Passion. This is the word used to describe this woman. Yes, she’s sassy, intelligent, independent, feisty, and charismatic… but with everything she does, she brings this unwavering passion. From a simple conversation to igniting her students, from her photography to her spoken word, from her writing from stage to the screen… everything about her exudes a fiery passion that drives her to complete the visions that are gifted to her. Zahra Airall is a teacher, writer, performer, photographer and women’s and children’s rights activist who marries her passion for the arts with her passion for activism. And while many, whose lives she has impacted, see her as a visionary, a leader and an inspiration, she remains one of the most humble, down-to-earth and quirky persons you’ll ever meet… in her mind, she hasn’t done enough, but she’s always willing to discuss more over a bottle of wine. Today we have the pleasure and pure delight in interviewing Zahra as she opens up to who she is and all that she does. It is my hope that, by sharing unfiltered glimpses into her chaotic creativity, her reality of what it takes to be her will inspire and uncage your own energy and future.
Hello Zahra and welcome to UnCaged Phoenix, for the few readers who may not know you…..Tell us who is Zahra?
Zahra: Jeeez. Now that’s a loaded question right there! Who is Zahra… I think it would take a lifetime to answer that, because she is still discovering herself, and finding new strengths, new talents and new secrets about herself. I love socializing, but I deeply cherish my alone time. Lately, with how crazy and fast-paced things have been this year especially, I crave silence… I love wine and I love to eat. I love going to the beach at night to listen to the waves, the stillness of the evening. and a glass of wine or a cold beer with good company is perfect. I battle self-doubt more than people realize, and I help more people — girls — more than I even realize … and I am exhausted … so… Zahra is a very tired person… LOL but I want to do so much more… Zahra is unfinished and discovering …
A lot of people have no idea of the many hats you wear, give our readers a glimpse into what you do.
Zahra: Oh goodness… wow…. don’t even know how to start…..
Mother of a 12-year-old daughter …
Teacher at my alma Mata… English Literature and Theatre Arts …
Founder of Zee’s Youth Theatre, Honey Bee Theatre, and Sugar Apple Theatre …
Freelance journalist (former editor of Business Focus, Antigua)
Women’s and Children’s rights activist
(Co-director and co-producer of Antiguan edition of The Vagina Monologues and the original production “When A Woman Moans”)
Founding member of activist group Women of Antigua
Photographer (mainly weddings – www.byziaphotography.com)
Spoken Word Artist
Co-host of Antiguan show “Keeping It Real”
Student (currently pursuing a masters in theatre education) … hmmm .. think that’s about it …
When and how were you introduced to theatre and arts?
Zahra: I was literally born into the theatre. My parents met each other through the Antiguan drama company “Harambee Open Air Theatre”… and since then they have both always nurtured the love and appreciation for the arts, exposing me to varying types of performances, including visiting ensembles to the island, and performances whenever I traveled. I remember my father taking me to see Cats on Broadway at a young age…it was exciting, and just cemented the fact that that was what I wanted to do with my life … perform and create productions that would make people feel the way I felt as a child sitting in that theatre. My mom then enrolled me in a drama programme called Child’s Play, under renowned Jamaican dramatist and storyteller Amina Blackwood-Meeks.
In addition to being a creative, you have dedicated yourself to the education the young and providing a purpose-filled environment for your country’s young people. What do you love most about teaching?
Zahra: I love getting students excited about a subject that I am excited about … I love seeing how far they can go… and it is so awesome to watch their minds work as they exercise and strengthen their critical analysis skills, and come up with ideas and conclusions that I never even thought of…. that’s amazing. I also just love their energy when they are genuinely intrigued and eager to learn and do more.
You are not new to the idea and practice of working hard to achieve goals. With that being said, if you were to look back, what do you think are some of your greatest accomplishments?
Zahra: Jeez… If I am, to be honest, I still feel like that has not happened yet …. but … I was selected to participate in a screenwriter’s workshop and my film was one of three from the OECS selected to be made (should be released next month. It’s a short called “Devil’s Dance” based on an experience my daughter had as a toddler. That has been a challenging yet amazing journey.
I got to cross three things off my bucket list:
Produce a play written by Dorbrene O’marde for Harambee Open Air Theatre
Act on the same stage as my parents. Play the role my mom acted in that play when it was first staged in the 70s…….
I’ve won a few national awards as well… and that has been pretty cool … Oh… headlining in St. Kitts… that was an absolutely amazing experience… absolutely amazing and humbling. Imagine seeing my face on posters and tickets… and the audience was so receptive and enthused… one of my top moments as a spoken word artist… and then returning to Nevis to be their featured Poet… awesome experience…
But I have to say … my absolute greatest accomplishment is my daughter … I often wonder how in the world did I end up with such a considerate, compassionate and empathetic child, when sometimes I feel like I am not giving her nearly as much as she deserves… and somehow… she has turned out amazing in spite of me … and she is so zen (a little annoying at times) but she has already accomplished something that I and so many people struggle to grasp – peace, let Go and let God, and to just embrace moments and let go of the unpleasant ones… yeah .. she’s my greatest accomplishment …
Even though people on the outside only see the glitter and gold, in life we sometimes face challenges as we try to move forward to God’s path. Have you ever experienced challenges on your journey?
Zahra: SOOOOOOO many challenges … the two top ones being lack of financial support and time. Sometimes it seems like it is easier to get financial support for a drunken half-naked fete than a wholesome project or event. Things would be so much easier, of course, if I had a generous benefactor who was interested in supporting both youth and adult theatre. As a single mom, there have been many times that I’ve had to tap into my own pocket to stage productions, and not all these productions have favorable returns. Then there is the small-mindedness of some people who try to sabotage even the best and most sincere of efforts; some days it’s harder to ignore than orders, but I try to make those days as few as possible. And finally, time… as a single mom and a teacher, the salary is not what I am worth, not by a long shot … so what do I have to do? Hustle. And while I have been grateful for the hustle and all it has afforded me, there are times that it becomes overly consuming, especially with time… time that I could spend working on a play, time that I could spend editing a play, time that I could spend squeezing in another rehearsal and develop my theatre companies and projects …. but I am determined, I still have hope and I trust that it will come to fruition.
If you want to learn more about Zahra, please feel free to take a look at the following links:
[A definite must see] “When No one is Looking” Her first screenplay that also won a grant from the CBMP addresses HIV and MSM https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tY3N9B0pUpk
“Because I did not Say No” which takes a look at date rape. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fzG6BFHI_Ho