In today's Urban Planner: the Big City Improv Festival brings lots of comedians to town, Fort York leads visitors on creepy after-dark tours, and a double feature of one-act plays by Laura Cockburn-Tulk.
- Comedy: Improv comedy performers from across North America will converge on Toronto for nine days during the Big City Improv Festival, including special celebrity performers like MADtv alumni Phil Lamarr and Jeff Richards. Also on the bill is recent Canadian Comedy Award winner MANTOWN, which will perform an improv set on opening night. Local acts include Burns and Gallo, winners of the Big City TKO competition, and Mark Little and Kyle Dooley, who impressed us during last month’s Just For Laughs 42 festival. Multiple venues, all day, $10–$60. Details
- History: For four nights in October, Fort York will open its gates to the public for guided Fort York After Dark tours, which will focus on the more dark and disturbing aspects of the famous site’s history. (We recall well the spooky performances of The Fort at York a few years back, with the mentally disturbed private in the ammunitions depot.) The lantern-bearing guides will take tour groups to several nearby military cemeteries, to tell stories of the dead buried there. Fort York National Historic Site (250 Fort York Boulevard), 7:30 p.m., $12.50 (plus tax). Details
- Theatre: Local playwright Laura Cockburn-Tulk has written two new one-act plays that Glasswater Theatre is premiering together as Prayers For the New World. The double header will have a limited run at the Berkeley Street Theatre. In the first play, Confessions, a Soviet-era spy discovers that she can communicate across space and time with an accused Salem witch while the two are imprisoned; in the second play, Gone Home, the mysterious death of a child tests a family’s bond during the the Second World War. Berkeley Street Theatre (26 Berkeley Street), 8 p.m., $18–$25. Details
History: The name “Mesopotamia” derives from a Greek term meaning “land between the rivers.” The Royal Ontario Museum’s latest major exhibit, which opens on June 22, takes this literally, as visitors flow between painted representations of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers on the floor.
Presented by the British Museum and rounded out with pieces from institutions in Chicago, Detroit, and Philadelphia, “Mesopotamia: Inventing Our World” covers 3,000 years of human development in the cradle of urban civilization. Most of the 170 artifacts on display have never been shown in Canada. Royal Ontario Museum (100 Queens Park), all day, $27 (Includes general admission). Details
- Theatre: If Fringe and SummerWorks aren’t enough to satisfy your summer theatre cravings, the world-renowned Stratford Festival is now only a bus ride away from downtown Toronto, thanks to the new Stratford Direct bus route (“the best thing [the Festival] has done in years” according to one usher at the Avon Theatre). Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino has put together a season to please tastes from the traditional to the extravagant. Here’s what we think about five of Stratford’s current productions. Multiple venues, all day, $25–$175. Details
- Art: “Face to Place,” a photo exhibition at St. Lawrence Market’s Market Gallery, is a raw and nostalgic attempt at capturing urban life in a city that’s constantly changing. The Market Gallery (95 Front St. East), all day, FREE. Details
- Art: When it was originally unveiled at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London (England, not Ontario), the “David Bowie Is” exhibition shattered attendance records, selling over 42,000 advance tickets. Now that the show has come to Toronto, it’s easy to see why it was so successful. Composed of over 300 objects from David Bowie’s personal archive, spanning his entire career, the exhibit is arranged and presented as a completely immersive experience, enveloping visitors in a kaleidoscopic visual and aural landscape that would be overwhelming if it weren’t so brilliantly arranged and intelligently guided. Art Gallery of Ontario (317 Dundas Street West), all day, $30 (includes general admission). Details
- Film: Now in its 14th year, the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival returns with a full slate of feature films, shorts, video essays, and live performances designed to showcase the range of Indigenous media arts from around the globe—with a particular emphasis, this year, on artists from the Maori nation in New Zealand. Multiple venues, all day, $7–$25. Details
- Music: The third-annual Uma Nota Festival of Tropical Expressions is back in town, which means music lovers will get the chance to explore the sounds of Afro-Brazilian, Latin, and Caribbean performers. This multi-day event will feature artists from across the Americas and beyond, plus some local talent. Multiple venues, all day, Various prices. Details
- Film: With the gala hangovers and celluloid-induced eye strain from the 2013 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival just beginning to fade away, film addicts who are already starting to feel the itch have another movie extravaganza to check out: the Toronto After Dark Film Festival. Now in its eighth year, TAD is a celebration of everything frightening, disturbing, challenging, and gloriously bloody. While the primary focus of the fest is on horror films, there will also be generous offerings of speculative fiction, unusual action movies, and cult flicks. Scotiabank Theatre (259 Richmond Street West), all day, Tickets $13. Details
- Theatre: Like the company’s recent triumph, Angels in America, Soulpepper’s newest show, The Norman Conquests, requires multiple trips to the theatre—or a hearty constitution for a full day of marathon attendance. Unlike Angels in America, the three instalments of The Norman Conquests—Table Manners, Living Together, and Round and Round the Garden—are comic in nature and small in scope, with each instalment taking place in a different part of a couple’s house. Written by prolific British playwright Alan Ayckbourn, the three-part series features veteran members of the Soulpepper ensemble, and can be “enjoyed individually or in any combination.” Young Centre for the Performing Arts (50 Tank House Lane), all day, $51–$68. Details
Art: Ai Weiwei is a 56-year-old artist confined to his home in Beijing for creating work critical of the Chinese government and Chinese culture. There are video cameras outside his house, his phone lines are tapped, his blog was deleted, his Shanghai studio was destroyed in 2010 by authorities, and his passport was confiscated in 2011. To this day, he’s unable to leave his country. Even so, Ai Weiwei has had a large presence in Toronto over the past few months.
This past June, he did a performance piece with artist Laurie Anderson during the Luminato Festival, using Skype. His Zodiac Heads have been installed, temporarily, in the reflecting pool in front of City Hall. At this year’s Nuit Blanche, a large-scale version of his sculpture of bicycles, Forever, will take over Nathan Phillips Square. And beginning August 17, the Art Gallery of Ontario is displaying “Ai Weiwei: According to What?”, a retrospective of the work he produced before and after the Chinese government’s crackdown on his activities helped him find new international acclaim. Art Gallery of Ontario (317 Dundas Street West), 10 a.m., $25 (Includes general admission). Details
- Dance: Kaha:wi Dance Theatre brings a unique First Nations creation story to the stage with A Story Before Time. The Onkwehonwe narrative—which embodies the beliefs, symbols, and dreams of its people—is conveyed through dance, theatre, and a blend of traditional and contemporary music. It incorporates both Mohawk and Cayuga languages. Young People’s Theatre Studio Space (165 Front Street East), 10:30 a.m., $15-$24 + HST & service charges. Details
- Theatre: The Steady State Theatre Project presents Script Scrap, five nights of exciting new theatrical works. Each night a different piece will be featured, each one written by a playwright involved in one of the Steady State’s three development programs. LemonTree Creations (196 Spadina Avenue), 6:30 p.m., PWYC. Details
- Theatre: Fans of the seminal 1968 horror-film classic, Night of the Living Dead, will delight in Night of the Living Dead Live, a new theatrical production of the story. Despite a weak second act, it’s a fun black-and-white romp with some inventive deaths—and even a chipper musical number. Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace (16 Ryerson Avenue), 7 p.m., $20–$80. Details
- Theatre: Crash, the one-woman show by Pamela Sinha, returns to Theatre Passe Muraille to open the fall 2013 season. The unsettling and deeply personal performance was a surprise winner in the New Play category at the 2012 Doras (over the phenomenally popular Kim’s Convenience, which is now being produced for television). Those who’d seen this intense autobiographical tale about the fallout from a brutal sexual assault were perhaps not so surprised. , 7:30 p.m., PWYC–$27.50. Details
- Theatre: Every revolution needs a leader. And though the movement to bring the classic 1980s musical Les Miserables back to Toronto is markedly different than the quest for political accountability and social equality, it has its hero just the same. After Wednesday night’s official opening performance at the Princess of Wales Theatre, the audience likely would have followed London-based, Richmond Hill-raised performer Ramin Karimloo (as the story’s golden-hearted protagonist, Jean Valjean) anywhere he would lead. Princess of Wales Theatre (300 King Street West), 7:30 p.m., $35–$130. Details
- Comedy: You might expect a show called We Can Be Heroes to be a send-up of superhero films, but Second City’s new mainstage production is actually a celebration of minor, everyday acts of heroism ranging from giving advice to a bullied child to managing not to be a jackass at your friend’s wedding. Second City (51 Mercer Street), 8 p.m. and 10 p.m., $24–$29. Details
- Theatre: The great vaudevillian performer and comedian W.C. Fields is believed to have coined the infamous showbiz axiom, “Never work with animals or children.” Others in the entertainment industry have adopted the rule, because of the unpredictability of toddlers and beasts on stage. But in his recent play The Best Brothers, Daniel MacIvor embraces both of these snubbed theatrical minorities—even if the dog only appears for a brief moment and the two adult characters only act like feuding minors. And surprisingly, there’s little unpredictability in it. Tarragon Theatre (30 Bridgman Avenue), 8 p.m., $21–$53. Details
- Theatre: In the movies, when a car breaks down in the middle of nowhere it usually leads to sexy times, amusing adventures, or utter terror. The Rocky Horror Show is all of the above. In case you’ve somehow managed to avoid watching it on TV every October, the story follows the exploits of newly engaged (and stranded) couple Brad Majors and Janet Weiss, who are forced to stay overnight in the strange home of Dr. Frank-N-Furter. A Toronto Halloween tradition, the theatrical production of this cult classic returns to the stage for the sixth straight year, starring Cory Strong, Amanda Milligan, and Adam Joshua Norrad. Lower Ossington Theatre (100 Ossington Avenue), 8 p.m. and 11 p.m., $39-$49. Details
- Theatre: Celebrating its sixth year, the De Colores Festival of New Works returns to Toronto for three nights of theatre. Presented by the Alameda Theatre Company, the festival will showcase four new productions by Latin-Canadian playwrights: Paradise Red by Bruce Gibbons, Solaz by Jefferson Guzman, Have You Lost Something? by Flavia Hevia, and Marine Life by Rosa Laborde. Artscape Wychwood Barns (601 Christie Street), 8 p.m., $15, students/seniors $13, festival pass $40. Details
Theatre: Virginia Woolf’s 1931 novel The Waves, which is considered to be her most experimental work, weaves the story of seven childhood friends through first-person soliloquies that flow seamlessly between the past and the present. That same summary could also describe a handful of theatre productions that have come through Toronto over the last few years, so a theatrical adaptation of The Waves is not completely surprising. Actually, it makes a lot of sense.
It should be similarly unsurprising, then, that The Waves gave one of Toronto’s best-known physical-theatre companies its start in 2001. Dinner at Seven-Thirty, conceived by Theatre Rusticle’s artistic director Allyson McMackon, was the company’s first self-produced show. Since then, the company has mounted acclaimed works like April 14, 1912; Birnam Wood; and last year’s Peter and the Wolf. Twelve years later, McMackon is remounting Dinner at Seven-Thirty, which deals with the lives of a group of friends, reunited in the countryside to remember a friend who has passed away. The play will have a short run at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, with a new—and mostly very strong—cast. Buddies in Bad Times Theatre (12 Alexander Street), 8 p.m., $18–$31. Details
Theatre: Arts & Lies Productions opens its second season with Eugene Ionesco’s The Killing Game, rarely produced outside of schools due to the large cast requirement. Eighteen local actors will populate (and eventually depopulate) the stage for the absurdist playwright’s story of how a small town handles rumours of an oncoming plague (in a word: badly). In previous productions, every actor has had his or her own death scene, and the play is often described as morbidly funny. Annex Theatre (730 Bathurst Street), 10 p.m., $18–$22. Details
This post originally stated that one of the Prayers for the New World plays is titled Communion, but the correct title is Confessions. We regret the error.
Urban Planner is Torontoist‘s guide to what’s on in Toronto, published every weekday morning, and in a weekend edition Friday afternoons. If you have an event you’d like considered, email us with all the details (including images, if you’ve got any), ideally at least a week in advance.