June 19, 2023

Princeton Arts Fellows Christopher “Unpezverde” Núñez and Maysoon Zayid Share their Perspectives on Accessibility

Through courses, performances, and workshops at the Lewis Center for the Arts, Princeton Arts Fellows and disability advocates Christopher “Unpezverde” Núñez and Maysoon Zayid have deepened conversations centered on accessibility in the arts. In this video, discover how writer/performer Zayid and choreographer Núñez have brought their unique perspectives in support of access and inclusion to the Princeton arts community, ranging from self-care practices and self-advocacy to career skills and disability justice.

Video Transcript


Christopher “Unpezverde” Núñez, 2022-24 Princeton Arts Fellow:

I am a choreographer tracing the narratives of disabled, immigrant, and queer bodies. As a visually impaired choreographer, storytelling is central to my work. I was born and raised in a very small town on the Atlantic Coast of Costa Rica. I came to the States almost 10 years ago.

Maysoon Zayid, 2021-23 Princeton Arts Fellow:

So I’m a comedian by trade. I’m visibly disabled. I have cerebral palsy, and Hollywood shuns disability, so I made it my life work to mainstream disability in Hollywood, and to obliterate the heinous casting of non-disabled people to play visibly disabled on screen.

Susan Marshall, Director and Professor of Dance:

The Princeton Arts Fellowship is a very competitive award that’s given to two artists a year. The Fellowship grants the awardees a yearly salary, and their only requirement is that they teach the equivalent of one course per semester.

Christopher “Unpezverde” Núñez:

When I started the Fellowship, I had very clear goals about my time at Princeton. I, for one, wanted to bring awareness around access in terms of compliance, but also accessibility in terms of disability justice. I wanted to bring care practices into the space. I’m teaching a class, “Introduction to Radical Access: Disability Justice in the Arts.” A class around appreciation of the arts, disability in the arts. And, we bring into the space not only the artistry, but also the care practices from these disabled artists.

Elena Araoz, Senior Lecturer in Theater:

These new faculty members, these new professors, and artists, and teachers are coming to our program to teach something that we don’t easily have access to on our current faculty. And at the same time, we feel like we can also be mentors to them on their journey as teachers, as professors.

Maysoon Zayid:

I taught my students real-life skills. So in my standup comedy class, they walked out with a sharp seven-minute routine that they could do at any open mic anywhere in the country or the world. My Hollywood screenwriting class could step into a screenwriting room and understand that pressure. My third class was called “Message in the Bottle.” Unfortunately, I got a rare, strange, out of nowhere mystery illness that paralyzed me, and missed the messaging class. But, while I was down and out, I taught something else, and it was called the DisCo at Princeton. We call the disabled community the DisCo because those are the initials. The current class I’m teaching, “Page to Stage,” motivates writer-actors to write for themselves, to learn how to write the parts that no one else pictures them for, that they know they can do, and they have a chance to execute that.

Group of students:

[A group of student actors onstage, moving and singing] I bet you would have done the same…I slack.

Christopher “Unpezverde” Núñez:

In my country, when people ask you, “How are you feeling?” we say, “Pura vida,” and that means full of life. When I came to the States and you’re asking people how you’re feeling, people say, “I’m tired. I’m exhausted.” I just realized the importance of rest. So I decided to use my research funds that I get as a professor to purchase some pillows, and blankets, and mattresses, and comfortable chairs for people to just come and feel comfortable.

We are essentially creating a new form, a new format of how can we teach in a way that is not so capitalist, in a way that is not hyper-productive, in a way that is not exploitative? How can we take care of our bodies at the same time that we are learning? How we can practice justice as a practice, as an action?

Maysoon Zayid:

What was important about both the standup comedy class and the “Writers Room” class is that all work must be done in class. With the strains that academic students have at Princeton, I tried to minimize the work that they had to do outside of class, so that they could take these art classes that really did help develop their personalities and make them stronger students and stronger leaders, in a way that didn’t put them under too much pressure.

Christopher “Unpezverde” Núñez:

I, as a disabled artist particularly feel the pressure of many institutions. Every time that I go into a residency space, every time that I get a fellowship, institutions are expecting me to educate them around access. And because my class is around appreciation of the arts, I continuously invite disabled artists to come and lecture, disabled artists to come and perform, and I want them to feel like artists, that they don’t have to come and educate people around access.

Susan Marshall:

Christopher is that rare person with whom even a single conversation can bring big shifts in perspective.

Elena Araoz:

He brings a framework of disability justice to all of us at the Lewis Center. Maysoon and Christopher co-led conversation around accessibility justice and how we as a program and as part of a larger university can be more welcoming to audiences, to students, to other faculty, to staff, to help them bring their whole self to any space that is part of our teaching, part of our presenting, part of our artistic practice.

Maysoon Zayid:

So we didn’t do that thing where it was like, “If you need an accommodation, tell us.” We provided accommodations. Our rooms were accessible, there were ASL interpreters. We did audio descriptions when we could.

The Fellowship completely changed my life as an artist, I’m not being hyperbolic. For the first time ever, I did not have to worry about the two things I worried about my entire creative career:my typist and my health insurance.


Christopher “Unpezverde” Núñez:

The financial stability of having this major Fellowship means that I can focus myself to be an artist as well. And, I am currently presenting work in New York City.


Maysoon Zayid:

One of the greatest things about being a Princeton Fellow was the ability to try the show of your dreams without any financial risk. And that was one of my wintersessions, and it was the first time that I had done a completely improvised comedy set. I’m also the host, co-creator, and head writer of a docuseries called Welcome to the DisCo, and that was, I would say, the main focus of my time at Princeton as a Fellow.


Implementing true change is not an overnight thing, which is why I hope that the DisCo at Princeton started the conversation, really changed the thinking of the administration, so that after my Fellowship ends, the conversation can continue not just with me, but with the student body, which I hope I’ve empowered to really continue to advocate for themselves.

Christopher “Unpezverde” Núñez:

I really have a lot of hope in the younger generation because my generation struggled so much to make a space as accessible, to bring accessibility culture, disability awareness into the space. And the younger generations, they’re just ready. They know the language, they know the culture. They want to be accessible, they want to bring awareness. I’m very eager to see what life is going to be for disabled people in 30, 40 years from now because this generation is really making a change.

Maysoon Zayid:

This school is extraordinary, and it can do unimaginable things. It can make the unimaginable reality. I want Princeton to be a trailblazer in disability accessibility.



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