Featured Alumna: Sylvia Khoury '08

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Photo by Isaak Berliner, Courtes

Sylvia Khoury '08 (left) and Anne Hamilton (right) pinning Sylvia's play program to the wall at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center. Courtesy of Sylvia Khoury

With a French mother and a Lebanese father, Sacred Heart Greenwich alumna Ms. Sylvia Khoury ‘08 found herself at the intersection of cultures, languages, and political issues. Drawing from her personal experiences, Sylvia chose to take her global narrative to the theater.
As a fifth grader at Sacred Heart, Sylvia had already written her first script.
“I had co-written a play with a bunch of friends at Sacred Heart which was essentially an elaborate Agatha Christie rip-off. We had been going off to rehearse in the auditorium by ourselves during study hall,” Sylvia said. “When the teachers found out, we didn’t get in trouble. Instead, they would just assign someone to come chaperone us while we rehearsed. A lot of teachers came to our final performance.” 

Ms. Sylvia Khoury ’08 (left) and Ms. Anne Hamilton (right) pinning Sylvia’s play program to the wall at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center.
Courtesy of Ms. Sylvia Khoury ’08

In high school, Sylvia was not involved in the theatre program but was an avid member of the forensics team. As co-captain, she utilizeforensics to consider the ways in which the United States’ policies and actions have an influence overseas.
At Columbia University, Sylvia continued this interest through her major: Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies. Her favorite classes from college include “Philosophy of Art,” “Sufism,” “Hebrew,” “Arabic,” and a course about Virginia Woolf. In addition, she started a multilingual literary magazine titled Babel, which she modeled after the Sacred Heart literary magazine Voices
Sylvia first joined the theater community through a college organization called the Columbia University Players, the main theater group on campus. She wrote a short play during her junior year, and then directed a modern take on Sakuntala and the Ring of Recollection during her senior year.
While an undergraduate, she also held an internship at the Permanent Mission of Lebanon to the United Nations (UN). She conducted research for several high-level committees, edited diplomats’ speeches, and prepared position papers.
“Being at the UN was an incredible experience. I got to see firsthand how a mission works on a day-to-day level, and had the chance to participate in meetings in the main building,” Sylvia said.
After graduating from Columbia, Sylvia decided to pursue a Masters in Fine Arts at The New School. Deferring her medical school acceptance to the Icahn School of Medicine, she dedicated three years to truly learning the art of playwriting.
“Playwriting is a kind of science in itself. It has rules, structure and contours,” Sylvia said. “I think people have this idea of theater as being less serious somehow, but those three years were spent struggling to master a very specific form.”
Today, most of Sylvia’s plays draw on her Middle Eastern background and her study of foreign affairs. Her most recent plays are tilted Against the Hillside, Selling Kabul, and The Place Where Women Go.
Paul Karle (left) and Liam Broadhurst (right) acting in Sylvia’s play An Inferno at the New School in May 2015.
Courtesy of Ms. Sylvia Khoury ’08

Against the Hillside shifts between the dual narratives of a Pakistani housewife fearing the American drones flying above her, and the drone pilot watching her from above. Throughout the play, the audience explores the toll of war on individuals from different perspectives.
Taking place after the Americans left Afghanistan, Selling Kabul details the experience of a man named Taroon who once served as an interpreter for the United States military. In the play, the desperate Taroon struggles to hide his family from the Taliban and navigate a destroyed nation.
In The Place Women Go, Sylvia depicts the story of three Guatemalan women who rehearse their individual stories on the night before their asylum interview to enter the United States. As one of their children falls ill, the play focuses on the critical decisions that the mothers are forced to make.
“From a very young age, I was aware that a world existed outside of the United States,” Sylvia said. “We spoke French at home, I heard Arabic every day, the French news played in our living room every evening. Even then, it was very easy to understand the tremendous power of American action to effect foreign realities. This idea is central to all of my work, especially now.”
While Sylvia is proud of all of her works, her favorite play is the one that she is working on currently.
“I’m currently working on a play about refugees, which is a huge global crisis that is not being adequately represented in the arts,” Sylvia said. “I try to represent big global crises on a very small scale, so that no one feels like they’re getting lectured at. I’m trying to craft characters everyone can relate to, and let their lives play out on stage.”
She workshopped her plays at La Jolla Playhouse, Ensemble Studio Theater, The Lark, The Eugene O’Neill Playwrights’ Conference, Roundabout Theater Company and National New Play Network’s National Showcase of New Plays
In addition, she is a currently a member of the 2016-2018 Women’s Project Theater Lab, and the Ensemble Studio Theater’s group Youngblood. Last year, she was a fellow at the Dramatists’ Guild.
While working on new plays, Sylvia is also pursuing a degree in psychiatry. She is studying at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, NY. 
“I think that psychiatry does on a micro level what writing does on a macro level – bringing those parts of ourselves to light that we try to hide from ourselves. I think they both stem from that same impulse,” Sylvia said. 
A public presentation of Against the Hillside at the Eugene O’Neill Theater.
Courtesy of Ms. Sylvia Khoury ’08

Ultimately, Sylvia encourages students interested in theatre to bring unique perspectives to their work.
“Writing is a very specific part of theater. I think that if there is anyone interested in directing or acting –  that has to be what you do with all of your time,” Sylvia said. “For writing, though, I would encourage engagement in other fields. Get a job that has nothing to do with theater. Go live your life so you have something to reflect on in your work.”
 – Arielle Kirven, Co-Editor-in-Chief