By Jillian Schranz
With over 16 years producing peer-to-peer fundraising events, #eventlife is in my blood. And sometimes, that experience bleeds over into how I view entertainment. Last year, I wrote a blog about Home Alone and how young Kevin McCallister probably grew up to be an event professional. And my recent trip to Broadway left me with that same impression.
My two tweenagers love musical theater more than anything, and after two years of lockdowns, e-learning, and just overall pandemic blahs, we decided to take them to see a real Broadway musical: Come From Away. If you’re not familiar with this show, it’s an incredible story based on real events that happened on 9/11, but not in NYC. The plot revolves around a small town in Newfoundland called Gander where 38 planes full of people from around the world were routed on 9/11 when all planes in the US were grounded. A beautiful story unfolds (but stop reading now if you want to avoid any plot and character details).
As an event professional, every project regardless of the location, the organization we’re partnering with, or the activity type, requires some consistent elements: a plan, solid logistics, participant support and teamwork. Watching the show, it was as though event day arrived in Gander with absolutely no notice — no months of strategy, planning, preparations, or training. And as the days unfolded, it was clear the residents of Gander would make great event professionals.
Communications: Every good plan takes communication. From the moment residents hear the news of 38 planes arriving at the airport in their small town, they assemble to address the incoming problem, put their local struggles aside, and divvy up responsibilities to address the needs of the thousands of incoming visitors. Where on-event we use radios, or texting, these residents resorted to regular phones and television for their news and communication. Where we have detailed project plans with tasks assigned based on weeks out from event, this town had one kickoff, then go! “In the winter from the water in the wind, if a stranger ends up at your door…you get on the horn!”
Logistics: One of my favorite numbers from the show is Blankets and Bedding, where the characters go through the logistics of supporting thousands of visitors in a rapid montage of phone calls and meetings: deciding how many plane passengers can be sent to local homes, schools, and churches for shelter, acquiring toothbrushes, deodorant and other basic care needs from the local store, connecting with the pharmacy to fill emergency prescriptions, and making food — enough to feed all of those who have come from away. The energy of the number as they prepared for the “plane people” to unload, just felt like the day before an event — it’s hard to describe, but if you’ve been on-site with a fantastic team, you’ll know what I mean.
Participant Support. After about the first third of the numbers, passengers are unloaded from the bus and there’s a shift in the energy of the show during the number “Lead Us Out of the Night”. This shift mirrored how we, as event professionals, shift our attention from the planning and the event setup, and the last-minute dressing to the quiet of event morning when we first arrive on site (usually in the dark) and then, it’s all about our participants. The residents of Gander provided televisions for passengers to learn about the events that took place on the morning of 9/11, phones and internet for passengers to connect with their families, and crisis counselors to help them process the news. While our participant support often looks more like celebration, gratitude, and engagement than the specific emergency support that unfolds in the show, I was struck how the Gander residents focused on truly caring for the passengers, ensuring they felt supported and their needs were met. That passion and genuine care is something I see in my team on every event.
Teamwork: Sometimes, the most critical piece of an event is not what the event is, but who you’re in the trenches with. I’ve staffed so many events in my career and even the best laid plans come with unexpected surprises, sometimes late nights, last minute errands, and more. Is there anything more bonding than the stories that come out of events that went just a little sideways? The incredible amount of teamwork required to navigate the historic event portrayed in the show was truly awesome. And the spirit of the Gander residents (the Newfoundlanders), the “make it work” attitude, felt familiar to countless event teams I’ve had the opportunity to work with over the years (not to mention the work hard/play hard spirit displayed in the later half of the show in the neighborhood bar). “You’ll be a Newfoundlander!”
If you’ve made it this far, thanks for letting me share my thoughts on an incredible show through the lens of an event pro. If you have Apple TV, I’d definitely recommend streaming the pro shot of the production. If “Fyre Fest” was an event professional’s stress dream, this show has the opposite impact — it was truly inspirational.
Jillian has worn many hats at Event 360 in the past 15 years — from fundraising coach to project manager, to event IT support. She knows our work and our team inside and out. In her current role as Director of Business Development, she can perfectly partner our clients with the services they need and ensure our team delivers flawless event experiences that yield happy participants and stellar results.