she liked it or not, the pandemic pushed her to find out.

It also forced her to get creative. 

A couple of months after theatres shut down, DiDomenicantonio and stage manager Lisa Humber started having weekly zoom meetings to brainstorm ways to keep creating during these times, and they eventually came up with the idea for Check In From Away.

"It was such a saving grace," she says. "Check In From Away saved my pandemic. It was a way for me and Lisa, personally and selfishly, to stay connected to theatre."

The video chat show that checks in with theatre professionals of all kinds first aired in Mirvish's online magazine Meanwhile last May, and DiDomenicantonio says they've since completed 26 episodes, spoken with more than 90 guests and are now into their second season.

"It's really allowed me to stay connected and keep theatre alive," she says, adding that the community aspect of live theatre is one of the things she missed most when it shut down. "It was such a gift to be able to do that."

DiDomenicantonio has also been lucky enough to land some gigs in the film and television industry recently, including roles on Frankie Drake MysteriesWorkin' Moms and a new Christmas movie called Mistletoe and Molly

While live theatre remains her first love, the actor says she's eternally grateful that the film and TV industry has found a way to keep operating safely.

"I've gotten a lot of swabs up my nose," she jokes. "It is a huge feat that they've been able to figure this out."

Mirvish promises that Come From Away will resume performances in Toronto as soon as it's safe to do so, and DiDomenicantonio says she can't wait to be back on stage playing Janice as soon as possible — though she admits she's been having nightmares and waking up in a cold sweat over fears of not remembering her lines.

But while it remains to be seen what the return of live theatre will even look like, the actor says she feels confident that the industry will survive this difficult period and hopefully come out even stronger than before.

"I know that we will find a way. Theatre has survived this many years, I know that it can survive this too," she says."My hopes and dreams say that I think people are going to want to share in these stories and these experiences again."

The Australian production of Come From Away resumed performances back in January, and though audience members are required to be masked and theatres have reduced capacity limits, DiDomenicantonio says this gives her hope for the future of theatre in Toronto.

"I feel like I've been lucky during this time in that I've been able to create a web series and work in film and TV and do some really nice things… but I also just need to acknowledge that not everybody had it easy like me. Even though losing theatre kind of destroyed me in a lot of ways, I can be patient until it's time," she says.

"I hope, safely, we can all get back to doing the things we love to do… I know we will be able to find joy again in life and the things that we love that we've lost."

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