The best things to do this summer in Toronto

Our list for the best art, stage, film and music events happening in the city – online and offline


Get back to life with these in-person events

ARc de Blob is part of Spring Stations, one of the best summer 2021 events in Toronto
Khristel Stecher

Spring Stations

COVID bumped the annual design competition Winter Stations to a new season and location. Instead of Woodbine Beach, three of this year’s winning installations are now on display at the Distillery District and a fourth is directly south at 33 Parliament. One of the most striking is The Epitonium, an architectural interpretation of a kind of seashell that catches some Instagramable light at night. From Small Beginnings is a kind of shelved forest, ARc de Blob re-interprets a global landmark and THROBBER features 10 colourful and and trapezoidal “shelters.”

To late July. Free. winterstations.com

Comedy on the River

Once again, professional stand-up comedy is happening on the Humber River various Friday nights through the summer. You get there by renting a paddle.

Through October 8, various Fridays, 6 or 6:30 pm. $40 (single kayak) to $90 (large canoe). torontoadventures.ca 

DAHLIA KATZ

Porchside Songs

Musical Stage Company’s summer concert series of live musical cabarets returns to people’s porches, with concerts by Sara Farb and Britta Johnson, Jewelle Blackman and Evangelia Kambites; Gabi and Jake Epstein; and Saccha Dennis and David Atkinson.

Dates TBC. $395.50. musicalstagecompany.com

Toronto Backyard Picture Show (aka Tiny TOPS)

The Toronto Outdoor Picture Show transforms your own outdoor space into a movie venue, with a kit that includes a screen, projector, Bluetooth speakers and cables.

Throughout the summer. $175 and up. topictureshow.com 

Kiara performs at Canada's Drag Race Live at CityView Drive-In in September 2020
Samuel Engelking

Drive N’ Queens

The drag world didn’t waste time pivoting to drive-ins last summer, and with Canada’s Drag Race becoming must-see pandemic TV, performers known mainly in the local queer bar, gay birthday party and bachelorette circuits are now headlining major concert venues like City-View Drive-In. This series is hosted by recent NOW cover star and choreo-queen Tynomi Banks, and features a different lineup each month. A hot ticket will certainly be fan favourite Jimbo’s first post-Drag Race appearance in Toronto at the first gig.

June 25, July 10, August 12, September 9 and October 9. $120 and up. ticketmaster.ca

Drive-in concerts at CityView

The drive-in venue outside Rebel has had to delay its program a few times already, but the June 12 start date feels firm this time. That’s when you can catch the beginning of the Drive ‘N Queens series, which kicks off a summer that will include performances by Canrockers Big Wreck, indie rockers Tokyo Police Club & Born Ruffians, a great hip-hop bill from Skratch Bastid and friends (including Shad, k-os, Haviah Mighty and more) and others.

CityView Drive-In. July 3-August 27. Various prices. cityviewdrivein.com

Asitha Tennekoon performing in Box Concerts
Michael Mori

Box Concerts

Tapestry Opera presents a pop-up stage for curbside concerts in which Asitha Tennekoon performs opera, musical theatre and commissioned songs.

June 16-September 12. $250 (household). tapestryopera.com

Stratford Outdoor Summer Season

Stratford presents six plays and five cabarets all grouped around the theme of metamorphosis, performed under two outdoor canopies. Final details and ticket information will be released when Ontario’s reopening plan  around audience capacities and rehearsal limitations is clarified.

June 22 through the fall. $TBA. stratfordfestival.ca

A photo of the musician Ellis
Samuel Engelking

Chill-O-Rama

The Horseshoe Tavern can’t invite you onto their old familiar checkerboard floors just yet, but they’re still presenting live music you can watch in-person (you can also livestream it, if you so prefer). Chill-O-Rama is the historic bar’s upcoming fundraiser series at CityView Drive-In featuring bands that are no strangers to the venue: Stars, Ellis, the Jim Cuddy Band, the Sadies, Elliott Brood and more. Get in your car, grab some popcorn, roll down the window and maybe turn off your AC for the full ‘Shoe experience.

Cityview Drive-In. July 15-17. Tickets start at $99.50 for a two-occupant car. Livestream tickets $13.50-$22.50. cityviewdrivein.com

Stupidhead! “At Your Place” performances

Katherine Cullen and Britta Johnson present in-person performances of their musical about living with dyslexia.

July 20 to August 1. $400 (for friends and families). outsidethemarch.ca

A photo from Illusionarium
Courtesy of Lighthouse Entertainment

Illusionarium

There’s been a resurgence in magic entertainment in recent years. Even before COVID, the Art Gallery of Ontario had planned a magic-themed exhibition and major Canadian live producers and streaming platforms have pushed magic lately. The producers of Immersive Van Gogh are getting on top of this urge for escapism with a second large-scale experiential installation in the former Toronto Star printing press building debuting in mid-summer. Created by British magician Jamie Allan, Illusionarium promises to take viewers on a tour through the history of magic that reimagines classic 21st-century illusions using recent technology – think 3D and holograms – as well as a few real, live and distanced human beings. We also hear a new world premiere immersive exhibit will debut in the same space this summer.

Opens July 29. 1 Yonge. $99 and up. illusionarium.ca

BLACKOUT

The Musical Stage Company and Canadian Stage present the premiere of Steven Gallagher and Anton Lipovetsky’s musical inspired by real events during the blackout of 2003.

July 23 to August 15. Pwyc. High Park. musicalstagecompany.com

Helen Maybanks

Blindness

Mirvish Theatre presents the Donmar Warehouse Production of Simon Stephens’s adaptation of José Saramago’s dystopic novel, with audiences seated in pods spaced eight feet apart and the show happening around them as a sound installation.

August 4 to 28. Prices and dates TBC. mirvish.com

nowhen

Alison Wong’s two-part experimental work about time, place and sound dramatizes seven stories happening around High Park.

August 5 to 15. By donation. canadianstage.com

Beyond Monet: The Immersive Experience

The founder of French Impressionism is the latest long-dead European painter to see his work reworked into animated digital projection format. This three-part show will take over 50,000 square feet of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre and promises to plug into the playful and dreamlike aspects of Monet’s iconic landscapes and seascapes. One dollar from every ticket sale will go toward a new program, the Black, Indigenous and People of Colour Fellowship.

August 5-October 3. All ages. $99. 255 Front West. monettoronto.com

Virtual events that are worth a click

Pride Month

Yes, Pride is once again online. The 40th anniversary celebration will culminate with Canada’s reigning drag superstar Priyanka hosting the Parade, which also features performances by Allie X and iskwē. But after scrambling last year to go virtual organizers have the digital thing down, so there are 70 events spread over the month, from virtual dance parties by Yes Yes Y’All, Blockorama and Alterna-queer, to Dyke Pride and Trans Pride, and trivia nights, human rights panels and IRL art installations. Check out our best Pride event picks here.

To June 27. Various times. Read our top Pride Month event picks at nowtoronto.com/culture

What Is: Soul

The Music Gallery’s new series is also the first curation by new artistic director Sanjeet Takhar. It’s described as a “multi-part workshop, talk and performance series focusing on the embodied, transcendent, dreaming parts of music that exist beyond genre.” There are five different events that cover everything from putting soul into computer music, the art of the record store with Play De Record and singing on the toilet.

To June 12. Free. musicgallery.org

A still from Death And The King's Horseman for the Soulpepper audio drama version
Courtesy of Soulpepper

Around The World in 80 Plays

Soulpepper’s series of eight audio dramas concludes with a production of Wole Soyinka’s Death And The King’s Horseman, directed by Tawiah M’Carthy.

Premieres June 9 and runs to June 30, along with the other seven plays. Pay what you can. soulpepper.ca

Horseshoe Hootenanny

The Horseshoe Tavern launched its first ever livestreams during this pandemic, but it’s been a frustrating time of scheduling and postponing while provincial regulations have waffled. Now it seems like the reopening is really happening and suddenly there’s a glut of virtual shows this summer. Check out their schedule for show dates by Hawksley Workman, the Trews, Birds of Bellwoods, UIC, comedian Shaun Majumder, Terra Lightfoot playing T. Rex and more.

June 12-September 18. Various prices. horseshoetavern.com

Global Toronto

Small World Music’s showcase and conference is online for the second straight year, and it’s one of the more thoughtful virtual events of its kind that you’ll find. There are panels on subjects like anti-racism, how capitalism has failed the music industry, the role of music in protest and accessibility. They’re available to watch online in advance so you can discuss them with others during the festival itself. And the lineup of virtual performances is one of the most diverse you’ll find: AfrotroniX, the Commotions, Moneka Arabic Jazz, Pantayo, Turkwax and more.

June 14-18. PWYC, $75 suggested. globaltoronto.org

Soulpepper.ca

CHILD-ish

Sunny Drake’s four-episode web series created from the words of actual children (an earlier version premiered at SummerWorks) launches with a free virtual event.

June 22 at 7 pm. Free. soulpepper.ca

You Can’t Get There From Here

Factory Theatre’s excellent series of eight audio dramas inspired by Toronto neighbourhoods or landmarks – and written by Anusree Roy, Matthew MacKenzie, Yvette Nolan, Keith Barker and Luke Reece – continues to stream live on various podcast platforms until the fall.

To September 25. Free. factorytheatre.ca

Sāvitri

Against the Grain Theatre presents a 40-minute film of Gustav Holst’s outdoor chamber opera based on the Indian legend about a princess who falls in love and marries an exiled, doomed prince.

Premieres June 23 at 7:15 pm, with pre-show discussion with artists; thereafter available on demand until July 11. By donation. againstthegraintheatre.com 

Daniel Avery: Together In Static

The UK techno producer’s moody and meditative joint album Illusion Of Time with synth master Alessandro Cortini of Nine Inch Nails was perfectly timed for anyone needing to zone out when the first lockdown hit. During the second and third, Avery set about recording new music to play at intimate, COVID-safe live gigs, but those sessions evolved into a new album and global livestream at the East London church that inspired it all. The affordably priced show was directed by Tom Andrew and Sam Davis, so dim the lights and get ready for a visual trip.

June 23, 8 pm. $8. dice.fm

Ace of Wands

Toronto psych-rockers Ace of Wands are putting out their new Vibrations/Rid Of Me (yes, that’s a PJ Harvey cover) single with a Wavelength-presented virtual variety show. The band tells NOW the theme is “creativity in isolation” and to expect VHS/public access vibes, found footage and interviews and performances with artists Robin Hatch and Zinnia. It’s directed by Sam Scott, who recently did a concert film/documentary for the band Beams, so expect this to go a step beyond your usual livestream concert.

June 29 at 8 pm. Free. wavelengthmusic.ca

Toronto Outdoor Art Fair

The 60th annual art fair goes online for a second straight year to showcase works by more than 400 juried artists. The chill summer afternoon vibes of browsing stalls at Nathan Phillips Square will be replaced with online artist-led studio tours, Instagram Live artist chats and virtual panel discussions produced with the Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery and StreetARToronto.

July 2-11. Free. torontooutdoor.art

Stupidhead! Live Digital Radio Broadcast

Katherine Cullen and Britta Johnson present live-to-air audio performances of their musical about living with dyslexia.

July 7 to 16. $15. outsidethemarch.ca

Venus Fest summer keynote presentations and mentorship program

Toronto’s festival and organization dedicated to women and gender-diverse people in music is launching a new mentorship program. Those chosen will get an honorarium and one-on-one sessions with mentors like Austra’s Katie Stelmanis, Bonjay’s Alanna Stuart and Zaki Ibrahim. There will also be a series of keynote presentations that are free and open to the public: Jully Black on July 14, Ezra Furman on August 4 and iskwē on August 18. Those are all artists whose words you want to hang onto.

July 14-August 18. Free. venusfest.net

Digital Toronto Fringe Festival

The festival of indie theatre and performance presents pre-recorded video, audio and text works for their On-Demand series, with some shows in its Fringe Primetime series offering audiences live and interactive experiences.

July 21-31. Pass prices available TBC. fringetoronto.com

Samuel Engelking

Toronto Caribbean Carnival

Organizers have yet to announce details of this year’s event but have staged virtual costume presentations to keep the carnival spirit alive as the third wave shut down months of advance preparation. Last year, Carnival reimagined the Grand Parade as a 13-hour-long livestream event featuring DJs and musical acts from around the world.

Early August, dates TBA. torontocarnival.ca

SummerWorks

The performance festival presents a month-long series of works on multiple platforms, with all programming free.

August 1-31. Free. summerworks.ca

Santiago Felipe

Björk Okestral

When lockdown first hit, the Icelandic pop innovator announced four acoustic gigs that would stream live from Reykjavík’s Harpa hall and feature more than 100 musicians that had worked on her various studio recordings. Each show would feature a different lineup of players, instrumentation and set list. The idea was to help out-of-work musicians and raise money for a local women’s charity. Of course, the pandemic didn’t let up and Björk’s typically ambitious plans have been rescheduled multiple times. With zero new COVID cases in Iceland lately, it’s looking good the gigs will finally happen.

August 29, September 5, 12 & 19. 10 pm. £15 (single), £45 (bundle). bjorktour.com/shows

@nowtoronto

Glenn Sumi discusses the challenges of trying to get things up and running in the face of constantly shifting pandemic protocols with Monica Esteves, executive director of the Canadian Stage Company, and Mitchell Marcus, artistic and managing director of the Musical Stage Company, in the latest episode of the NOW What podcast, available on Apple Podcasts or Spotify or playable directly below:

NOW What is a twice-weekly podcast that explores the ways Torontonians are coping with life in the time of coronavirus. New episodes are available Tuesdays and Fridays.

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