The genesis of a great idea is often casual conversation between friends in backyards. One day this summer Melisa Stefaniw, who is Tourism and Special Events Coordinator for the City of Dauphin, was chatting in the backyard with two other Dauphinites, Michelle and Kirk Nyquist. Melisa’s interest is experiential tourism – creating authentic, accessible and enriching experiences for residents and visitors. Their conversation produced the light bulb idea of Yardfringe based on the highly successful Fringe Festivals which occur every year in most large cities but with a twist. Something new had been born.
The innovative idea is that residents open up their backyards to visitors at a certain hour on Fringe Day then provide some form of tasteful, all-ages entertainment. The audience is encouraged to travel from venue to venue on bicycle leaving a modest environmental footprint while encouraging a healthy lifestyle. Events are free. Sounds like fun to me!
Home to a thriving arts community, Dauphin celebrated Arts Alive! on September 28, 2013 featuring a day of activities including the free premiere showing of a rough cut of The Heart of Dauphin, a locally made film about the city’s classic railroad station. The theatre was SRO. Arts Alive! culminated with Yardfringe starting at 5:30 pm.
“Kirk Nyquist was our Fringe Master,” says Melisa. “We had six venues around the city and, though we publicized the route, show times and addresses, we didn’t tell people what to expect at any of the venues. It was a series of surprises. People liked the element of surprise. They suddenly discovered their neighbours’ stories and interests and came away with an enriched sense of community.”
I asked about the turn-out for this premiere cutting edge event. “We were thrilled with the attendance. At the height of the event we had about 140 spectators and 95% of them traveled by bicycle. The age of the audience ranged from four to 94, literally.”
And what kind of entertainments did these newly-minted Yardfringers find biking around Dauphin? Local troupe Theatre Amisk performed an interactive piece based on an area story. One venue offered a culinary demonstration, another gave a tour of unusual topiary. Two actors from the Youth Arts Group performed Shel Silverstein’s play Duck. A graphic artist created a comic book on site. Singer/songwriter/storyteller Mark Clement and fiddler Kaylee Johnson performed.
When I asked Melisa if Yardfringe would be an annual event in Dauphin, she said “Oh yeah! It has almost no infrastructure. It doesn’t need to be funded, just organized and promoted. We don’t need to apply for extra grants to run it. We used social media to promote it. We printed nothing.”
How about the time of year? Days are short in late September. “We might try it a week or so sooner and start it earlier in the day,” says Melisa.
It seems to me Yardfringe would work in all small cities and towns. Dauphin has about 8300 people. It’s small enough to bike and yet large enough to have an interesting assortment of venues and performers. It would also work in identified neighbourhoods in big cities. Inexpensive to promote, opens doors and builds community – an idea whose time has come.
If you Google Yardfringe today, the only place you’ll find it is in Dauphin, Manitoba. A year from now I have a feeling there will be plenty of towns and cities worldwide with their own Yardfringe. Just as Edinburgh, Scotland was the source for Fringe Festivals, Dauphin, Canada is the birthplace of Yardfringe. Let it be written. Let it be danced.
The Heart of Dauphin, the film by Cade Malone about Dauphin’s RR station, will soon be available to view from MTS On Demand. Watch my 02:25 video of the Dauphin RR Station here.
I am grateful to Melisa Stefaniw for helping me out with information and pictures of Yardfringe.