Toronto, Ontario – Film and Stage
Toronto is not called “Hollywood North” for nothing. Many Hollywood flicks and made-for-TV movies are filmed here. Toronto is one of the top three North American film cities in terms of box-office sales. As well, it is a tryout city for Broadway plays, not to mention having many diverse venues for live theatre to suit all tastes and budgets.
As far as films, most are of the American mass-appeal variety at large Cineplex’s. However, we do have a few cinemas that specialize in quality foreign films: The Carlton in the downtown core and the Cumberland in Yorkville. Also, watch out for quality Canadian and foreign award-winning films that sometimes are widely released and do show at the regular venues. Check Eye and Now magazines – free in boxes in the downtown core – for revues and critiques.
We also have some six repertory cinemas scattered in the central city in case you have missed a first-run film recently in your hometown. In addition, watch for special festivals throughout the year: The Toronto International Film Festival is the most important in scope and variety after Cannes (September); The Jewish Film Festival (May); and The Italian Film Festival (June). Venues such as the Art Gallery of Ontario, Ontario Place, and The Ontario Science Centre also feature special screenings. See the above two magazines and you’ll be well informed.
For live theatre and performances, Toronto can perhaps be beat only by New York for variety and quality of productions. Let’s begin with the large-capacity buildings both old and new.
The mainstays for Broadway-type productions in the downtown “theatre district” are The Royal Alexandra Theatre and The Princess of Wales Theatre, both on King Street West. (Subway: St. Andrew’s). The former is very old and full of ambience while the latter is new and yes, opened by Diana, Princess of Wales. Roy Thompson Hall opposite the “Royal Alex” is the venue not only for classical concerts, individual virtuosos, ballet and opera, but also shows such as the world-famous Peking Acrobats (an eye-opener for kids of all ages).
Another large downtown venue is The Hummingbird Centre (formerly known as The O’Keefe Centre) at Front and Yonge Streets (Subway: Union or King). Just a half-block east is the St. Lawrence Centre theatre, with two small stages. I saw a breathtaking performance of Tango Argentina there last year.
You want more? Other downtown large venues are the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres, which are back-to-back on Yonge Street (Subway: Dundas). Both of the latter theatres have been restored and renovated to former glory. Massey Hall on Victoria Street near the Eaton Centre is historic with lots of atmosphere for live music performances by groups and individuals. I recently saw The Buena Vista Social Club from Cuba and the place vibrated with audience involvement. Also on Victoria Street is The Pantages Theatre, where Phantom of the Opera had a very long and successful run.
A fair bit north of downtown but still on the subway (North York City Centre subway stop) is The Toronto Arts Centre (formerly called The Ford Center). It has a large hall for big productions and a smaller one for musical performances. Log onto www.toronto.com that will tell you which theatres have their own sites and ‘map it’ helps you locate them.
We have not really scratched the surface when it comes to live productions. The above venues feature mainly large crowd and big-ticket-price shows, which may not be your cup of tea. So, if you’re adventurous and a fan of off-Broadway or off-off-Broadway performances, then listen up! Toronto has dozens of small cozy theatres, varying from avant-garde to dinner theatres to community-based and student theatre. There are too many to enumerate here, but here are two favourites where I have seldom been disappointed. In fact, I always marvel at the talent of so many artists’ here in Toronto, waiting to be discovered.
The two are The Poor Alex and Theatre Passe Muraille. The first is at Bloor and Brunswick in ‘The Annex’ neighbourhood and features new and exciting talent. The second is in an up and coming trendy area at Queen Street West and Ryerson in an old former fire hall and what I’ve seen there has been varied and always professional. Many of these theatrical productions have at least one performance a week called PWYC (Pay What You Can) and I have enjoyed some great original theatre here.
Not enough choices yet? Toronto also has community theatres, though these are mostly in the suburbs and not on a regular performance schedule. The University of Toronto drama students often showcase their talents at the Helen Gardiner Theatre and Hart House on campus. There is even YPT – Young People’s Theatre – down in the St. Lawrence Market area which features plays geared both to young children and teens.
In a separate future article, we’ll deal with comedy clubs and venues; dinner clubs; dance; and jazz and other music clubs. You should not leave Toronto without catching at least one live stage production. The fall and spring tend to be magnets for new openings, but any month will not lack for variety. Also, don’t be afraid to get off-the-beaten-path and maybe discover a non-mainstream production you can tell your friends about.