Festivity-filled streets mark Princeton’s Communiversity

By Katie Wagner, Staff Writer
   Families clapped to the drum beats of Awach of Aday near the Princeton Public Library, children strung necklaces at Nassau Presbyterian Church, adults browsed through $40 shoes in front of the Princeton Running Company and hundreds waited on lines for funnel cake, cotton candy and other treats along Nassau Street on Saturday afternoon.
   The activity which extended to Princeton University’s campus was part of the 23rd Communiversity Festival of the Arts, which is co-organized by the Arts Council of Princeton and Princeton University students.
   This year’s five-hour event attracted its second largest crowd ever. It brought in just under 30,000 people, versus the crowd of 30,000 to 35,000 in attendance last year and offered about 200 tables of craft, food and art vendors, merchants and local nonprofit organizations, said Michael LaRiccia, the Arts Council’s program and public relations manager.
   ”We were extremely pleased with the turnout this year.” Mr. LaRiccia said. “There weren’t really many people coming up to me with concerns. The weather held up which was fantastic.
   ”All in all, when I was walking around I saw a lot of people going into the stores,” he added.
   While the arts festival attracted its share of Princeton residents and Princeton University students, the community at Communiversity extended beyond the borough and township’s borders. Performers, merchants, craft vendors and families from all over the state participated.
   One non-Princeton group had the privilege of being part of a new addition to Communiversity — the Palmer Square Green stage. Dressed in what they called “hill billy” attire, the Burlington County Players acted out scenes from Shakespeare’s “As Your Like It” on the stage as part of Communiversity’s Princeton Repertory Theater “Shakespeare on the Square.”
   The Burlington County Players, a singing, acting and dancing group of high school students that specialize in Shakespearean theater, were particularly excited to be performing. The group of 15 students made their Communiversity debut following a plethora of Shakespeare-inspired performances, including sonnet readings and dramatizations of scenes from Hamlet.
   ”It’s exciting to be somewhere where the audience is appreciative of Shakespeare, because sometimes people don’t understand the words when we’re performing,” said Shaina Williams, 17, of Medford Lakes, who was dressed in a green checkered dress. “Everybody just wants to be here. They know how to digest it and they can understand the language.”
   A family from Trenton that included seven children enjoyed another dimension of the event, such as the cotton candy and variety of children’s crafts offered by at a table sponsored by Princeton Girl Scouts.
   Shakira Green, 30, of Trenton smiled as her 5-year-old daughter, Zyon, colored a tissue-paper butterfly with pink and purple markers.
   ”I never knew they (Princeton) had such a day,” Ms. Green said. “It’s like Trenton’s Heritage Day celebration times a million. There’re a lot more vendors.”
   Princeton University students who worked at the event said they were satisfied with the turnout of children participating in the various activities they offered.
   ”The student booths and the International Center’s global village were very popular and we saw unprecedented crowds on the university side,” said Fawn Jiang, a junior and co-chair of the university’s Communiversity events. “Athletics designed many activities that allowed student athletes to interact with kids, and the event was mutually rewarding.”
   She added, “I think that Communiversity was successful this year because of our advertising efforts and our coordination with the Arts Council through many planning meetings. We attempted to get as many groups involved as possible and the variety of activities on campus complemented the events held by the town.”
   Some of the vendors saw Communiversity differently than the event’s satisfied organizers and other participants.
   Katie O’Hara of Jak Threads, selling handmade fabric belts and headbands, said: “The crowd seems about the same, but the business is definitely slower this year. The past two years were our best craft shows.”