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

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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 is also a comedic improviser and an award-winning storyteller. 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 is the managing editor of Cosmologics, a digital quarterly published by Harvard Divinity School about religion, science, race, gender, and inequality.

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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 Week, Wondering Sound, Paste MagazineeMusicThe Carrboro Citizen, and the Southern Foodways Alliance. She’s served as Associate Producer of the NC Comedy Arts Festival, Associate Artistic Director of DSI Comedy Theater, and Marketing and Operations Manager of Innovate Raleigh. She currently serves as Multimedia Editor 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 executive producer of the feature length documentary, You Gave Me a Song, about the life and music of renowned old-time musician Alice Gerrard. Ashley is the founder of Mettlesome, an award winning creative, project based collective, for which she performs, directs, writes and teaches comedy. 

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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. Dr. Polish also consults with businesses on how to use simple principles of storytelling to communicate effectively. His past clients include Boeing, Microsoft, and Juniper Networks. Jeff received a 2013 Indies Arts Award and has been profiled in ScienceOur State MagazineSouthern Living and Garden & Gun.


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Lisa Suzanne Turner | Tech Director Originally from New York, Lisa Suzanne Turner is a lighting designer and technical director with a wide range of experience. The daughter of the renowned Director, Producer, and Professor Dr. Susan Watson Turner, Lisa’s life has always revolved around theater. In 2015, she graduated from North Carolina Central theatre program. After graduation, Lisa traveled National with Ringling Brothers and Barnum Bailey Circus as an Associate Electrician. She has worked with Black Ops Theatre company, the Women Theatre Festival, MoJA Performing Arts, Agape Theatre Project , Paperhand Puppet Intervention and others. Lisa is the newly appointed Technical Director of Walltown Black Box Theatre in Durham, NC.

Original Art by Natalie K Nelson

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