Theatre doesn't have to break the bank. CanStage's Bluma Appel (27 Front East) and Berkeley Street theatres (26 Berkeley, 416-368-3110) go pwyc on Monday nights. (Limited same-day rush tickets Tuesday-Saturday.) The legendary pwyc ALT.COMedy Lounge hits the Rivoli (332 Queen West, 416-596-1908). Comics like Janeane Garofalo and Ellen DeGeneres have shown up to check out the scene. Doors open at 8:30 pm, show at 9. (Sketch comedy on Tuesdays is pwyc, as are comedy and music performances on Sundays.)
Kick off your workweek at the Drake Hotel (1150 Queen West, 416-531-5042), where William New's storied Elvis Mondays have come home to roost in the Underground. Attracting a totally different demo than the Drake's usual 905-skewed tan-and-blond pod people, the no-cover showcase boasts a hit-and-miss slate of arty oddballs and up-and-coming indie bands. (New's own Mousekiss project makes frequent appearances.) You can also chow down cheap at the Starving Artist Buffet.
Over at the Horseshoe (370 Queen West, 416-598-4753), Mondays often mean the long-running Shoeless showcases, where you can catch rising artists (usually of the alt-rock variety) for free. You probably haven't heard of 80 per cent of the performers, but there's always a chance you might catch the next Constantines... or the next Our Lady Peace. Check the website (www.horseshoetavern.com) to make sure the Monday-night entertainment is Shoeless, and not a normal ticketed show.
If trying to get discovered (or discovering people who are trying) is your bag, Monday's the day for tons of open mic nights. In the U of T area, skinflint students can take their pick of free stages at the Free Times (320 College, 416-967-1078), the Tranzac (292 Brunswick, 416-923-8137) or the James Joyce (386 Bloor West, 416-324-9400), or take a hop, skip and jump down to Kensington Market to check out aspiring John Borras at Graffiti's (170 Baldwin, 416-506-6699).
At the Carlton (20 Carlton), an ever-changing array of first-run independent and foreign films screen for $6 in the afternoon and on Tuesdays, or for a more modest than average $10 at night. 416-598-2309. Glen Foster's Comedy Jam at Healey's (178 Bathurst, www.thatcanadianguy.com), a 19-plus comedy open house featuring stand-up by first-timers and regulars, is free.
Toonie Tuesdays Amateur Night at Yuk Yuk's Downtown , (224 Richmond West, 416-967-6425) features two hours of sketch comedy by students in the Humber College comedy program at 7 pm, and amateur stand-up at 9:30 pm. Runs until 2 am. Yes, $2.
Wanna catch hand-picked indie upstarts without dropping too much coin? Dave Bookman's got your ticket. Local institution-cum-radio-personality Bookie has been, uh, booking cover-free Nu Music Tuesdays at the Horseshoe (370 Queen West, 416-598-4753), since the Barenaked Ladies were just some suburban geeks who pissed off a mayor. The vibe is always pleasantly ecletic, and every so often bigger names drop by to play surprise gigs for their more frugal fans. (Implausibly popular East Coast dude-rockers the Trews launched their latest CD at a free Nu Music Nite this past summer.)
Just cuz you've got a beard to stroke don't mean you want to shell out big bucks to hear decent jazz. Less well-heeled members of the socks-and-sandals set will be pleased to learn that the Rex Hotel (194 Queen West, 416-598-2475) features great musicians and no cover pretty much every weekday - and Sundays! Tuesdays offer the long-running Classic Rex Jazz jam, hosted by a different artist every week.
If you're looking for a cheap way to get your underground hiphop fix, the long-running weekly party Footwork at Andy Poolhall (489 College, 923-5300) is consistantly busy, and it doesn't cost a cent to get in. Resident DJ Fase lays down the beats, stretching from classic funk obscurities to contemporary hiphop.
You care about the world and want to talk about it, so don't miss the St. Lawrence Centre Forums . Organizers bring together all the activists who matter to discuss issues hitting the headlines (27 Front East, 416-366-7723, www.stlc.com). High art doesn't have to be high-priced. The Art Gallery of Ontario (317 Dundas West, 416-979-6648) opens the vault for free on Wednesday, 6 to 9 pm.
Jo-Anna Downey's Wednesday-night Open Mic Night at Spirits Bar & Grill (642 Church, 416-967-0001), over 15 years old, is free (19 and older).
The only thing better than a free concert is a free concert by some of the city's finest musicians. Wednesday nights, the Silver Dollar (486 Spadina, 416-763-9139) hosts a heavenly High Lonesome hoedown with stellar bluegrass crew Crazy Strings - featuring hotshots like banjo picker Chris Coole , mandolin marvel Andrew Collins (also a member of the Creaking Tree String Quartet and the Foggy Hogtown Boys) and guitar ace Marc Roy . The crowd is eclectic, and beer's super-cheap to boot. What are you waiting for? Get yer twang on!
The Royal Conservatory of Music sponsors free student concerts at noon on Wednesdays at 90 Croatia, the school's temporary concert venue while the Conservatory itself gets a facelift. The school also offers youth orchestra concerts at cut-rate prices ($10, stu/srs $5) throughout the year. This is your chance to see the classical stars of tomorrow. 416-408-2824.
Pick up NOW Magazine in boxes and at stores and clubs all over Toronto. Remember to check for tons of giveaways. Can't get much cheaper than free. Selected films screen at the NFB's John Spotton Cinema (150 John, 416-973-3012, www.nfb.ca), generally for $6, stu/srs $4. And there are free screenings now and then.
Popular weekly party Shack Up at the Queenshead Pub (659 Queen West, 416-368-9405) gathers the indie rock kids for a night of death disco, electro rock and related sounds. There's no cover, and bottles of Mill St. beer are cheap. Quality tunes provided by Jaime Sin and guests.
Got a thing for shoes? Then take a freebie peek at the Bata Shoe Museum (327 Bloor West, 416-979-7799), 5 to 8 pm Thursdays.
It's date night. Where to go? Try the Town Hall theatre at U of T's Innis College (2 Sussex, www.utoronto.ca/fff), where a smart cinematic selection screens as part of Free Film Fridays every week at 7 pm throughout the school year. To get on the mailing list about upcoming films, e-mail email@example.com. Fortunately, you don't have to go too far from the U of T campus to get to the Royal Ontario Museum (100 Queen's Park Crescent, 416-586-5549). The venerable institution flings its doors open for free on Fridays from 4:30 to 9:30 pm.
If you're into improv, check out free Comedy on the Danforth night at Timothy's (320 Danforth, 416-461-2668). Fridays September to June; showtime 9 pm.
Second City's (51 Mercer, 416-343-0011) free late-night improv set happens right after the mainstage show (on the same stage) at around 12:15 am. Draws cool guests who want to flex their improv muscles. Learn about improv at Theatresports' free public drop-in workshops from 7 to 9 pm at Bad Dog Theatre (138 Danforth, 416-491-3115, www.baddogtheatre.com). Same instructors as Second City's classes, but free!
There ain't nothing better on a lazy weekend afternoon than kicking back with a cold beer and some sweet old-timey country music, and the Cameron Family Singers' regular sundown hoedown (Saturdays at 6 pm) at the Cameron (408 Queen West, 416-703-0811) promises all the honky-tonk you can handle for the low price of pwyc. Yee-haw!
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. Going strong for over half a decade now, the always entertaining Wavelength music series (www.wavelengthtoronto.com) at Sneaky Dee's (431 College, 416-603-3090) features some of the best under-the-radar indie shit from here and abroad - from kraut-inflected Scarberian soul to wicked and weird live electronic loopage - all for a mere whatever you can pay. How awesome is that? Not only is the crowd cute and stylish, but bands like the killer Constantines and fantabulous violin genius Final Fantasy (aka Owen Pallett) have all delivered now locally-legendary Wavelength performances. Make sure you're there to catch the next one.
Say no to NHL arrogance and watch some entertaining hockey at discount prices when the OHL's St. Michael's Majors play. Tickets are just $13, stu/srs $10, kids under 12 $8. Single tickets two hours before puck drop. Not that these guys don't fight, too. St. Michael's Arena, 1515 Bathurst, 416-872-5000, www.stmichaelsmajors.com
Wanna see movies but have no dough? The NFB Mediatheque's private viewing stations with spankin' new digital equipment offer a menu of over 1,800 films, and it's all free within the stipulated hours (150 John, 416-973-3012, www.nfb.ca/mediatheque). Two words: rep cinemas . A six-month Festival Cinemas membership costs $3. Screenings with membership cost $6, $9 without, srs/children $4.25. A Reel Deal card costs $25.50 and gets you into six films within six months of date of purchase.
Programming at the Bloor Cinema (506 Bloor West, 416-516-2330, www. bloorcinema.com) ranges from second-run mainstream to indie festivals, student screenings and alternative one-offs. A one-year membership costs just $3, giving you $4-to-$8 admission to most films. A five-movie card costs $20 with membership. Bonus: a large popcorn and drink for only $4 at shows starting before before 5 pm, and $5.50 after that.
For those of you who can't wait a couple of months for movies to hit the reps, there are other options. The Rainbow Cinemas (416-494-9371, www.rainbowcinemas.ca) show first-run movies at cut-rate prices: $7.50 for adults in the evening; Tuesdays, matinees, srs/children $4.25. There's even a theatre downtown at 80 Front East. (Hint: on the weekend, try buying your tix ahead of time to avoid the inevitable bottleneck at the box office.) Art film series are also just $7.50.
Don't buy the myth that live theatre is pricier than movies. 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. Pick up tickets in person at the Dundas Square location or order online at totix.ca. Phone 416-536-6468 ext 40 for daily updates.
The National Ballet (1 Front East, 416-345-9595) sells rush tickets for $39 on the day of performance (at 11 am), and starting October 4 charges $5 for any preview show.
The Canadian Opera Company's terrific 18 To 29: Opera For A New Age program gets you tickets for $18 or $29 if you're 29 or younger (416-363-6671 for details). Show I.D. at the Hummingbird Centre (1 Front East) to pick up tickets.
The Toronto Symphony Orchestra's Soundcheck program gets classical lovers 15 to 29 into $90 seats for as little as $12. Usually, 85 per cent of concerts have some Soundcheck seats. Register online at www.tsoundcheck.com for a musical experience that's cheaper than a CD.
Starting September 27, anyone with valid student I.D. pays $10 at Buddies in Bad Times at any show, and a student pass for five shows at the Tarragon Theatre sets you back only $65.
Beauty lovers shouldn't miss the greenhouses at Allan Gardens (19 Horticultural, 416-392-7288). You get a steaming hot environment year-round, a riot of eye-popping colours, and it's all free.
If you're walking along King near Church and, just opposite St. James's Cathedral, see a hunk of steel or clay, stop and admire the view. You've arrived at the Toronto Sculpture Garden (115 King East, www.torontosculpturegarden.com), where the work of some of local and international artists nestles into the landscape. Currently on view: Luis Jacob's meditation on the meaning of light, called Flashlight.
The Toronto Music Garden (475 Queens Quay West) offers the perfect mix of aural and visual beauty, interpreting through nature Bach's Cello Suite #1. A terrific date stroll and, yes, free. 416-392-8186.
Talk to the animals at the High Park Zoo (1873 Bloor West, www. city. toronto.on.ca/parks/highpark.htm), where you can find domestic and exotic species including bison, llamas, peacocks, deer, highland cattle and sheep. It's open year round from 7 am to dusk. And don't forget Riverdale Farm (201 Winchester, www.riverdaletoronto.com/riverdale_farm/index.shtml), where you can travel back in time to see a Victorian-era farm in operation.
Check Harbourfront Centre listings in NOW Magazine or at www.harbourfrontcentre.com for free events happening by the lake (235 Queens Quay West, 416-973-4000).