Fordham Theatre Explores Family Dynamics in “How To Light A Fire”


In the studio production, “How To Light A Fire,” director and writer Calla Smith, Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) ’16, introduces audiences to three estranged sisters, Naomi, Tatum and Alicia, who unite at a campsite their family used to go to when they were kids. From Feb. 19-21 in the White Box Theater, audiences will hear the secrets of these three sisters, whose love and loyalty to their family is put on trial.

Performances of "How To Light A Fire" start on Thursday, February 19th. (Jessica Hanley/ The Observer)
Performances of “How To Light A Fire” start on Thursday, February 19th. (Jessica Hanley/ The Observer)

“How To Light A Fire” explores themes of grief, secrets and shared trauma. According to Smith, the disenfranchised anguish the sisters must deal with when the tragedy of losing a parent is overshadowed by the public speculation and external accounts. Smith said, “How can you grieve what others celebrate? How do you cope with a loss that your community forbids you from feeling? That you forbid yourself from feeling?”

“We hold onto secrets out of fear, shame, expectation and obligation. But what is the toll the weight of these secrets take on us? What does it take for us to give them up? And when we do, does the weight lift or simply take on new forms?” Smith said.

Smith further explains, “The three characters in this play are sisters, and they are the only ones in the world that understand each others trauma. This is because it is a shared trauma.”

Smith recalls her inspiration for the script. Although different from her own life, the characters are based off people she’s encountered.

As evidenced in the play, Smith particularly enjoys writing about family dynamics. “There are endless ways families can exist, endless ways families fight and endless ways families love. As a writer, a family offers a veritable goldmine of conflict, humor, personalities and drama,” she said.

In this particular play, the dynamic of the sisters compromises of the family. Smith said, “These three women are entirely different and utterly similar at the same time. They have different personalities, worldviews, experiences and sexualities. But they are also all products of the same family, the same house, the same trauma. And they are all in one space on the eve of what is arguably the most difficult morning of their lives.”

The idea of shared trauma amongst family members and close friends is something Smith feels the audience may be able to relate to. She said, “It rests deep in the base of our spine, cozied up to the fight-or-flight response. There is a comfort in this; they speak the same language, they know the same hurt. In the case of the three sisters, they are like opposing magnetic forces: that intense, invisible barrier that stops them from connecting every time.”

For Smith, her interest in theater and script writing lies the union of various forces. “I love theater because it is a collaboration from start to finish. In the rehearsal room, the actors collaborate with my text to make these characters come to life,” she said.

More so, her love for script writing reaches beyond the thrill being the mastermind behind the production and resonates in her ability to agenda set. “Each audience member can be touched in a different way, connect with something different. And that’s so beautiful—I couldn’t possibly control what people take away from it. Theater is a collaborative experience and the audience has as much agency as anyone else. All I can hope is that the audience can find meaning in it—whatever that may be for the individual. Good theater asks questions and provokes conversation.”


How To Light A Fire
White Box Studio Theater, FCLC
Thursday, Feb. 19-21
7:30 p.m.
Admission is free, but reservation required. Please email [email protected] with Name, Date, and number of tickets reserved.