T.O. is one of the most expensive cities in the world for seeing first-run films. Cut your losses by bringing in your own snacks, but don't forget to hide 'em. The theatres would really rather gouge you at the concession stand. Or, if you don't need to be the first on your block to see a flick, wait for its appearance at the repertory cinemas, where you can pay $3 for a six-month membership and see movies at discount rates (member $6, others $8). The Festival chain of rep theatres includes the Paradise (1006 Bloor West), Fox (2236 Queen East), Kingsway (3030 Bloor West), Music Hall (147 Danforth), Revue (400 Roncesvalles) and Royal (608 College). 416-690-2600.
The Bloor Cinema (506 Bloor West, 416-516-2330) offers a $3 full-year membership (admission: members $4, others $7) for its slate of second-run movies and - a real bonus here - an excellent first-run indie cinema program.
Music to my ears
Although Wednesdays are generally pretty dry in terms of club dates, the Silver Dollar 's (486 Spadina, 416-763-9139) weekly bluegrass extravaganza, Crazy Strings , is a reliable regular oasis. The practised fingerpickers in twangy ensemble Crazy Strings transform the crusty blues club into a back-porch hootenanny with several sets of old-timey country and folk-grass tunes. There's no cover, beer's dirt cheap and the crowd - from mohawked anarchist kids to bearded coots - is totally diverse. For all the petty griping about cliquey scenesters in this city, the ambitious kids behind Wavelength at Sneaky Dee's (431 College, 416-603-3090) have managed to keep their weekly indie rock throwdown open, accessible and welcoming for over three years. It might make you feel a little weird at first that all the shoulder-bag-and-leg-warmer regulars know each other, but there's no better place to see art-school fashions, cool zine-ish art (former Three Gut gal Tyler Clark Burke exhibits art on a clothesline throughout September) and some of the most interesting under-the-radar bands that come through town.
They're not regular weeklies, but Nu Music nights at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West, 416-532-1598) and the Horseshoe (370 Queen West, 416-598-4793) constantly offer showcases for upstart local rockers and up-and-comers from abroad. The evenings can be hit-and-miss, mostly cuz the performers are total unknowns half the time, but you never know - you might stumble upon the next big undiscovered gem. Hell, stranger things have happened. Look for the tiny No Cover squares in their ads.
Just because we've got the third-largest theatre scene in the English-speaking world doesn't mean you have to pay world-class prices for tickets. Like the kiosk in New York City's Times Square, we've got our own discount T.O. Tix booth, newly relocated to Dundas Square. Here you'll find half-price same-day tickets to the top plays, dance shows, comedy nights, opera and music events, on sale from noon Monday through Saturday. (Tickets for Sunday and Monday are sold on Saturdays.) Availability changes daily; phone 416-536-6468 ext 40 for a list of shows.
If half-price ain't cheap enough, try pay-what-you-can days. Theatres like the Tarragon (30 Bridgman, 416-531-1827), Theatre Passe Muraille (16 Ryerson, 416-504-7529), Factory (125 Bathurst) and Buddies in Bad Times (12 Alexander, 416-975-8555) devote their Sunday matinee performances to pwyc crowds (anywhere from $5 to $10 won't get you a nasty look). Canadian Stage 's Bluma Appel (27 Front East) and Berkeley Street theatres (26 Berkeley, 416-368-3110) go pwyc on Mondays and offer limited same-day rush tickets the rest of the week.
A little-known fact is that Harbourfront 's awesome dance series (207 and 231 Queens Quay West, 416-973-4000) offers $15 rush tickets, if available, beginning at 1 pm on performance days. Student tickets go as low as $14.25.
And if you're looking for high culture on the cheap, there's stuff available. The National Ballet (1 Front East, 416-345-9595) sells excellent rush tickets for $35 on the day of performance (on sale at 11 am), while the Canadian Opera Company 's fantastic 18to29: Opera For A New Age program can get you tickets that would normally sell for around $120 for as little as $20 - but only if you're aged 18 to 29. (Phone 416-363-8231 for details.)
For all of the above, be prepared to wait in line - a cool place to flirt, show off that book you're reading and check out like-minded arts lovers. Phone the theatre in advance to see how popular a show is; they'll usually have a good idea of when to get there. And if you go with a friend, you can alternate java runs while waiting.
Remember, too, there's always the paper you're holding now, which offers lots of giveaways. Can't get much cheaper than free.
Laughter's incredibly cheap in Toronto, especially if you check out the many open-mike nights, where you can see tomorrow's Jim Carreys and Mike Bullards for nothing. Jo-Anna Downey 's Wednesday-night Open Mike Night at Spirits Bar & Grill (642 Church, 416-967-0001), Martina Gail 's Thursday-night Big Ass Comedy Show at Slack Alice (562 Church, 647-886-9090, see related story on page 82) and Richard Ryder 's Tuesday-night Eat Me, Drink Me Comedy Lounge at the Looking Glass (582 Church, 416-929-4779) are good places to start. Each night offers a mix of pros and amateurs. Other guaranteed cheap fun nights include Monday's pwyc ALT.COMedy Lounge at the Rivoli (332 Queen West, 416-596-1908), where everyone from Tom Green to Janeane Garofalo has checked out when in town.
You also can't go wrong with Alumni Café at the Tim Sims Playhouse (56 Blue Jays Way, 416-343-0011), where awesome improvisers like Paul O'Sullivan (from the upcoming The Producers), Bob Martin (Made In Canada) and Linda Kash (Waiting For Guffman) flex their improv muscles each final Monday of the month.
ART GALLERY OF ONTARIO Is free cheap enough for you? The AGO is one of Toronto's premier tourist attractions, so you wouldn't think there'd be deals, but Wednesday nights after 6 are free. Lots of stuff by dead white guys, and an excellent Canadian collection. 317 Dundas W. 416-979-6648.
royal ontario museum Get into the ROM free on Fridays between 4:30 and 9:30 pm. And it's actually a date night. Love those dinosaurs. 100 Queen's Park. 416-586-5549.
The distillery district This new addition to the art scene is blowing visitors away with its well-preserved Victorian architecture and independent retailers. The shops aren't exactly bargain barns, but the district houses a cluster of galleries where admission is free. A great day trip. 55 Mill.
I hear a symphony
Toronto Symphony Orchestra 's Soundcheck program offers tickets to people aged 15 to 29 for an amazing $10 - that's cheaper than a movie. And these aren't necessarily the worst seats in the house. Tickets are available two weeks before the concert (check the Web site) but must be picked up on the day of the concert at Roy Thomson Hall. Bring proof of age when you pick up tickets, and note that as long as you're of Soundcheck age your guest doesn't have to be. Register on the Web site at www.tsoundcheck.com.