By JONATHAN MANDELL
If you want to be inundated by art, then the New York International Fringe Festival will never let you down. This year’s fest, which runs from August 13 to August 29, boasts 197 productions. Of course, it would take a superhuman theatregoer to see even half of those shows. Presented with so many options, how is an everyday audience member supposed to choose?
Here are some methods that may help you find the perfect production
Hunt for the Wacky Names
If you want to be really adventurous, then you could just pick the shows with the wackiest titles, which some people do every year. Candidates this season include Cats Don’t Grin, The Battle of Spanktown, Terms of Dismemberment, and South Pathetic.
(If you are new to the fest, it is worth noting that the Fringe is tinged with camp. A significant segment of the artists involved will take it as a compliment if you say their work is in bad taste.)
Return to Returning Favorites
You could also focus on shows by artists who have succeeded before, be it at the Fringe or in other venues. In 2004, for instance, Steven Fales had a hit with his solo show Confessions of a Mormon Boy, and this year, he's returning with the second part of his "Mormon Trilogy." His new play Missionary Position follows his adventures as a missionary in Portugal.
Along those lines, you may also want to see which shows are getting good reviews. Fringe-heavy sites like a Time Out New York and NY Theatre.com review every production in the festival, so they can offer insight on what is doing well.
Ask On Line
While you are waiting on line to buy tickets to a show, it is always a good idea to ask the people around you what they have seen. Talking about the theatre with fellow Fringers is one of the pleasures of the festival.
The Fringe's website lists every show alphabetically and includes a brief description written by the shows’ creators, often the playwrights.
The site also includes the Slice-o-matic, a search engine that allows you to hunt for productions by writer, genre, time, venue, title, and more. Type in William Shakespeare as your writer, for instance, and you'll find Hamlet Shut Up, Julius Caesar: The Death of a Dictator, and Richard 3.
Additionally, the Fringe's site offers “Staycations,” meaning groups of shows that fall under a general theme. Even a category like “Outer Space Zombie Adventure” lists five productions!
Finally, the festival's website promises “cultural cruises.” There are 46 shows categorized as LGBTQ, 22 as Jewish, 18 as African-American, 17 as Latino/Hispanic, 14 as Asian, and so forth.
Get a Free Sample
On the mornings of August 14 and 21, the Fringe will offer glimpses of this season's family-friendly material. This sneak peak is dubbed FringeAl Fresco, and it is free.
Listen For Buzz
Every year, a handful of Fringe shows manage to generate buzz, which can be created by everything from eyewitness accounts to the track record of the creative team to the power of a marketing campaign. (It also helps if there’s some nudity in the show.)
But while buzz is great, it isn't everything. There are bound to be shows that will appeal to you that are flying under the radar. Ultimately, your planning and research should never overwhelm your sense of adventure. Don't be afraid to see something that you have never heard of before, since you just might discover a hidden treasure.
[Editor's note: TDF members can purchase tickets to many Fringe productions for just $9. Go here to learn more]
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Jonathan Mandell covers New York theatre for The Faster Times and is on Twitter as New York Theater