The Echo Interview with Astrid Van Wieren

The Echo Interview with Astrid Van Wieren

Jack Pasquale

What follows below is an exclusive interview with The Echo and Ms. Van Wieren.  Astrid Van Wieren has starred as Beulah in the Broadway hit musical Come From Away since it opened in 2017. The character is a composite of Gander, Newfoundland’s Beulah Cooper and Diane Davis. You can still catch Come From Away, which has now logged over 1,500 live performances, through October 2 or stream it on Apple TV+. 

On September 11, 2001, at 9:26 a.m. the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) took the unprecedented action of closing the airspace for all flights following attacks on U.S. soil. As a result, more than 4,000 planes were forced to immediately land at airports that were not their planned destinations regardless of the location. The airspace closure was a central part of efforts being made to prevent further tragedies. 

The heart pounding, non-stop, award winning Come From Away beautifully recounts the combined story of 7,000 of those stranded passengers and the small town of Gander, Newfoundland that welcomed them with open arms and many hugs. Despite the uncertainty of the situation and high tension, the people of Gander put their own lives on hold and did whatever they could to welcome the stranded passengers into their homes and lives building lasting bonds. 


How did you land such an amazing role? 

I landed the role of Beulah through an audition. I knew both of the writers – they’re a husband and wife team – David Hein and Irene Karl-Sankoff. And I got to audition because I did the very first show they wrote. So that is how I landed the role. 


You have a beautiful voice! Did you take classical voice lessons?

I never took classical voice lessons but I have had voice teachers when I was in theater school in in Toronto. I had a wonderful teacher there. And sometimes I will study with people to brush up on things. Now that the show is actually over I have some time to take some more voice lessons and I’m going to ask my friends in the cast who are their favorite voice teachers and maybe take a few voice lessons with them. One can always learn something new and I could use some new material for auditions. 


How has your role of Beulah changed since you started back in 2017? 

The role of Beulah has changed from the first time we looked at the piece in California but also hasn’t changed. The joke has always been the same pretty much since the beginning. The show has had different opening numbers. And until we got to Toronto we did not have a song for Hannah about missing and worrying about her son while in Gander. So, that is probably one of the big changes in the show. 


How has playing the role of Beulah impacted your outlook on life and priorities? 

Playing Beulah has really changed my life. I’ve always wanted to honor the Newfoundlanders, who stepped up and took care of everybody during those days following 9/11 and the tragedy in New York. And so I wanted to be a better person and of service in the world. I hope that is something that has changed in me that I’m looking for more ways to be kind and present – especially with my friends and also with strangers – but just to try to be a more loving person. So, I think that is how it has really changed me. And the gift of the show is truly that it is a gift that keeps on giving. I meet amazing people. I’ve meet some people from Argentina and have now been there two times to visit with them. And we’ve done a concert in Gander for the people who were involved helping everyone.  


The cast of Come From Away seem to all get along and enjoy being with each other. There is clear chemistry. How many of the other actors and actresses have been with you since 2017?

Thank you for noticing that we have a good chemistry together! I appreciate you recognizing that. There are still a few original people that have been with the show from the very beginning when we did it in California in 2014 or 2015. The company is very welcoming of new people and new voices. That’s what keeps the show fresh as well. We also recognize that it’s hard to come into a new space were people all know each other. It’s kind of like high shool where there are different groups but we really try to be loving and present. That is what makes the show better – if we all get along because we have to take care of each other out there.


The cast of Come From Away is so versatile, with each person also doing other roles. What is your favorite role to play after Beulah? 

My favorite role to play after Beulah is Delores – and no one calls her Delores. Delores is the woman on the plane who freaks out a bit because she is claustrophobic and who also sings the theme from Titanic – the Near/Far song. That is a lot of fun to play. Also because of her journey. Nobody really seems to like her on the first plane. She’s irritating everybody but then at the end she’s singing karaoke and everybody is kind of singing along. So, it is a nice little touchstone. She was not necessarily a bad person just a person having a really awful, scary day. And then she is kind of embraced by everyone. So, it is fun to play Delores. 


What is your favorite song from Come From Away? 

My favorite song from Come From Away always changes. And because I’ve been with the show for almost 7 years I would say it changes a lot. But right now my favorite song is Somewhere in the Middle of Nowhere. I kind of like the way the melodies work and I also like the idea of life is a lot of change and you have to be where you are. Somewhere in the middle of nowhere you found your heart but you left a part of you behind is part of the lyric. And that also speaks to this part of the experience all the Come From Aways had in Newfoundland and how they were taken care of. I love that song. Sometimes I love the prayer song as well – I think the prayer of St. Francis of Asisi – make me a channel of your peace – is a beautiful idea. So, I really love that song as well and how all the different voices and different faiths and different people are singing along but all want the same thing – they all want peace and they want people to be kind to each other. I really like that idea. I also really, really love the very last number with just the band. I think the music is so fun. And the musicians are so brilliant and amazing. It is a very exciting number. 


Where were you on 9/11? 

I was in Toronto. I had just flown out of Boston and woke up to the news as many people did. I was in Toronto with my partner at the time, John. It was a very, very, very scary day. As one of the characters in our plays says, they thought it was the beginning of World War III. It was very, very frightening for everyone and very, very scary. 


How did your personal experiences influence your portrayal of Beulah?

I love people and Beulah loves people. So, I really enjoyed having those moments where she is trying to take care of everyone and she is a little bit into everybody’s business – which is like me too. I am always poking my nose into my friends’ business – like what is going on with them and trying to be someone they can lean on. And I love jokes and Beulah loves jokes. I enjoy being silly and I think she enjoys being silly as well and tries to lift people’s spirits. And I am like that as well.  


What do you plan to do for your next act?

I’m really not sure what I’m going to do next but I hope it involves a lot of theater and new shows and new stories. I will post it on Instagram when I get another role and I have something to do  and I will be so thrilled to do it. But I think I’m going to take a little break – maybe just see a lot of shows myself and visit some friends and just rest.


What is the most helpful advice you were ever given and who gave it to you?

I just recently got some advice from a mentor of mine – Roberta Maxwell – she’s a beautiful actress and I’ve always loved seeing anything she’s been in. And I still hope to work with her someday but I think she just turned 80, which doesn’t mean she won’t still be working but she’s kind of slowing down a bit. She said to just be myself and that I have a lot of charisma, which I thought was lovely, and to trust that. And that’s actually advice I usually give people – to be themselves; to be prepared for auditions but also to bring what they have; bring what is unique about them into the room because that is what we have to offer the world – what we have in our experiences and our talents and abilities. 


What advice would you give to aspiring high school Broadway performers?

I would advise that people, like my friend told me, be themselves and that that’s enough and to trust that’s enough – and to work hard on all the basics – on the singing, on the dancing, scene study classes; take it very seriously but also have a very balanced life. Be happy. Find joy in friends and not be so career driven that you don’t enjoy your life.  


The Facts:

Location: Gerald Schoenfeld Theater, Broadway 

Running Time: 100 minutes with no intermission 

Ticket Price Range: $49-$199