The show

His mother’s a British immigrant with Protestant convictions; his father’s an Iranian refugee with deep Muslim faith. Andrew? He’s just an asthmatic Muslim kid growing up in Charleston, SC trying to sort it all out. Zara tells the story of one man’s search for meaning and the chance encounters that impacted him, including a friendship with the man who mugged him and a love affair with marijuana. Drawing on personal stories, philosophy, and the history of monotheism, "Zara" is a story about how identity is inherited and remade in 21st-century America.

The project won the Durham Arts Council’s Catalyst Grant, a program supported by their Annual Arts Fund and the N.C. Arts Council, a division of the Department of Natural & Cultural Resources. Additionally, Zara welcomed the support of Professor Michelle Robinson of the American Studies Department at UNC-Chapel Hill, and received grants from both the Performing Arts Special Activities Fund and the Humanities for the Public Good Initiative.

Creative Team


Andrew Ali Aghapour | Performer/Writer/Producer Andrew is a scholar, comedian, and storyteller. As a first-generation American raised within multiple traditions, Andrew became interested in race, religion, and identity and went on to study these topics in graduate programs at Cambridge University and UNC Chapel Hill. Andrew’s stories have been regularly featured on the RISK! podcast with Kevin Allison and the Monti. Andrew has taught improv, storytelling, and stand up comedy and has performed alongside Maria Bamford, Kevin McDonald, Charna Halpern, and Emo Philips. Andrew also co-founded and co-produced the Cubit, a popular blog about religion and science. He served as managing editor of Cosmologics, a digital quarterly published by Harvard Divinity School about religion, science, race, gender, and inequality.


Ashley Melzer | Director/Producer Ashley is a producer and media-maker living in Durham, NC. Born in North Florida, she received her Bachelor’s in Cinematic Arts from the University of Southern California and then a Masters in Folklore from UNC-Chapel Hill. Her work has been featured in Indy WeekPaste MagazineeMusic, and the Southern Foodways Alliance. She's worked with Hopscotch, Moogfest, the NC Comedy Arts Festival, Thornapple Films, The Southern Oral History Program and more. She currently works on Multimedia Production and Special Projects for the Southern Cultures Journal and is working one a new short documentary using archival footage from renowned folklorist Dr. William R Ferris. She is Producer of the feature length documentary, You Gave Me a Song, about the life and music of renowned old-time musician Alice Gerrard which premiered at the Full Frame Film Festival in 2019. Ashley is the founder of Mettlesome, an award winning creative, project based collective, for which she performs, directs, writes and teaches comedy. 


Jeff Polish | Executive Producer Jeff earned a Ph.D. in Molecular Cell Biology from Washington University in St. Louis. Upon completing that degree, he left academic research to pursue teaching, but his lifelong love of storytelling eventually called him away from science completely. In 2008, Dr. Polish started The Monti, a non-profit organization that invites people to tell personal stories on stage without notes.

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Lisa Suzanne Turner | Tech Director Lisa Suzanne Turner is a lighting designer and technical director with a wide range of experience. She has worked nationally with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum Bailey Circus and locally with Black Ops Theatre company, the Women Theatre Festival, MoJA Performing Arts, Paperhand Puppet Intervention and serves as Technical Director of Walltown Black Box Theatre in Durham, NC.


Myrna Perez Sheldon | Consulting Scholar Myrna Perez Sheldon is a historian of science, feminist and critical race theorist, and a scholar of religion who uses history to understand how science and religion affect political and intimate life. She is an Assistant Professor at Ohio University, jointly appointed in Classics & World Religions and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies.

Original Art by Natalie K Nelson

Thanks to our Project Advisers: Dr. Todd Ramón Ochoa, Dr. Michelle Robinson, Jack Reitz, and Emily Wallace.