Coming back from being away

Zoe Gertz as Beverley Bass in Come From Away. Image: Come From Away Australia/Facebook.

It had a spectacular opening night in Sydney, but Come From Away barely reached cruising altitude before it was forced to land and return to the terminal. Cast member Zoe Gertz speaks to The Sentinel about her turbulent ride as the show taxis back to the runway. 

“We’d only been open for two weeks!” says Zoe Gertz, who plays pivotal character Beverley Bass, among other characters in Come From Away. “I had just flown to Canberra to advertise our Canberra season and flown back, and it was only a couple of days later that we were in lockdown, which you know, at first, was extremely disheartening.”

Gertz and the rest of the cast and crew didn’t really expect the lockdown to last more than a few days. They’d already experienced short lockdowns in Melbourne and Brisbane. But Sydney ended up being in lockdown limbo for many long months. 

“I think the thing that just got me through was a sense of gratitude over this time, because I’m acutely aware that – especially in our industry – over those few months there have been so many people who have had their shows cancelled completely,” says Gertz. 

Zoe Gertz. Image: supplied.

She and the cast had been assured the musical would definitely return and she would still have the same role. It was, of course, a great relief, though it did put Gertz effectively in a holding pattern in terms of work and life. 

“I’ve been very aware that I couldn’t just sit around and lose all of my show fitness over this time either because things happen quickly,” says Gertz. “Suddenly, it’s like, ‘Oh we’re coming out of lockdown,’ and you go, ‘Oh gosh – I hope I can still do the thing I get paid to do!’”

The thing Gertz gets paid to do in the show is sing, dance and act virtually non-stop for around 100 minutes with no intermission. To keep match fit she’s been going on long runs regularly, something that has also helped her mental health. 

Her morale has been sustained by the frequent messages she receives from people in the aviation industry telling her what the show has meant to them. She even had a couple of furloughed flight attendants say they were listening to the soundtrack while packing boxes in a warehouse.

The ensemble cast in the Melbourne season of Come From Away. Photo: Jeff Busby/supplied.

Come From Away had its Australian premiere in mid-2019, which means many of the shows have been performed under pandemic conditions, that is, to a mask-wearing audience with socially distanced seating. 

“You know, when we opened in Melbourne, it was a bit of a shock to the system because so much of our show is direct address to the audience, so not being able to see people’s faces and how they were reacting and just kind of having to trust that they were having a good time,” says Gertz. “And even things like laughter and stuff is slightly muted by the masks.”

Then, whenever mask mandates were relaxed, Gertz found it confronting to see bare-faced people. 

Empty seats, on the other hand, don’t bother her as much. She feels it somehow adds to the intimacy of the show. 

Gertz is one of only four original cast members who have been with the show since the beginning. (The others are Emma Powell, Katrina Retallick, and Doug Hansell.)

“So I’ve actually kind of had to learn to let go of what I thought I knew because I’m about to walk into a rehearsal room with a whole bunch of other talented actors who are telling the same story but they’re going to be very different and make different offers to me that I have to respond to,” she says. 

“It’s a big changeover but that’s a good thing, it can inject a great new energy into a company and lots of excitement, so I’m looking forward to seeing what these fantastic new people do.”

And so is Sydney. 

Come From Away opens at the Capitol Theatre, Sydney on Wednesday, 20 October. For information and bookings visit: comefromaway.com.au.

Rita Bratovich is the arts and entertainment editor of the Sydney Sentinel.

See our detailed coverage of Come From Away here: Come From Away will renew your faith in human kindness