My last wide-eyed expedition to what claims to be the world's largest arts festival – this year running Aug. 2 to 26 – was an enjoyable but exhausting mess of random shows, late-night barhopping and the creeping suspicion I was missing the great acts everyone else was talking about.
Next time, I'll deploy the strategies suggested by my two guest experts: a veteran Fringe-watcher, and a popular London-based comedian who's been performing at the event since 1987.
"For your first visit, take it easy," says Richard Stamp, co-founder of the online guide Fringe Guru (fringeguru.com). "Maybe plan for two or three shows each day and save time to just enjoy the atmosphere. I usually leave blank days in my diary – you can always book more shows last-minute if you have the energy."
It's this combination of planning and flexibility that's crucial to tackling 2013's menu of 2,871 shows in 273 venues, covering everything from avant-garde drama to gut-busting comedy. "If there's something specific you're looking forward to, book before you leave home: The official Fringe website is the easiest way," says Stamp. "But I often just call into the venue's box office a couple of days in advance – if one show's fully booked, there's always another." The official Fringe website is www.edfringe.com.
Booking ahead can quickly add up, but there's no need to blow your budget before you even arrive. Prices under $20 are common, two-for-one offers abound and available freebies include dozens of BBC broadcasts looking for audiences (see bbc.co.uk/tickets).
"Have a long list of shows you'd like to see, then stop by the Half Price Hut each morning to see if they're on offer that day. Or if the weather's good, just spend an afternoon watching free outdoor performances on the Royal Mile." Once you've overdosed on wacky theatricals, he suggests a restorative break at the C Too bar on Johnston Terrace. "It's my secret bolt-hole – perfect for a quiet drink with lovely city views."
Comic Richard Herring – this year performing his stand-up show We're All Going to Die! at the Pleasance Beyond theatre – adds that tapping the Fringe vibe is a vital part of deciding what to catch.
"Ask other people what they've seen and what they've heard is good. But also don't be afraid to take a flyer on something you just like the look of. The stars of the future will be taking their first step up the ladder and if you're lucky you might chance across them. It's a mixture of research, asking for advice and taking a chance," he says.
Whom does he suggest looking out for this August? "I'm very excited to see new shows from stand-ups who haven't gigged for a few years, especially Alexei Sayle and David Baddiel. Also, Susan Calman is always great. And check out Lou Sanders and Bridget Christie. Finally, Nick Helm is going to be a massive star very soon, so catch him now."
You might also catch these performers and others chilling between shows at the Pleasance Courtyard bar, says Herring. But if you feel boozily inclined to regale the crowd with a few jokes of your own – or even hurl a heckle – you might want to think twice.
"Comedians know how to deal with hecklers and will probably humiliate you," he says. "If you really want to let audiences hear your jokes, don't hide in the auditorium. Write your own show and come back next year. It's open to all."
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