Writing & Performance

Emily likes to wear many hats — she is a writer, performer, dancer, martial artist, and concert musician. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Brown University, where she studied playwriting/screenwriting with Pulitzer Prize winners Paula Vogel and Nilo Cruz. She has taught writing, literature, and performance at Harvard University, Brown University, the American University of Beirut, Sultan Qaboos University in Oman, and Sichuan University-Pittsburgh Institute in China. She is a global mentor for the Coalition for Women in Journalism, and her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, Salon, NPR, Al Jazeera, Counterpunch, TRT World, Christian Science Monitor, and The Huffington Post.

Readings and productions of her plays have been produced at Lincoln Center, the Public Theatre, City Center, Trinity Repertory Company, Perishable Theatre, Catalyst Theatre, Brown University, and the New York Fringe Festival. Some actors who have appeared in her work include John Krasinski, Aasif Mandvi, Annie McNamara, Tara Summers, and David Walton. She has also worked on a number of films and television shows (in front of and behind the camera), such as: Law and Order, Addicted to Love, For Richer or Poorer, Advice from a Caterpillar, Picture Perfect, and New York Undercover.

A passionate student of dance and movement, she has studied ballet with Gelsey Kirkland and David Howard, Sufi whirling with Turkish masters in Istanbul, West African dance in Mali, capoeira in Colombia, pencak silat in Java, and tai chi in Beirut. She regularly performs Javanese gamelan in concert at Lincoln Center and Asia Society, and she has opened for well-known musicians like Devandra Banhart. She teaches Sufi whirling in Beirut, Istanbul, and New York.

Feeding refugees in Beirut
With Olympia Dukakis

As the co-founder of the first mental health awareness initiative in the Middle East run by young people with mental illness, Emily organized mental health awareness events at The American University of Beirut and high schools in Lebanon. She also conducted disability workshops for Lebanese high school students, yoga classes for Palestinian refugees, and photography workshops for disabled Syrian refugees.

Emily’s creative projects in Beirut have been influenced by the writing and performance projects she co-directed while studying and teaching at Brown University — such as The Cast, a theatre & playwriting program for at-risk high school youth, and The Writers Groupa poetry workshop for people with developmental disabilities. 

Having co-directed a program for NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness) to educate high school students about mental well-being, Emily understands the transformative and healing power of the arts — especially when working with refugees, migrant workers, and young cancer patients in Beirut. She is currently working on an Iranian film, a new theatrical project which will launch this fall, and a very timely screenplay.

Performing Javanese gamelan music
With John Krasinski

Recent Media Contributions (Selected)

• “Kafala Cannot be Reformed: It Must be Abolished,” TRT World

With Bo Hopkins

“Performing Our Town in Oman”, NPR’s On Being

“Refugee Yoga in Beirut,” NPR: On Being with Krista Tippett
“Deep Cover,” New York Times
“My Boys: The Syrian Street Kids Who Found Me,” Salon
“Visiting Bacchus in Baalbek,” New York Times
“The Elastic Girl: Living with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome”, Al Jazeera
“The Dalai Lama’s Nose,” Huffington Post
“Behold the Beauty of Bhutan”, Huffington Post
“More Help Needed for Syria’s Disabled and Maimed,” The World Post
“Gorilla Trekking in East Africa,” Times of Oman
“Ode to Anubis,” Huffington Post
“North Korea: From the Front Line”, Huffington Post
“Sufi Caravan in Sudan”, Huffington Post
“Pilgrimage to Gibran,” Huffington Post
“Tai Chi in Beirut,” Huffington Post
“Sharing the Sufis of Syria,” Huffington Post
“Cultural Heritage in Xinjiang,” Huffington Post
“Breaking the Silence: Mental Health Awareness Month in Beirut,” Huffington Post
“Street Art & Gender in Mongolia,”Huffington Post
“Following in the Footsteps of Malcolm X,” Huffington Post
“Unmasking Mental Illness in Beirut,” Huffington Post
“The Future of the Middle East,” Huffington Post
“Women of Today not just the Past Must be Respected,” Christian Science Monitor

Filming with Meg Ryan & Matthew Broderick

With Cheryl Hines in Bhutan

“On Pins and Needles in Beirut,” Huffington Post
“Curating Qatar: Museum Marvels in Doha,” Huffington Post
“The Great Mosque of Xi’an,” Huffington Post
“Celebrating the Humanities in Oman,” Huffington Post
“On Wheels and Whirling,” Huffington Post
“Buddhist Cave Art in China,” Huffington Post
“Faces of Afghanistan’s Future,” Huffington Post
“Bucket List from Beirut,” Huffington Post
“Cartwheeling around the World,” Huffington Post
“Visiting John the Baptist in Damascus,” Huffington Post
“Ramadan Nights in Beirut: Serving the Poor & Displaced,” Huffington Post
“UNO in Beirut,” Huffington Post
“A Peace of Afghanistan,” Huffington Post
“24 Hours in Beirut with Emily O’Dell,” beirut.com
“Slaying Saints and Torching Texts,” Jadaliyya

With comic genius Maria Bamford
With Maria Bamford

• Featured in “Uncovering Archaeological Treasures,” International Educator Magazine
• Mentioned in “Youth Launch Mental Health Awareness Group,” The Daily Star
• Mentioned in “The Plays What They Wrote: The Best Scripts Not Yet Mounted on a New York Stage,” The Village Voice

“This Place is a Horror Show,” TRT World

All About Eve premiere in London
All About Eve premiere in London