Scott Strain thought, why can’t Walnut Creek do that, too? The actor, producer and board member of Walnut Creek’s Contra Costa Musical Theatre had just heard on the radio about a group of Belgian digital arts students stranded for more than a week in San Francisco following the eruption of the volcano in Iceland. The students were among millions of airline passengers around the world whose flights were put on hold after authorities closed European airspace once the volcano began erupting April 14.
Strain immediately remembered the story of the small town of Gander, Newfoundland, which became the refuge for passengers of trans-Atlantic flights grounded for up to a week immediately following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The residents of that small town played host to the nearly 7,000 stranded passengers, gave them places to stay, clothes to wear, and food to eat.
Strain’s idea was something a little different. He thought of how CCMT and other Walnut Creek arts leaders could offer these students “a true slice of Americana” in the form of a visit to Walnut Creek and a performance of CCMT’s most recent production, that all-American musical Oklahoma!
The students were excited by the invitation. They had been stuck in the hostel with only a little money for food and not much money to do much else in San Francisco."They were here an extra nine days after they were supposed to go home, and they had no money to go out and do anything. They were buying food and cooking it in their hostel."
CCMT worked with the Diablo Regional Arts Association, the fundraising arm of the Lesher Center for the Arts, to bring the students to Walnut Creek this past Friday for an evening’s performance of Oklahoma!. DRAA arranged for a charter bus to transport the students to and from San Francisco.
Kris Bonfil, one of DRAA’s restaurant partners, took the students, 20- and 21-year-olds, on a tour of downtown Walnut Creek. Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse prepared them a “sumptuous” filet mignon and shrimp dinner in the banquet room, Bonfil said. After dinner, the students enjoyed coffee at Saxby’s Coffee Co., before the performance of Oklahoma.
“They were all seated together in the theater,” Bonfil said. “They had never seen a musical show before.” The cast, choreographer, and director came out after the performance to meet with them, Bonfil added.
The students managed to get on a flight to Antwerp the following Saturday afternoon. They were very appreciative of their visit to Walnut Creek. “It was beautiful,” said Bonfil.