The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern (370 Queen West, 416-598-4753) is a bonanza for skinflint music geeks, with not one, but two long-running weeklies for upstart local rockers and up-and-comers from abroad. The free Monday-night Shoeless showcases can be a bit hit-and-miss, with total unknowns from around town half the time, but the evening's played a huge role in cultivating the local music community. Tuesdays are Dave Bookman 's domain. The Toronto scene fixture has won international acclaim for hand-picking the indie performers who appear, among whom there are usually one or two solid acts from anywhere from Oshawa to Osaka who are definitely worth checking out. As well, the 'Shoe and sister club Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West, 416-532-1598) consistently feature local bands for negligible covers (anywhere from $2 to $8), so make sure you scan their listings carefully, or check out their Web sites, www.horseshoetavern.com, www.leespalace.com.
Tons of bars feature open mics and free-for-all stages, often hosted by some pretty decent performers, and they're generally free. You can check out folky open stages Mondays at the Free Times (320 College, 416-976-1078), Graffiti's (170 Baldwin, 416-506-6699), the James Joyce (386 Bloor West, 416-324-9400) and the Tranzac (292 Brunswick, 416-923-8137), along with an open jazz jam at Blur (549 Bloor West, 416-535-8965) - all within walking distance of U of T. Tuesday nights, Healey's (178 Bathurst, 416-703-5882) has a free double jam - first comedy with Glen Foster , then tunes with Shannon Fayth , while jazz aficionados can head to the Rex (194 Queen West,416-598-2475) to bob heads along with the long-running Classic Rex Jazz Jam, hosted by a different cat every week.
Wednesdays offer too many open stages to count, from Club 279 's (279 Yonge) Ultimate Jam featuring Led Zep freaks Michael White and Animal House , and the Open Wound stage at Mitzi's Sister (1554 Queen West, 416-532-2570) for Parkdale upstarts, to the revered Fat Albert's open jam (recently relocated to 25 Cecil), a Toronto institution formerly housed in a Bloor Street church, where musicians from Bob Snider to Ron Sexsmith started out and still show up from time to time. Check out the Wednesday-night club listings for more options. If blues is your bag, Grossman's (379 Spadina, 416-977-7000) features free open jams on Sundays and blues performers pretty much every night of the week, generally with no cover.
Although the mid-week hump day is general pretty dry in terms of music, the Silver Dollar 's (486 Spadina, 416-763-9139) Wednesday bluegrasstravaganza is a reliable oasis. The fingerpickers in the twangy Crazy Strings ensemble transform the crusty blues club into a back porch hootenanny with several sets of old-timey country and folkgrass tunes. There's no cover, beer's dirt cheap and the crowd - from mohawked anarchist kids to bearded coots - is delightfully random.
Sunday, bloody Sunday
From the raucous country hoedowns of the Countrypolitans to the garagey cabaret jazz of the Mad Bastards , it's possible to spend the better part of your Sunday partaking in a long-running Toronto tradition for barely any coin (pwyc) at the Cameron House (408 Queen West, 416-703-0811). These rootsy local stalwarts make the beloved tiny bar a most excellent place to fight Saturday night's hangover with the hair of the dog.
On your Wavelength
For all the petty griping about cliquey scenesters in this city, the ambitious kids behind Wavelength have managed to keep their weekly indie rock throwdown open, accessible and welcoming for over four years. Sure, you might feel a little weird at first cuz all the shoulder-bag-and-leg-warmer regulars know each other, but there's no better place than Sneaky Dee's (431 College, 416-603-3090) on Friday nights to see art school fashions, cool zine-ish art and some of the most interesting under-the-radar bands that come through this city, from experimental noise to Haligonian hiphop.
Got highbrow tastes in music? Check out the Toronto Symphony Orchestra 's Soundcheck website where, if you're between the ages of 15 and 29, you can score TSO concert tickets for $10. And you can bring a guest outside of the age range and still get the discount price. www.tsoundcheck.com
Playing for cheaps
There's an idiotic notion out there that live theatre's way pricier than film. Don't believe it. Like Times Square's half-price ticket booth, Dundas Square's T.O. Tix sells half-price same-day tickets to pretty much every play, dance show and opera in town, as well as some stand-up comedy shows. Keep in mind that the hottest shows might not be available, and lineups can start well before the noon opening Tuesday through Saturday (Sunday and Monday tickets go on sale on Saturday). Phone 416-536-6468 ext 40 for daily updates of shows.
Whatever ya got
If half-price tix are too rich for you, then how about pay-what-you-can (pwyc) performances? Sunday's the bargain day for theatres like Buddies in Bad Times (12 Alexander, 416-975-8555), Factory (125 Bathurst, 416-504-9971), Tarragon (30 Bridgman, 416-531-1827) and Theatre Passe Muraille (16 Ryerson, 416-504-7529), where matinee performances (usually 2 or 2:30 pm) go pwyc. No one will turn up their nose if you throw in $5 or $10. CanStage 's Bluma Appel (27 Front East) and Berkeley Street theatres (26 Berkeley, 416-368-3110) go pwyc on Monday nights and offer limited same-day rush tickets Tuesday to Saturday. Get there early and be prepared to share theatre stories with your neighbours. Pwyc/rush lines are a great place to see and be seen.
Not-for-profit theatre's one thing, but what about the so-called high-brow performing arts? The National Ballet (1 Front East, 416-345-9595) sells rush tickets for $36 on the day of performance (on sale at 11 am), while the Canadian Opera Company 's terrific 18to29: Opera For A New Age program gets you tickets for $18 or $29 if you're 29 and younger (details at 416-363-6671). Want tickets to two of the hottest shows in town? Just announced, Mirvish Productions offers $25 Hairspray and Mamma Mia! tickets for students, and special student dinner/theatre packages for $45. You need valid student ID, with a maximum of two tickets per person. Call 416-872-1212 and quote code UH 09/04.
Remember to check out NOW itself for tons of giveaways. Can't get much cheaper than free.
If you want to catch tomorrow's comic superstars today for next to nothing, check out the city's free or pwyc open mics. Jo-Anna Downey 's Wednesday-night Open Mic Night at Spirits Bar & Grill (642 Church, 416-967-0001) or Glen Foster 's Comedy Jam Tuesdays at Healey's (178 Bathurst, www.thatcanadianguy.com) are good places to begin. Both have a solid mix of pros and amateurs. Two bucks gets you into Toonie Tuesdays Amateur Night at Yuk Yuk's Downtown , (224 Richmond West, 416-967-6425), and it's hard to believe there's no price for Riffin' At The Griffin , a weekly show at the Yellow Griffin (2202 Bloor West, 416-763-3365) that features an impressive lineup of improv, sketch and stand-up each Sunday. Other comedy bargains include Monday's legendary pwyc ALT.COMedy Lounge at the Rivoli (332 Queen West, 416-596-1908), a star-studded spot on the radar of comedy bigwigs like Janeane Garofalo and Ellen DeGeneres. If you're into improv, don't miss Friday's free Comedy On The Danforth night at Timothy's (320 Danforth, 416-461-2668). And Second City 's (56 Blue Jays Way, 416-343-0011) free Saturday late-night improv set, right after the Mainstage Show at around 12:15 am, often draws cool guests who want to flex their improv muscles.
If you're looking to learn about improv, Theatresports - who have produced some of the world's top comics, including Sandra Shamas and two Kids in the Hall - hold free public drop-in workshops every Saturday at 5 and 7 pm at Bad Dog Theatre (138 Danforth, 416-491-3115).
Long-time standby chain Festival Cinemas owns five theatres (sadly, the Music Hall closed September 1) splayed all over downtown. Movies cost $6, with a $3 six-month membership. The programming tends to stick to just-past-first-run blockbuster territory, but there are exceptions. The Revue (400 Roncesvalles) shows the classics whenever it can, and the Royal (608 College) is home to Kung Fu Fridays every other week. www.festivalcinemas.com.
The Bloor Cinema (506 Bloor West, 416-516-2330, www.bloorcinema. com.), restored to its former glory after extensive renovations, is both cheap and elegant. The programming ranges from second-run mainstream to indie festivals, student screenings and alternative one-offs. Tickets are a mere $4.25, with a $3 membership.
For those of you can't wait a couple of months for movies to hit the reps, there are other options. The Rainbow Cinemas show first-run movies at cut-rate prices: $4.25 for students, seniors and matinees, and $7.50 for adult evening rates; last year they even opened a theatre downtown at 80 Front East. 416-494-9371, www.rainbowcinemas.ca.
Many of the big chain theatres offer cheap matinees and Tuesdays. One of the better deals is at the Carlton (20 Carlton, 416-598-2309), where an ever-changing array of first-run independent and foreign films screen for 6 bucks in the afternoon or a more-modest-than-average $10 at night.
The Town Hall theatre at U of T's Innis College (2 Sussex, www.utoronto.ca/fff) offers an eclectic cinematic selection in its Free Film Fridays every Friday at 7 pm throughout the school year. If it's not Friday and you're dying to go out to the movies but have nothing in your pockets but lint, the NFB Mediatheque (150 John, 416-973-3012, www.nfb.ca) has what you need. Private viewing stations offer a menu of over 400 movies, and it's all free. And for only slightly more than nothing, there are NFB Film Thursdays, when selected films screen at the John Spotton Cinema , generally for $6, or $4 with a free membership.