The show

"Zara" is a one person show about race, religion, and identity in the American South. Andrew Aghapour was raised by immigrant parents in a multi-racial and multi-religious household. “Zara” is a comedic account of an anxious, asthmatic Muslim kid’s search 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. Andrew was born and raised in Charleston, South Carolina by immigrant parents from different worlds: a British, Christian mother and an Iranian, Muslim father. As a first-generation American raised within multiple religions and 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, an award-winning storyteller and stand up comedian. Andrew’s stories explore his childhood as an anxious, asthmatic Muslim and his struggle, as a young adult, with the loss of his religious and ethnic identity. Andrew’s stories have been regularly featured on the RISK! podcast with Kevin Allison and on the local storytelling showcase, The Monti.

Andrew has taught improv, storytelling, and stand up comedy for over five years 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. His writing has been published by Religion Dispatches, On Being, Salon, and other online magazines.

Andrew currently lives in Durham, North Carolina with his wife Emmie and their infant daughter, Zara.


Ashley Melzer | Director/Producer Ashley is a producer and media-maker living in Durham, NC. Born in North Florida, she received her Bachelors 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. 


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.

Other crew: Lighting Design by Lisa Suzanne Turner and Original Art by Natalie K Nelson

Thanks to our Project Advisers Dr. Michelle Robinson, Jack Reitz, and Emily Wallace.