From comedy albums and streaming subscriptions to band merch and books, these gift ideas check off every culture-lover's list
By Glenn Sumi
Nov 24, 2020
Since much of 2020 has been spent missing out on arts and culture activities – seeing a play, ballet or comedy show, attending arts festivals, browsing brick and mortar indie bookstores – this gift guide will bring those things to you in the next best way.
If you’re tired of looking at screens 24/7, try shutting your eyes and listening to stuff instead. Audible – which, yes, is owned by Amazon – has been doing lots to produce original Canadian material. Their just-announced series of Canadian Audible Originals includes new works by Tanya Talaga, a series on Canadian heists read by Colm Feore and original stories by Andrew Pyper, Catherine Hernandez and Jael Richardson. Like Alanis Morrissette’s new memoir, all of this content is free for members.
If you’ve got young aspiring actors, directors or designers on your holiday list, present them with this unique take on the works of beloved author Robert Munsch. Young People’s Theatre has created a set that includes eight stories by Munsch adapted into scripts, with tips about how to present them to your family, class or neighbourhood.
Remember concerts? And merch tables? Now you can recreate the feeling of being in a packed venue and waving your arms around with authentic band and concert Ts. Prices range from $20 (for a Whitney Houston Memorial T) to $1,500 (for a 90s Tupac Patra & Yo-Yo Romantic Call Single Stitch T).
Since seeing friends and family in person isn’t going to happen this year, why not send them a holiday greeting card instead? They’re much more personal than an email. The Art Gallery of Ontario sells cards from a wide range of Indigenous artists, including Sue Coccia, Rick Beaver, Jean Taylor, Kenojuak Ashevak and Mark Preston.
If you’ve got a nerdy book- or theatre-loving friend, help them clean up their act in the new year. Harry Potter fans will adore this Hogwarts Houses Goat’s Milk Soap Gift Set ($30), while Jane Austen aficionados will swoon over the Jane Austen Tinted Lip Balms Set ($25). Fans of the Scottish play will chuckle over Lady Macbeth’s Goat’s Milk Soap ($8). And if you’ve got a Scrooge on your list, present them with a Bah, Humbug bar of soap ($8) as a hint.
One of the most popular pandemic experiences has been the Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit, still available by attending the Drive-in or, starting again on December 21, in person. But that exhibit’s producers now unveil The Illusionarium, an immersive show in which life-like holograms, 3D projections and other effects recreate mind-boggling acts of magic. Both take place at the former Toronto Star Printing Press room at the foot of Yonge Street.
You might not be able to go to a packed movie theatre this holiday season, but you can read books about film to enhance your streaming pleasure. The list of enticing film-related titles includes Outrageous Misfits, Brian Bradley’s biography of Toronto-born drag queen Craig Russell; Death Book, a collection of vanguard director Bruce LaBruce’s performances, film production stills and photos; and A Very Merry Holiday Movie Guide, a compendium of the best (and the rest) made-for-TV holiday films.
Because of lockdowns and limits on in-person shopping, purchases from brick and mortar stores are likely to be replaced by gift cards and subscriptions. Get the theatre lover on your list a subscription to Mirvish, Soulpepper or the Tarragon to use when theatres are back open. Or if your friend likes film, gift them with a subscription to the Criterion Channel, Hot Docs At Home or Shudder.
Glenn started writing for NOW’s theatre section in 1997. Currently, he edits and contributes to the film and stage sections. He sees approximately 280 live stage shows and 150 movies a year. His mother once described his job as “Seeing The Lion King"