The “Yes” or “No” Question That Changed My Life

By: Reem Alsayyah (Lab Fellow 2017–2018)

If somebody asked me three years ago if I would like to be part of a play, my answer definitely would have been “No.” But I was lucky enough to have a person in my life who could say “Yes” instead of “No” on my behalf without even asking me. That person was my mother.

That “Yes” or “No” question has changed my life so dramatically. Joining Syria: The Trojan Women Project was a matter of destiny for me, and now, and after three years, I defiantly say “Yes.”

Reem Alsayyah performs in THE QUEENS OF SYRIA on London’s West End

Syria: The Trojan Women Project was looking to expose normal Syrian women living as refugees in Jordan to drama workshops, and to help prepare them to perform on stage.

The project centered around The Trojan Women, an ancient play by Euripides, and created a new version told by Syrian refugee women, sharing their own stories about war. (The Lab was supposed to present the play at Georgetown in the fall of 2014, but the entire cast was denied visas.) None of the women had ever acted before (including me, of course), or had a background in theater.

The Lab’s virtual discussion with the actresses of SYRIA: TROJAN WOMEN after visas were denied (2016)

This uncertainty was why I was really afraid to continue, and the newness sparked another series of “Yes” or “No” questions. Are you brave enough to continue? Can you take the risk? Would you have the courage to be on stage, and furthermore tell your own story — a story about your experience with something called WAR?

War may be just a word, but it’s the only thing that has no meaning. When someone shares their war experience, my heart hurts. It’s something you can’t share, because it’s so painful, and it’s not easy to speak about. Even when it’s become just a memory, that makes the challenge even more difficult.

Performance of SYRIA: TROJAN WOMEN

But during the workshops, I saw how there were women like me, speaking about how they lost their father, brother, or son, lost their homeland, and a part of their souls with the smoke of their burned houses while they were leaving and saying their farewells. They spoke about how it feels to be that person, as we listened to each others’ misery.

All that gave me more courage, and my initial hesitancy became a strong “Yes.” Yes, I wanted to speak. I wanted to speak about them, me, and you — we, the humans of this planet. After this amazing project, and the powerful performance, I was so happy I said “Yes”, and so happy I did it.

Unfortunately, the most pitiful thing, after more than three years of doing the performance, the war is still there. It keeps on killing people, it keeps on making homeless and refugees, and the world is still watching — pretending that they can’t stop it.

However, although it’s been more than three years since I did the first performance, I still have hope, and I won’t lose hope.

Reem Alsayyah was born in Damascus, Syria as the third of eight children. She studied networking engineering at the University, and in 2012, with only three exams left until graduation, Reem was forced to flee Damascus and was unable to complete her degree. The War in Syria forced Reem and her family to cross the border into Jordan and to take on a new name: “refugee”. In Amman, she worked as a secretary and an interpreter. She also volunteered at UNICEF and on many projects supporting refugees (primarily children and women). Her first experience in theater was when she participated the workshop and performance of Syria: The Trojan Women. Although the cast was denied visas to perform at Georgetown University and Columbia University in 2014, she still participated and shared her story via Skype from Amman. The cast has performed the play in Switzerland and the UK (under its new name The Queens of Syria) in a critically-celebrated tour that included stops at the Young Vic and Edinburgh, and she has had the opportunity to share how the war impacted her life with thousands of audience members. She served as the lead coordinator for an Arabic version of Oliver by Lionel Bart, performed by children refugees from Syria, Iraq, Jordan, and Palestine. Currently, Reem is studying BIT online at Amity University in the United Kingdom after receiving a scholarship from the European Union and British Council, and hopes to continue to work with refugee children in theater.

Reem Alsayyah is one of ten Lab Fellows, selected in the spring of 2017. Read more about the Lab Fellows program here.