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Spoilt for choice? How to pick shows at the Fringe

This article is from 2019

How to overcome 'selection paralysis' at the world's largest arts festival

credit: David Monteith-Hodge

As the Edinburgh Festival Fringe descends upon us once more, here are some ideas for how to choose what to see from the Fringe's largest and most dynamic programme yet

We've all been there before – staring at a restaurant menu or the endless queue on Netflix, overwhelmed by the sheer amount of choice before us. Now imagine that feeling when applied to the largest celebration of arts and culture on the planet. This year's edition of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe boasts more than 3,500 shows, spanning 63 countries from across the world. With such a wealth of comedy, theatre, cabaret, circus, music and dance – and everything in between – to choose from, where and how does one even begin?

Head over to the Inspiration Machine
Located on the Mound – one of two major street performance hubs – this real-life machine is a new addition to the Fringe this year. The Inspiration Machine generates a random selection of shows for visitors to see (only suggestions, of course!), including short, artist-made video pitches offering a glimpse of what their show is all about. Built with the aim of pushing festival-goers out of their comfort zone, give the Inspiration Machine a spin and you might just stumble upon a show that will make your day, your festival – or maybe even change your life.

How to overcome 'selection paralysis' at the world's largest arts festival

Pianodrome / credit: Andrew Downie

Explore the festival with the FringeMaker app
Another new feature this year, this 'sort-of treasure hunt' is designed to help visitors venture off the beaten path and experience the Fringe to its fullest. The rules are simple: just visit a Fringe venue, find the unique passcode and check in on your phone using the mobile web app. Each check-in at a new Fringe venue earns you points, which you can then redeem at the Fringe Shop for prizes. You can also achieve bonus points for completing extra Fringe-y challenges. There are over 320 venues to discover scattered all across the city – from theatres and bars to former swimming pools and hair salons – so if you want to catch 'em all, be sure to plan accordingly.

Share the love with the Fringe programme's recommendations page
Think you've just witnessed the next big thing? Seen some incredible cabaret that you just can't stop raving about? The Fringe programme has a new recommendations page where you can jot down all your thoughts before swapping programmes with someone else. Word-of-mouth can be the most potent PR out there during the festival, so help an artist out and make sure you spread the good word.

Catch snippets of shows at the Virgin Money Street Events
Take some time to just soak it all in at the Virgin Money Street Events, which sees the Royal Mile transformed into a vibrant pageant of colourful street performances and raucous flyering. Many Fringe acts take to the various stages set up along the Mile to perform free snippets of their shows as a means of enticing audiences to fill their seats, so head on over and see if anything catches your fancy.

How to overcome 'selection paralysis' at the world's largest arts festival

The Sake / credit: James Ratchford

Snap up discounted tickets at the Virgin Money Half Price Hut
Working off a shoestring budget doesn't mean your Fringe experience must be hamstrung: the Virgin Money Half Price Hut is open every day of the Fringe beginning 7 August, selling thousands of half-price tickets for performances taking place that very day or the next morning. Take a gamble on something that catches your eye and you might just get the ultimate pay-off.

Do your research beforehand
Take a little time to catch up on the discourse and peruse audience and professional reviews before you arrive so you're ready to hit the ground running. Which emerging comic has been receiving a lot of warm pre-Fringe buzz? What indie production staged in a milk crate has been hailed as the second coming of Shakespeare?

Go off-book
Everyone's got their unique Fringe story: from ducking into a nearby pub to get out of the rain and catching an hour of free comedy, to flicking through the programme at random and seeing whatever your finger lands on, the month of August is a time for serendipitous surprises. So whether it's flipping a coin or blindly sticking a pin in the venue map, just dive in and let yourself be swept off your feet by the Fringe.

Edinburgh Festival Fringe, 2–26 Aug,