What to Check Out in Toronto October 17–23: Big City Improv Festival, International Festival of Authors, and Gord Downie
This week features an acclaimed Shaw Festival play, Justin Rutledge, and zombie fashion paired with pancakes.
Urban Planner is your weekly curated guide to what’s on in Toronto—things that are local, affordable, and exceptional.
Monday, October 17
Heritage architecture is big in this town—not just big as in large and Brutalist, per se, but rather a topic that many Torontonians care passionately about. The annual Heritage Awards, which include an early mayoral reception and the Kilbourn Lecture (this year, by Concordia University professor Steven High), are already sold out, so if you don’t already have a ticket, good luck getting in the building (har, har). Isabel Bader Theatre (93 Charles Street West), mayor’s reception at 6:30 p.m., awards ceremony at 7:30 p.m., $20–$35 (SOLD OUT).
Another week, another Torontoist alumnus with a book launch. Last week, it was John Semley’s This Is A Book About The Kids in The Hall; this week, it’s Johnnie Walker with the published version of his breakout solo show Redheaded Stepchild, last seen onstage in Toronto at the 2014 Fringe Festival. Walker, who was recently interviewed by Daily Xtra about the genesis of the show he’s toured across Canada, will read an excerpt; there will also be refreshments and a cash bar. Glad Day Bookshop (499 Church Street), 8 p.m., FREE.
Last week, Torontoist published an op-ed calling out a certain local comedy club—and by extension, the festival it was taking part in—for truly paltry efforts at a healthy gender balance on its stage. That’s not an issue at this year’s Big City Improv Festival, which is boasting that 75 per cent of its headliner acts this year feature women, including Chicago’s The Boys, Detroit’s Moyer & Monroe, and Toronto’s own The Sufferettes, reuniting for the first time in over a year (Becky Johnson‘s been busy on the Second City Mainstage). There’s men on the bill, too—Colin Mochrie, 2-Man No-Show, RN & Cawls—and don’t worry, folks, men can be funny, too. To October 22, various venues and times, $8–$18 per show, $65 fest pass.
Tuesday, October 18
Think of it as Hogwarts-style magic duelling—except the wands are paintbrushes and the competitors face easels. Art Battles features working-on-the-spot artists who have twenty minutes to create while audience members move throughout the space and examine the work. At the end of the night, audience voting determines the winners, and there’s a silent auction for those interested in bringing home the art they saw created. The Great Hall (1087 Queen Street West), 7 p.m., $10–$20.
Idiosyncratic theatre company Birdtown & Swanville first tackled colonialism and local history in 2012 at the Rhubarb Festival with Settlers, a disquieting short ghost story. For Even This Old Town Was A Forest, a radical reworking of that material, the ghosts are more substantial and now rooted in the possible historical roots of the creating collective, which includes Cara Gee as a lonely woman convalescing on Toronto Island, Jon Blair as an uncouth colonist, and William Ellis as a mysterious nun. There are currents of jealousy and desire amidst deprivation, and interesting takes on the concepts of land stewardship and belonging. We saw the show at its first preview, so some stiltedness may have already dissolved in the show’s time-shifting eddies. To October 23, The Theatre Centre (1115 Queen Street West), Thursday–Saturday at 7 p.m., $25, Saturday and Sunday 2 p.m. matinee, PWYC–$25.
Temperatures are supposed to hit 26 C today, well above seasonal norms, so those attending Fireside Tales may wonder why it’s the last outdoor edition this year. The monthly storytelling series around a Dufferin Grove Park campfire (and at Comedy Bar in the winter months) has a terrific line-up this time around, including Pressgang Storytelling host (and strong storyteller) Graham Isador, Laugh Sabbath’s Jackie Pirico, and Chris Robinson, recent winner of the SiriusXM Top Comic competition. Dufferin Grove Park (875 Dufferin Street), 8 p.m., FREE.
Wednesday, October 19
Fresh from a summer at the Shaw Festival, where it garnered phenomenal reviews, Obsidian Theatre’s production of “Master Harold”… And The Boys, is a devastating semi-autobiographical look at race relations in South Africa in 1950, seen through the prism of playwright’s Athol Fugard’s experiences growing up as a Afrikaner whose family had black servants. It’s not a particularly flattering self-portrait; the titular “Master Harold,” played with a spot-on blend of precociousness and privilege by James Daly, constantly and carelessly belittles the two men who work for his mother. In a diner that’s empty for the afternoon due to a rainstorm, the older Willie (Allan Louis) does his best to evade the boy’s impetuous attention, but Sam (André Sills), who became a surrogate father figure to “Hally” as a boy, strives to encourage the teen’s better impulses. His elation when the two connect, and heartbreak when he fails, have Sills in particular in the early running for awards consideration. There’s a tremendous amount of theatre on in Toronto this month, but this one really is not to be missed. To October 23, Toronto Centre For The Arts (5040 Yonge Street), Tuesday–Saturday at 8 p.m., Saturday–Sunday at 2 p.m., $29.50.
Thursday, October 20
This year’s International Festival of Authors boasts star-studded appearances by noted authors such as 2016 Pulitzer Prize winner Viet Thanh Nguyen, literary legend (and recent comic book creator) Margaret Atwood, and Stephen Harper’s most prolific book lender, Yann Martel. Events range wildly, from free youth workshops to the $50 a head PEN benefit. To October 30, Harbourfront Centre (235 Queens Quay West), various events and times, FREE–$50.
Ads? Most are annoying. Fake ads? Intriguing! Steven Chmilar has created an Ad Series intended to sell an imaginary attic full of junk, one man’s trash being another’s treasure, after all. The artist will host an opening reception tonight surrounded by the ads, with a few supplementary sculptures, too. Black Cat Gallery (2186 Dundas Street West), 7 p.m., FREE.
Over the years, Joel Gibb and his merry band of musicians and performance-artist pals have launched albums and held parties in all sorts of unorthodox spaces in Toronto, but for the latest album release by The Hidden Cameras (entitled Home On Native Land), they’re taking their fans way out of town, busing patrons from Parkdale to Kleinburg. Gibb and co. will play a special acoustic concert at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection there, then return Torontonians back to the core by 11 p.m. (there’s also ticket pricing for those who want to make their own way there). Meet at Gladstone Hotel (1214 Queen Street West), 6 p.m., $45 ($33 for Kleinburg museum admission and show).
Friday, October 21
There’s more than a few art events happening this week. Most will serve alcohol. But how many will serve pancakes and feature haute couture zombies? The Pancakes & Booze Art Show, which has travelled to Toronto for several years now, comes paired with a very different event, the Zombie Fashion Show, which has already delighted and grossed out spectators in Los Angeles and New York City. Early bird tickets are sold out, but tickets will be available at the door—and online VIP tickets with line bypass will get you past the shambling hordes quicker. The Opera House (735 Queen Street East), 8 p.m., $10–$13.
It’s another “blink and you’ll miss it” remount: Shakespeare in the Ruff is bringing last summer’s bloody Withrow Park puppet show Macbeth: Walking Shadows inside for three performances at the Regent Park Arts And Cultural Centre (now Daniels Spectrum). Also returning with the show is Kaitlin Morrow‘s memorable “butt puppet,” The Porter. Daniels Spectrum (585 Dundas Street East), October 21 and 22 at 8 p.m., October 23 at 2 p.m., $20–$28.
Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie shows no signs of slowing down after this summer’s terminal brain cancer diagnosis and country-rallying tour. He’s just been announced to be joining the line-up for Wednesday’s WE Day (both the daytime event and the evening family concert), in addition to his own headlining gig tonight, a Secret Path concert. Tickets for the show, which is fundraising for Indigenous reconciliation projects, start at $50 and go all the way to one grand for Gold Circle seats. Roy Thomson Hall (60 Simcoe Street), doors at 6 p.m., show at 8 p.m., $50–$1,000.
Weekend October 22–23
For some people, good food and great films are the pinnacle of indulgence. The Eatable Film Festival pairs classic films with a sumptuous meal catered by local chefs, brewers, and restaurants; for instance, Big Night paired with talent from Pizzeria Libretto and Enoteca Sociale. There are dozens more local purveyors matched up with the other three films in this year’s fest (Need For Meat, Portrait of A Garden, and Coffee and Cigarettes). To October 25, Royal Cinema (608 College Street), various films and times, $39–$225.
Toronto is his hometown, but for his seventh studio album, East, Justin Rutledge holed up to write and record in a cabin in Prince Edward County. He brings those new tunes, and opener Joshua Hyslop, to the Great Hall tonight. The Great Hall (1087 Queen Street West), doors at 8 p.m., $20.
The Sia, Miguel, and AlunaGeorge show on Saturday evening will be the pop and soul highlight of the month, but for those who want to focus on the middling smooth crooner, there’s a late night Miguel after-party hosted by the artist at the newly renovated venue formerly known as The Sound Academy. Rebel (11 Polson Street), doors at 10 p.m., $20.
Two one-act shows by celebrated artists are paired together in repertory at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre for the next two weeks. Anna Chatterton, who won a Toronto Theatre Critics Award this past year, brings a new solo piece, Quiver, about a mother and daughter who are at odds. Norah Sadava and Amy Nostbakken (who we profiled last year) bring their hit Mouthpiece, about a woman coping with the loss of her mother, which has toured all over Canada. Both shows feature creative use of a microphone (and, of course, the women’s voices). The shows “switch” each night between the early and late shows. To November 6, Buddies in Bad Times Theatre (12 Alexander Street), Tuesday–Saturday at 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. and 3:30 p.m., $15–$45.
Montreal-based musician Laurel Sprengelmeyer brings her Little Scream project back to Toronto, having this year signed to Merge Records (in the U.S.) and Dine Alone Records here in Canada. She’s been touring her new album, Cult Following, all summer, and her Sunday night show is no doubt the night’s hot music ticket.
The Baby G (1608 Dundas Street West), October 23, doors at 8 p.m., $13.
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has been re-scheduled for next week, October 25. We have removed the originally scheduled listing for October 19 to avoid any confusion.Joe Cressy (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina)’s office informs us that the community consultation on the Dupont corridor
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