NOW critics pick the season's best online festivals, concerts, stage events and more
Toronto is in the grips of a third wave, but the length of the pandemic means event promoters are savvier at organizing online. Many of the season’s marquee events – Hot Docs, Canadian Music Week, Contact – are planning robust virtual offerings. And though livestream concerts are cancelled for April, you can still stream local pre-recorded – and live events taking place elsewhere. Here are our picks for the best virtual spring events – most online, most based in Toronto, plus a few international gigs and one drive-in series.
Toronto’s city museum, Myseum, doesn’t have a physical home, so the new virtual world works to its advantage. This year’s Intersections Festival, which explores the city through intersectional perspectives, has a hybrid virtual/in-person format. Events include a focus on women in Canadian hip-hop, a photo exhibition on the 2008-2009 Toronto Tamil protests, an exploration of Chinatown and more.
April 1-June 30. Free. myseumoftoronto.com
Talk Is Free Theatre presents one-night virtual play readings, featuring stars of stage and screen like Eric McCormack, Chilina Kennedy, Colin Mochrie, Gavin Crawford, Daren A. Herbert and Vanessa Sears. Riot by Andrew Moodie (April 8); She Stoops To Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith (April 9); Bright Lights by Kat Sandler (April 10); and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (April 11).
April 7-11 at 7 pm. Admission by purchase from sponsors ($30 minimum). tift.ca
The School of Toronto Dance Theatre presents solo works by choreographers Susie Burpee, Roberto Campanella, Christopher House, Sasha Ivanochko, Naishi Wang and others, as well as a piece by the school’s late co-founder Trish Beatty.
April 8-9 at 8 pm (available to stream until April 11). Pwyc (suggested $20 single, $40 household). schooloftdt.org
If you missed Natasha Khan’s concert at the Phoenix in February 2020, the British musician is doing a “stripped down” livestream show from her home in Los Angeles. Expect a mix of songs from all of her albums, covers and rarely performed material – so not unlike her pre-pandemic tour.
April 9 at 3 & 11 pm. $20. veeps.com
Even if you think you’re tired of virtual concerts, this one might change your mind. It’s a hologram music festival. Performances will stream live, and you can project them on a 3D paper “theatre” you order and assemble at home. Women From Space aims to fix the gender imbalance in experimental music scenes in Toronto. This year’s lineup includes Laura Barrett, pianist Eve Egoyan, electronic musicians Pursuit Grooves and SlowPitchSound, Tania Gill and more.
April 9-11. Free/pwyc, $10 + shipping for the Holograph Theatre. womenfromspace.com
Harbourfront Centre and Digidance present a streamed performance of excerpts from the Toronto-based Red Sky Performance’s 20-year repertoire, along with interviews with collaborators and creators.
April 14-20. $16.14-$26.14. harbourfrontcentre.com
The City of Toronto’s music office saw the shutdown of livestream concerts coming and pre-recorded as many of their empty local music venue concerts as they could in advance. With a bit of schedule juggling, they have enough in the bank to run every Thursday until May 13.
Here’s the new schedule of concerts:
The tech conference goes virtual again with a usual mix of high-profile execs like Twitter’s Biz Stone and Hollywood talents like Jameela Jamil and Nicole Kidman. In all, there are 250 speakers lined up. Originally intended to take place in Toronto for three years, the North American event only touched down here in 2019, reportedly attracting 32,000 attendees from 140 countries at the time.
April 20-22. Tickets from $119 USD. collisionconf.com
Tame Impala do the livestream thing on April 29.
The Australian psych rockers rescheduled last year’s Scotiabank Arena show with Perfume Genius to this fall – but if you’re not in the mood to hold your breath for that, consider tuning into this livestream concert. Kevin Parker and co. will perform their debut album Innerspeaker in full from a recording studio in Western Australia. The band released their fourth LP The Slow Rush last year, as well as a 10th anniversary reissue of Innerspeaker.
April 21. 9 pm. $12.68. momenthouse.com
After scaling down last year in a quick pandemic pivot, the annual festival of Canadian and international documentary cinema will screen a robust slate of 219 titles, including films about Sesame Street, designer Bruce Mau and Nike track coach Alberto Salazar. Buzzy Canadian directors with movies in the fest include Tanya Talaga, Yung Chang, Jennifer Holness and Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers.
April 29-May 9. $13-$259. hotdocs.ca
Toronto singer Katie Stelmanis and her electro-pop band are dusting off the songs from her 2020 album HiRUDiN for their first live performance. The Austra performance comes to you from the familiar pristine stage of Roy Thomson Hall.
April 29 at 3 pm. Pwyc, minimum $5. songkickpresents.com
This new free virtual R&B and hip-hop festival is putting on its second showcase, partnering each artist with a local Toronto business that was hit particularly hard by the pandemic. Performers include Tanisha, Zenesoul, Melo Griffith, Elyssa Plaza and more.
April 30 at 7 pm. Free. everbloomfestival.com
Luminato launches its four-part series of artist-curated programs with this piece curated by Travis Knights, featuring singer/songwriter Markus Aurelyus Jackman, dance/theatre artist Nithya Garg and tap dancer Johnathan Daniel Morin.
Streaming until May 1. luminatofestival.com
Courtesy of Georgia Scherman Projects
A detail from The Brotherhood FUBU (For Us By Us), a mural by Esmaa Mohamoud that will go on display during the Contact Photography Festival.
The annual city-wide photo festival is still happening, but where and how will depend on the evolving public health situation. Expect public art installations to go up around town – including an epic new work by former NOW cover star Esmaa Mohamoud on the Westin Harbour Castle facade – but whether or not galleries will be open is up in the air. As such, expect a more robust digital platform for this year’s event, which also happens to be the 25th anniversary. The full program will be announced on April 12.
May 1-31. Free. contactphoto.com
Walking in big groups is not considered safe, so the annual urban exploration and amateur history event is going virtual again. There will be three types of walks: live walks (via online platforms such as Instagram Live), self-guided walks (pre-recorded audio/visual walks) and 3D walks (walks created with Google VR Tour Creator).
May 7-9. Free. janeswalkfestivalto.com
Organizers of TCAF are seizing the opportunities that come with going virtual to expand the comics-centric festival to eight days and include on-demand programming. This year there will be 600 virtual exhibitors, with an emphasis on the zine and indie gaming worlds (Canzine is a partner). Programming has not been announced, but expect panels, lectures, readings, workshops, roundtables, live drawings and more.
May 8-15. torontocomics.com
For their 50th anniversary, the Juno Awards are returning to Toronto – sort of. The Canadian music awards will stream live from a variety of local venues, including Budweiser Stage, in a mostly virtual ceremony. Here are our thoughts on what the nominations say about the state of Canadian music.
May 16. Free. CBC TV, Radio One, Music and Gem.
After taking last year off due to COVID, CMW is doing its first virtual edition. The focus seems to be more on the industry conference side than the music festival part – which, let’s be honest, was always kind of the case even if they didn’t say so – though CMW did get some negative social media attention for charging artists $100 to register to play a virtual showcase. The panels include big-name speakers like Timbaland, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Nile Rodgers. Meanwhile, the 20th annual Independent Music Awards will stream on May 21 from the El Mocambo with July Talk, Sam Roberts Band, Walk Off The Earth and more.
May 18-21. $99-$150. cmw.net
Canadian Stage presents a streamed audio event about the disappearance of two women during a diving expedition off the coast of Oaxaca, by playwright and frequent NOW contributor José Teodoro.
Streams until May 31. Free. canadianstage.com
The Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company and Artists in Residence present a competition for those between the ages of 15 and 30 to answer the question, “What is my Jewish identity?” This live broadcast features the top 10 performers competing for cash prizes.
May 19 at 7:30 pm. Free. hgjewishtheatre.com
The sixth edition of the festival for “shorts, features and documentaries about Deaf and disability cultures, and by filmmakers and actors with disabilities and/or who are Deaf” goes online, promising over 20 shorts and features, matinees and workshops for schoolkids and the return of the ReelAbilities comedy night.
May 19-31. Pwyc. reelabilities.org/toronto
After splitting into two events in the spring and fall of 2020, this year’s TJFF is returning to one big festival… online, of course. The lineup is TBD but expect over 60 films and more than 40 “screening events” showcasing the best Jewish content from Canada and around the world. Early bird passes are already on sale.
June 3-13. Free-$20, passes from $200. tjff.ca
Ontario’s new “emergency brake” measures cancelled a lot of the virtual events we were looking forward to, but drive-in concerts start back up soon. Shows this season include Classic Albums Live tribute shows, Big Wreck on May 14, a Canadian indie rock double bill of Tokyo Police Club and Born Ruffians on May 28 and 29, and Skratch Bastid and Friends on May 22, which includes the eclectic party DJ and Canadian rapper Toronto MCs k-os, Shad and Haviah Mighty, as well as jazz improvisers re.verse.
May 7-June 11. Various prices. cityviewdrivein.com
Note: In-person and drive-in events subject to change due to public health regulations.