Forget the rumour that the performing arts are elitist and expensive. There's plenty of free stuff around, from open mics and improv sets to unstaged readings of plays-in-progress.
One of the best deals in town is the free noontime concert series in the Four Seasons Centre's Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. This winter, check out concerts by soprano Tracy Dahl, bass-baritone Thomas Allen (both currently in the Canadian Opera Company's Così Fan Tutte) and dance events with choreographer Michael Greyeyes, Ballet Jörgen and Ballet Brass, among other great artists and troupes. Pack a lunch for the hour-long performances - but eat quietly and get there early. Spots are on a first-come, first-served basis. coc.ca.
If stand-up comedy's your thing, free up your Monday and Tuesday evenings. Cheap Laughs Monday, the Comedy Cabaret, Imperial Comedy Show and Office Pub Comedy happen on Monday, while The Firestarter, The Skin Of My Nuts and Tuesday Headliner Series Comedy take place on Tuesday. Other free shows happen at the Lower Ossington Theatre and Betty's, home to Brian Coughlin's star-studded Corktown Comedy.
Check out NOW's weekly listings for comic lineups and venues.
Some of the funniest nights in the city happen after Second City mainstage shows, when the cast improvises, joined by some impressive alumni and guests (in the past couple of years I've seen 30 Rock's Jack McBrayer and This Hour's Shaun Majumder), to generate ideas for their next shows. Call 416-343-0011 for times.
Most of the mid-sized theatres have free reading weeks of works-in-progress. And remember to bookmark Harbourfront's website (harbourfrontcentre.com) for its free events in every genre.
If you've always wanted to see more modern dance, Toronto Dance Theatre makes it easy for you with its The Process Revealed nights, usually on the Monday before a show premieres. They include excerpts and a talk by the creators/artists. The event for their winter show Henderson/Castle: voyager happens February 10. tdt.org.
Finally, we don't have Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert, but we do have George Stroumboulopoulos and Rick Mercer. Tickets to their shows are free but must be reserved way ahead of time at cbc.ca. (Apparently Mercer Report tickets are sold out through 2015.)