New (here) productions from Company Theatre, Project: Humanity, and Soulpepper; panel discussions on hip-hop, and music in activism; music to support Hugh's Room, and more.
Urban Planner is your weekly curated guide to what’s on in Toronto—things that are local, affordable, and exceptional.
Monday, February 6
In Toronto, when one talks about hip-hop, there’s A.D. (After Drake), and before him. That’s the period Before The 6ix is looking at, over two weeks, in this panel discussion on Toronto’s rap roots. This first week, CBC Music’s Del Cowie moderates a discussion with local pioneers The Dream Warriors, John Bronski, K-Cut, and DJ Agile, talking about the seminal albums and acts from the past 25 years. Toronto Reference Library (789 Yonge Street), 7 p.m., FREE.
After losing their venue unexpectedly last month, Sing For Your Supper has found a new one, for now, at the Tarragon Theatre. This edition of the monthly new play workshop series, which recruits actors to read new writing for the first time ever, an hour before showtime, will feature the co-hosting debut of Kat Letwin and Cam Wylie. Tarragon Theatre Workspace Studio (30 Bridgman Avenue), 7 p.m. readers, 8 p.m. show, PWYC.
Tuesday, February 7
We haven’t seen a dramatic work like Company Theatre’s JOHN in a very long time, if ever. The Toronto premiere of a play by noted new American playwright Annie Baker, it’s hard to describe: a three hour plus three act show that seems to pass in three extended periods of held breaths, as the audience is transfixed by the goings-on on the ground floor of a historic Gettysburg bed and breakfast, and the problems of the young couple (played by Loretta Yu and Philip Riccio) who’re the only visitors, and are discomfited themselves by the chipper but odd proprietor Kitty (Nancy Beatty), as well as her blind and prophetic friend Genevieve (Nora McLellan). It’s hard to put a finger on precisely what keeps ramping up the slow-building tension and sense of foreboding. Is it the dolls and knickknacks that carpet the set? Is it the dialogue, which never quite uncovers what the characters are feeling or hiding? The play has received comparisons to The Shining for its depiction of people in an isolated and potentially haunted setting, but it’s far more subtle about the horror, if there is any, that might exist just off-stage. Frankly, we can’t recommend it enough. To February 19, Berkeley Street Theatre (26 Berkeley Street), Tuesday–Thursday, 7:30 p.m., Friday, 7 p.m., Saturday, 2 p.m. & 8 p.m., Sunday, 2 p.m., $20-$40.
Storytelling show Tinder Tales is mining, or perhaps helping to alleviate, the anxiety as Valentine’s Day approaches, by programming a night of “unfortunate” online dating stories. Host Dean Young will welcome, blind-date style, a bill of performers both amateur and professional, with their accounts of romantic SNAFUs. The Gladstone Hotel (1214 Queen Street West), doors at 7 p.m., show at 8 p.m., $12 in advance, $15 at the door.
Wednesday, February 8
Singer-songwriter Khari Wendell McClelland has told his ancestral story on The National and CBC Radio’s Tapestry, but in this expanded stage version of Freedom Singer, produced by local theatre company Project: Humanity, he does so in more detail, accompanied by Noah Walker and Tanika Charles. It’s a short run for the show, the first to be produced in the studio space in the new Crow’s Theatre venue, so this is a preview rather than a review, but based on McClelland and director Andrew Kushnir’s track record, we’re comfortable recommending it. To February 11, Streetcar Crowsnest (345 Carlaw Street), Monday–Saturday, 8 p.m., Tuesday & Thursday, 1 p.m., $20–$40.
Improv tends to be a mostly straight affair, as made up on the spot performance often defaults to baseline and conventional societal standards, with maybe one quirky character trait selected to build a scene from. This is changing, however (see Blind Date’s queer edition, for example), and Kinsey Fail is a showcase that intends to encourage more queer content in Toronto improv. Host/director Anders Yates and a cast that includes Tricia Black (Sunday Night Live), Nicky Nasrallah (Panacea Comedy), and stand-up Caitlin English will perform improv, plus the show will welcome special guest, Chantal Marostica. Bad Dog Theatre (875 Bloor Street West), 8 p.m., $10 ($5 for students).
In a week with multiple throwback screenings (Wayne’s World on Thursday, Drunk Feminist Film’s sold out Set It Off on Friday), perhaps the most curious is Buffy The Vampire Slayer. The box office dud became television gold when Joss Whedon reworked it for the small screen, but the original film shows flashes of the characters audiences would come to love, and the MUFF Society is presenting the film with a pre-show prom-inspired reception, complete with pop-up shop vendors and a photo booth. Carleton Cinemas (20 Carleton Street), doors at 8 p.m., screening at 9 p.m., $10.
Thursday, February 9
Hugh’s Room is currently on a list of Toronto music venues that are closing, but a campaign to get it open again and running as a not-for-profit space is picking up steam. A series of fundraisers are planned, and the first Hugh’s Room Fundraiser, hosted by the Canterbury Music Company, will feature Noah Zacharin, Blair Packham and Jen Schaffer and the Shiners; it’s a pay what you can event, though suggested donation, based on the bill, is $30. Canterbury Music Company (322 Dufferin Street), 8 p.m., PWYC.
We raved about The Last Wife when it debuted at Stratford last fall; now, the contemporary (in language, dress, and attitude) telling of the marriage of Henry the Eighth and Katherine Parr is enjoying a limited run at Soulpepper Theatre. It features a stellar turn in particular by Maev Beaty, the Toronto-based actor who’s lately spent more time on out of town stages than here (although she was a terrific David Bowie for Acting Up Stage’s Uncovered). To February 11, Soulpepper Theatre (55 Mill Street), Monday–Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Wednesday & Saturday, 1:30 p.m., $32–$89, $20 youth/arts worker tickets, $5–$25 rush tickets one hour before show.
It’s been 25 years since Scarborough native Mike Myers made the leap from Saturday Night Live player to movie star with the film version of Wayne’s World, which not only solidified Myers as a box office draw but cemented Bohemian Rhapsody as a go-to karaoke tune. Head-bang and schwing along to your favourite musical numbers and dream sequences at this one night only screening. Royal Cinema (608 College Street), 8 p.m., $10.
Friday, February 10
For the next six weeks, Women in Music Canada will host Winter Fridays at the ROM, featuring live showcases in collaboration with a number of Canadian groups that promote female-centric music acts. Wednesday Management has programmed the premiere bill, which includes Australia to Toronto transplant Hoodlem, pop duo Babygirl, and RAPLH (a.k.a. Raffa Weyman). The doors open early, and the sets are spaced out, allowing attendees to view exhibits between them. Royal Ontario Museum C5 Lounge (100 Queen’s Park), doors at 5:30 p.m., performances begin 6:30 p.m., $12.
Theatre Passe Muraille’s Crapshoot series has produced hit shows in the past, like Haley McGee‘s Oh My Irma, and this edition of the showcase, which gives budding companies and creators five minute slots to “test drive” material in front of an audience, features acts like SNAFU Dance Theatre and Augusto Bitter, and last edition’s “winner,” Broadleaf Theatre, presenting a 20 minute version of their winning entry. Judging the night’s offerings will be established theatre artists Adam Paolozza and Jani Lauzon; hosting will be Brian Postalian and Pearle Harbour. Theatre Passe Muraille (16 Ryerson Avenue), 10 p.m., PWYC.
This month’s edition of A Very Mark Forward… is in “outer space,” with the outspoken “nationalist” stand-up being joined (in space) by clown duo Morro & Jasp and stand-ups like Daniel Woodrow (Perfect 10), Chris Locke (Utopia to Me), and more. Comedy Bar (945 Bloor Street West), 10:30 p.m., $10.
Weekend February 11–12
Intent on winning your Oscar pool? You’ll need to win in the hard categories like live action shorts, and it helps to have seen them all. TIFF is screening The Oscar Shorts (both the live action and animated picks) for a week starting Friday, and you’ll want to see them this weekend to be victorious on Sunday night. (You can do so in good company at a wide variety of venues in Toronto, including Comedy Bar and Diner 120.) TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West), various times, $10–$14.
A celebrated concert pianist, in seclusion and mourning the loss of her estranged son, is approached by an enigmatic young woman who offers her a deal: in exchange for lessons, she’ll tell her stories of her son, who she spent time with at school. That’s the premise of Liv Stein, which is receiving its Canadian premiere via Canadian Stage. The characters, including the titular pianist (played by Leslie Hope, known to TV audiences for her work on Suits and NCIS) and her ex-husband (Stratford veteran Geraint Wyn Davies), all cling to shaky truths about their lives, but it might be easier for the audience to be seduced, as Stein is, if the language wasn’t so stilted. That, and the purposefully distancing staging and set, make the show, whose plot approaches the melodrama of opera, seem almost dispassionate. At under 90 minutes, it’s efficient, but underwhelming. To February 12, Bluma Appel Theatre (27 Front Street East), Tuesday–Thursday, 8 p.m., Friday, 7 p.m., Saturday, 8 p.m., Saturday–Sunday, 1 p.m., $35-$99.
Pitchfork-approved “shoegazer” act No Joy, is on tour and headlines at the Baby G tonight, with local openers Mimico (doesn’t get much more GTA than that) and Sprawls. Saturday, The Baby G (1608 Dundas Street West), doors at 9 p.m., $10 in advance, $12 at the door.
Best known for her work in opera, soprano Measha Brueggergosman is releasing an album of spirituals, entitled Songs of Freedom, and is performing at a special album release concert. The album is a companion release to the 2015 film that followed Brueggergosman as she journeyed from her home province of Nova Scotia to her ancestral home of Cameroon. Sunday, Harbourfront Centre Theatre (231 Queens Quay West), 3 p.m., $39.50–$44.50.
Against a backdrop of tens of thousands of Torontonians turning out in the past few weeks to rallies against racism and discrimination, Wavelength Toronto is hosting a panel discussion called Music as Disruption, looking at how musicians can use their skills to promote and support their activism and politics. April Aliermo (Hooded Fang), John Caffery (Kids On TV), Councillor Josh Colle, and Keita Demming will discuss how music can enact societal change and the importance of DIY spaces in which to create such music and change; the discussion will be followed by a special performance by LAL. Sunday, Gladstone Hotel (1214 Queens Street West), 3:30 p.m., FREE.
Inspired by the upcoming Valentine’s Day, the Spoke presents Secret Admirers, with stories of “unrequited love” and “unadulterated romance,” as told by Rose Napoli, Jason Maghanoy, Brian Kennedy, Alina Kulesh, and Michael Gray Kimber, and with hosts Tony Cushman and Vanessa Smythe. Sunday, Streetcar Crowsnest (345 Carlaw Street), 8 p.m., PWYC.
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