It’s the 18th year of the Minnesota Fringe Festival — marking the third oldest Fringe in the United States.

With more than 165 productions over the course of 11 days and 18 stages, it’s quite a lot to take in. For those who have yet to partake in this wonderful, annual event, it can certainly be a bit intimidating … to say the least.

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I’ve lived in Minnesota for most of my life and only now am I taking the plunge into Fringe. What has taken me so long? Great question. But I’ve realized I’m missing out and fully intend to make the most of this year’s festival.

To help me (and others like me) navigate the world of Fringe, I asked Matthew Foster, communications director of the Minnesota Fringe Festival, for a beginner’s guide, of sorts. Here’s the advice he had.

Q: What’s the best way to tackle the Fringe?

A: For the second year in a row, we’ve actually asked people to do what we call Fringe Tracks. We ask about five people on what shows they’re interested in seeing. It ranges from a cabaret host to John Miller-Stephany, the Associate Artistic Director at the Guthrie Theater. It provides a really good point of entry, if this is your first fringe.

Another piece of advice, stick to one neighborhood. So if you’re seeing something just in Uptown, pick some other shows that are around that area and spend the afternoon there. (Most of the venues are in walking distance of other venues.)

If you don’t know what to see, just pick something at random. Pick something because you liked the title or the show image looks interesting or the description seems strange. That’s how a lot of people make their decisions, whatever catches their eye.

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Q: What can we expect from this year’s festival?

A: I’ve been going through the schedule and it feels like we have a very strong line-up this year. Because Fringe is always so new, we don’t review the scripts, we don’t select who gets in. Anyone is welcome to apply and then we have a lottery. So just going through the schedule, people are really bringing their “A” game, as it were. It just feels like it’s a really strong line-up. Operationally, we haven’t changed much over the last couple of years. But yeah, this year the lottery Gods seem to have really smiled on the wacky, Fringe-y shows this year.

Q: This is the 18th year of Minnesota’s Fringe. How did it start?

A: Fringe was founded in 1993, which was the year I graduated from high school. The older Fringe gets, the older I get. The Fringe got its start like 47 years ago in Scotland and it’s a concept that’s sort of springing up throughout the world. Minnesota, we are 18 years old, which makes us the third oldest in the United States. Only Orlando and San Francisco are older. We’ve just been plugging away those 18 years, growing more and more, finding our own little niche in the Minneapolis-St. Paul scene.

Q: What brings people coming back to Fringe?

A: There’s a lot of returning favorites that audiences have loved in the past. I’ve actually also been hearing a lot of excitement for the out-of-towners that are coming in. I think there’s a lot of out-of-towners that have been getting really good reviews on the road.

The Minnesota Fringe Festival kicks off Thursday, Aug. 4 and runs through Sunday, Aug. 14. Need more advice or want to check out the full schedule? Head to the Minnesota Fringe Festival’s website.

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Shows To Check Out At The Fringe Festival