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 UNISEF 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.
For most of us, anger is a negative feeling that can make us feel guilty for experiencing it. We can get crazy, hurt people we love, and even say things we do not mean if we let anger control us.
But for me anger is a power, one we can harness and transform into an action to fight for change.
When the war started in Syria, I was afraid, very afraid. Even after my family and I left Syria, the escalating violence turned that fear into anxiety. I had persistent nightmares about going back; there was always something chasing me in my dreams. I always wanted to run away.
Weeks and months passed. I remember watching Syria on the news—more victims, an even bigger refugees crisis. The whole world was sinking in a dark sea of shame and silence. My anxiety became anger. I was very, very angry. I wanted to scream and shout; I wanted to shake this world. But in the same moment, I felt so weak and helpless.
All of that suffering tore my soul into pieces and I began to feel my anxiety take a hold of me. The media showed press conferences, protests, and demonstrations to welcome refugees and also to keep them out. Politicians would lie as crowds cheered for their slogans. But nothing was actually changing, except for the anger that kept growing inside of me.
I had to extinguish the fire raging inside of me. And driven by that anger, I participated in my first play. Theatre was an odd idea, but the feeling was so great. To know that I did something by standing on that stage, telling my story, was a powerful realization. A tiny play comprising only Syrian women could not change anything, but it helped me. I felt that these stories were mine—in every detail and through every tear.
The next time I performed I was still a refugee and the situation in Syria had only worsened. But I was not worried. I was excited. I knew what to do when the director asked me to speak about my family. I said that theater is not for entertainment; I had a message to communicate to the audience. My message was anger.
I will not forget how it felt when I stood in front of the audience and shouted my anger in their faces. At that exact moment I knew what the theater and art can do; it helped me to use my anger and transformed it into action. It has changed me forever, and for sure it can change others.