In the famed musical that shares its name, the Scottish village of Brigadoon appears from the mists only for a single day once every century, only to disappear again. The Minnesota Fringe Festival, by way of comparison, spans two entire weeks each and every summer—but it also springs seemingly out of nowhere, with a weird timelessness, only to recede into dream-like memory.
It’s hard to top the Fringe, though, for its capacity to provoke a state of head-scratching what-just-happened incredulity. In almost a decade of covering the Fringe as a critic, seeing easily 150 shows, I witnessed spectacles including: the fictional misadventures of the country’s second-best insult comic; an extended meditation on breasts from the female perspective; William Shakespeare enduring a zombie apocalypse; and a parade of one-hour comedies and dramas that made for nifty theater at that (brief) length, but might well have been tedious messes had they been stretched to three acts.
So shall it ever be, as long as the Fringe embraces its wild and wooly ethos of randomness (participants picked from a drawing of numbered Ping-Pong balls) and scope (169 productions at 19 venues this year). You could go to shows nonstop during its two-week span and not come close to seeing half of them (nor would you be able to make much sense out of what you were seeing after a while—take it from me, after about a dozen they start to blur together).
But it’s worth it, for the discovery, the fun, for the absurdity, and the memorable gems. And while it’s seemingly daunting to figure out which show(s) to see, here’s my best advice: Don’t sweat it. Pick a neighborhood where multiple venues are clustered (downtown, Uptown, West Bank) and build an evening or an afternoon around a restaurant you’ve been wanting to check out. Pick a show or two close by from what’s on offer and embrace the randomness.
Like those tourists in Lerner and Loewe’s Brigadoon, you might find yourself falling unexpectedly in love. If not, there’s always next year.