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Tips for surviving the Minnesota Fringe Festival

​First off, don't forget to breathe.

There are 168 shows at 18 venues throughout the cities at the 11-day Minnesota Fringe Festival. If you take in a show at every available time slot, you will only see a bit more than a fourth of what's out there. So, how do you choose the right ones to go to? Can you find a schedule that works? Is there time to eat?

Again. Breathe.

[jump] What to see?

One of the biggest challenges at the festival is choosing what to go to see. At any given moment there are more than a dozen different shows playing across Minneapolis (and a bit into St. Paul) to choose from, often with intriguing, or at least outlandish, names vying for your attention.

The good news is that there isn't a great deal of investment in taking the plunge. A single Fringe ticket won't cost much more than a 3-D movie, and probably will present more thrills than seeing The Smurfs at the cineplex. If you want to see a number of shows, the price goes down further, as you only have to buy a Fringe button once (wear it with pride!) and there are a number of multi-ticket punch cards and special passes available that get the per-performance price under $12. Tip: Don't underestimate the value of the button; many small theaters offer discounts for Fringe buttons throughout the entire year.

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Still, how to choose a show? The always helpful Minnesota Fringe Festival website is a good place to start. Not only are there descriptions of all 168 productions there, but as the festival continues theatergoers will offer up their opinions on what they've seen. The site also offers Fringe Tracks, where local theater celebs offer up the shows that they are most excited to see.

Once you've taken the plunge, it actually gets a bit easier. Keep your ears open and other folks in line or in the theater will share their opinions of what they've seen so far. Swap stories, make friends, see shows; it's a great way to spend some hot August days.

Take a look at the lines. A long one indicates a show that, at the very least, has connected with a lot of people -- or at least has an attractive name or premise. Another place to learn about what's up -- along with socializing and drinking -- is Fringe Central, located this year at Lyn-Lake's Moto-i. Here, people will gather and socialize throughout the festival. What they've seen, liked, and didn't like is always a key topic of conversation. .

Keep it cool.

Don't try to do too much at once. The Twin Cities aren't huge, but there are challenges in getting across town in the half-hour period allotted between shows. Fringe Executive Director Robin Gillette notes that road construction in key parts of Minneapolis -- such as around Cedar-Riverside, which hosts about half of the venues -- means this is the year to choose a location and stay there for an evening or a day. 

Some shows are more popular than others, by quite a bit. The two largest venues at the Rarig Center frequently see long lines and often have the potential for a sellout. Pre-planning and some extra fees  allows you to reserve spaces ahead of time, which can be great if you have a show you really, really want to see and only one opportunity to take it in.

Have fun.

Finally, if you are indulging in a heavy Fringe schedule (the "see anything you want" Gold Pass is $225, so holders are probably going to take in a couple of dozen shows at the festival), don't forget to program a bit of time to eat, socialize and enjoy what you've seen.