“There’s a Fire” shines light on issues of racial discrimation and identity


Margot Durfee and Chau Nguyen

The lights dimmed and the audience went silent. A procession of people dressed in black slowly descended the center stairs of the library. Faces glowed in the light of the flickering candles they held while the mission of Labels Off! was announced through the overhead speakers. Soon after, the cast cleared, leaving five students sitting casually on the steps discussing issues that are not so casual. One actor pointed out how some of her peers feel a need to comment on how “exotic” her lunches appear. Other students noted the discrimination against people by ethnicity: one does not have to have different skin color to get singled out. 

“There’s a Fire” is another impressive production of the Wilson student-led theater production Labels Off!, which aims to provide greater representation of minority students and their narratives in theater. The show creatively used the unconventional library space to accommodate a collection of skits, songs, dances, and videos, all interwoven with the theme of what it means to be a person of color in America. 

It was evident that each part of the production, from the thematic progression of the performances to the smaller (but equally important) details of lighting and sound effect, were products of weeks of effort and planning. 

Each segment, while only a few minutes long, addressed deeply personal and vulnerable experiences that were performed with a level of emotional sincerity and rawness that resonated with the audience. In “Unsent Letter from your American Daughter,” Vanessa Ramon-Ibarra stood in front of a microphone and, with a quaver in her voice, addressed undocumented mothers: “Mom, you’re not illegal, you’re not an alien, not a border crosser, you are human,” she said. “I am tired, I am scared, and I am angry—and I’ll continue to be until you can live your American dream.” A few seconds passed in silence. Some audience members wept, others stared at the floor, deep in thought. 

One notable feature of the play is that it was not written in chronological order, but rather a series of performances that jumped back and forth in time, reflecting on history and its impact on modern lives. This is when the use of technology comes in handy—a memorable speech of Martin Luther King Jr. was presented on the ceiling, highlighting the need for nonviolent resistance and a vivid future for people of color in the U.S. This marked a shift in tone from the anger and frustration in earlier segments to a heightened realization of the power and responsibility each individual has to make the world a more equal and accepting place. Acts like senior Maya Eng-Garcia’s beautiful performance of “Rise Up” by Andra Day, and senior 7 Tackes’ dance to the song “Praying and Believing” by Erica and Warry Campbell, in which his character realizes the extent of his white privilege, help advance this ultimate sense of hope and responsibility each person has. 

Fire casts a light on issues and experiences that have long been ignored. Labels Off’s “There’s a Fire” is so important because it was not only an opportunity for many students who may have never performed to show-off their talent, but it directly addressed topics of racial inequality and discrimination in a way that has not traditionally happened at Wilson or in our country as a whole. After an empowering performance of Arlissa Ruppert’s “We Won’t Move” by the whole cast, members handed out small candles to audience members with the final words, “Now we have given you the fire, what will you do with it?”