Sixteen things to see, do, read and hear in Toronto this May

Sixteen things to see, do, read and hear in Toronto this May

Including a bibliophile’s fun fest, a literary romp from a Hollywood heavyweight, and a botanical study of history and power

Kapwani Kiwanga, Maya-Bantu, 2019. The Moody Center for the Arts, Houston (USA), 2021. @Photo Nash Baker. Courtesy the artist and Goodman Gallery, Cape Town, Johannesburg, and London. ©ADAGP, Paris / SOCAN, Montreal (2022)
An organic study of history and power

1 Remediation is the first major exhibition in Canada for Canadian-­born, Paris-based artist Kapwani Kiwanga. Building on her acclaimed 2021 Flowers for Africa exhibition, this one takes stock of Kiwanga’s artistic output with a combination of new commissions and essential archival works. Through a selection of installations, sculptures, performances and multimedia pieces, Kiwanga continues to explore the relationships between botany, exploitation and resistance, illuminating the role of plant life in rejuvenating contaminated environments. Until July 23, MOCA

A comedic show with a searing critique

2 In the 1970s, long before he became known as T’Chaka in Marvel’s Black Panther and Captain America: Civil War, South African actor John Kani made theatre history. Sizwe Banzi Is Dead, which Kani co-created with fellow actor Winston Ntshona and legendary playwright Athol Fugard, is an absurdist comedy that shines a scathing light on the injustices of South Africa’s apartheid regime. Director Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, The Brothers Size) returns to Soulpepper Theatre to stage this unconventional classic about the dehumanizing effects of racism. May 25 to June 18, Young Centre for the Performing Arts

Photo from Innocence
A quintessential Toronto event’s milestone year

3 Toronto’s iconic documentary theatre is celebrating three decades of world-class programming with the 30th annual Hot Docs Festival. In 1994, when it all began, Hot Docs screened 21 films in a ragtag collection of theatres around the city. Now, the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema is a staple of Bloor Street West, and the festival draws over 200,000 viewers to more than 200 documentaries, some of which have gone on to win Academy Awards. This year’s lineup includes docs on disco queen Donna Summer (Love to Love You, Donna Summer), NBA superstar Steph Curry (Underrated) and champion free­diver Alessia Zecchini (The Deepest Breath). April 27 to May 7, Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema

A chameleonic musician’s symphonic collaboration

4 Grammy-nominated singer Devonté Hynes has released four solo albums under the name Blood Orange, blending hooky melodies and hard-hitting lyrics to explore trauma, triumph and the beauty of marginalized identities. This month, Hynes will flex his piano prowess with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. May 18, Roy Thomson Hall

Photo by Getty Images
An R&B queen’s stadium takeover

5 Glamorous, entertaining, ready. As the youngest member of the Jackson family, Janet Jackson launched her incomparable career with her first recording contract at age 16. Since then, she’s racked up 11 American Music Awards, five Grammys and nine MTV Video Music Awards. Her bold R&B sound and provocative lyrics have been tantalizing fans around the globe for decades, and she’s rocked some of the world’s biggest stages, including the MGM Grand and the Super Bowl. Her latest tour, Together Again, proves that even 40 years later, the singer still has more to give. May 23, Budweiser Stage

A book of essays about resistance

6 In Truth Telling: Seven Conversations About Indigenous Life in Canada, the latest collection of essays by award-winning novelist Michelle Good, the author combines the provocative writing of Five Little Indians with personal insights and new research. She also expands on such previously published pieces as “A History of Violence,” which first appeared in Keetsahnak: Our Missing and Murdered Indigenous Sisters. Out May 30

Photo by Nick Lachance
A real life–inspired play that flips the white gaze

7 In 1834, Afong Moy, a teenager from Guangzhou, China, was brought to the US and exhibited as the first “Chinese lady” to visit America. The public gawked as she used chopsticks, made tea and showed off her bound feet. In The Chinese Lady, playwright Lloyd Suh reverses the gazes, imagining Moy’s impressions of ­Western society as she tours the 19th-­century US. Presenting both a historical perspective on contemporary racism and a poignant personal story, Suh’s acclaimed play makes its anticipated Canadian debut. May 2 to 21, Streetcar Crowsnest

A sweeping account of our relationship with fire

8 Since the dawn of humanity, fire has been both key to our survival and a destructive force. In the spring of 2016, a wildfire ravaged Fort McMurray, Alberta, the heart of Canada’s oil industry. It destroyed neighbourhoods, displaced tens of thousands of people and, for writer John Vaillant, raised questions about our relationship with fire. In Fire Weather: A True Story From a Hotter World, Vaillant digs in to the circumstances of the Fort McMurray fire, its wide-­reaching implications, the history of resource extraction in North America and the role of industry in the climate crisis. Out May 23

Music Born of the Cold © Public Trustee of Nunavut, estate of Karoo Ashevak, photo by Christine Guest, courtesy of the MMFA
A sprawling exhibition about the art of music

9 ᑐᓴᕐᓂᑐᑦ TUSARNITUT! Music Born of the Cold explores the historically overlooked place of music in Inuit visual art, with a focus on representations of drum dancing and throat singing. The exhibition’s impressive scope includes more than 100 sculptures, prints, drawings and installations spanning over a century. Beginning in pre-colonial times and ending with contemporary works, Music Born of the Cold examines the transformations and adaptations of musical expression that came with first contact, colonialism and cultural exchange. It’s a rare and extensive look at the artistic diversity and creative breadth of the circumpolar regions. May 20 to September 24, ROM

A literary romp from a Hollywood heavyweight

10 Life and art collide in The Making of Another Motion Picture Masterpiece, the new novel by Academy Award–winning actor Tom Hanks. The story explores the changes in American culture after the Second World War, with the making of a multimillion-dollar movie serving as the backdrop for a lovably eccentric cast of characters. Out May 9

Photo by Isaac Schneider
An indie pop band hits the big time

11 Katie Gavin, Josette Maskin and Naomi McPherson—a.k.a. Muna—had their first hit in 2016, when Grammy-winning DJ Tiësto remixed their song “Winterbreak,” later featured on their debut full-length album, About U. That year, Muna soothed crowds at Lollapalooza with their lush, catchy pop tunes. The band’s third self-titled album combines stories of queer love with dreamy melodies. After opening tours for Harry Styles and Kacey Musgraves (and, soon, part of Taylor Swift’s The Eras Tour), Muna is finally ready to step out as the main act. May 14, History

A psychological thriller with Ivy League intrigue

12 Moya O’Connell, a star of the Shaw Festival, returns to the Toronto stage for The Sound Inside. In this psychological drama, O’Connell stars as Bella Baird, a Yale creative writing professor who lets a misfit male student into her solitary life. As their platonic relationship deepens, she makes a startling request of him that tests the boundaries of what one person can do for another. May 7 to 28, Coal Mine Theatre

Photo by Connie Tsang
An irreverent ode to mediocrity

13 Fatuma Adar made a splash in 2022 with Dixon Road, her Dora Award–winning musical, set in Toronto’s Little Mogadishu, about a Somali family adjusting to life in Canada. Now, Adar is back with more stories, songs and witty observations on the pressures of Black excellence—a topic she knows all about. In She’s Not ­Special, the writer-performer reflects humorously on the expect­ations faced by a Black Muslim woman artist and celebrates the mediocrity in all of us. First staged as a digital production at the Next Stage festival, the show makes its live debut as a joint presentation by Tarragon and Nightwood Theatres. May 24 to 28, Tarragon Theatre

A fictional epic about familial legacies

14 A History of Burning, the highly anticipated debut novel from Toronto-based writer Janika Oza, travels through time and four different countries to tell an intimate and captivating story about family and inheritance. The story begins in India in 1898, when colonialism, survival and resistance take a family from their home country to Uganda, England and, finally, Canada. Oza’s narrative comes alive with vibrant historical and sensory details—a universal testament to the power of family histories both told and untold. Out May 2

Photo by Ebru Yildiz
A musical collective’s enduring appeal

15 After eight studio albums, Vancouver supergroup The New Pornograph­ers are still going strong. Formed in 1997, the collective earned critical acclaim with their debut album, Mass Romantic. Their second, Electric Version, was ranked in Rolling Stone’s 100 best albums of the decade, and their latest offering, Continue as a Guest, cements their status as genre stalwarts. May 12, The Danforth Music Hall

A bibliophile’s happy place

16 Book (and magazine) worms rejoice, because the Word on the Street, the country’s largest annual book and magazine festival, is back. Featuring over 100 Canadian and Indigenous authors, this literary paradise is chock-full of booths from major Canadian bookstores, magazine publishers, libraries and literacy organizations. If you’re after the latest Margaret Atwood, David Chariandy or Tanya Talaga, WOTS is the place to be. Time to clear some space on those bookshelves. May 27 to 28, Queen’s Park Crescent

What Torontonians are loving right now

Courtesy of the CBC
You Can’t Ask That (CBC Gem)

Recommended by Cihang Ma, actor and comedian

“This documentary series offers insight into the lives of people who are often misunderstood by society. Folks with physical and neurological differences answer anonymous questions from the internet—all with humour, candour and authenticity.”

Photo by Steve Wadden
Queens of the Qing Dynasty (Digital TIFF Bell Lightbox)

Recommended by Arshy Mann, journalist

“This quiet, strange movie takes place in a Cape Breton hospital. I’m a sucker for stories about unlikely friendships, and the relationship at the centre of this film, between an institutionalized teenager and a recent Chinese immigrant, is unforgettable.”

Courtesy of Crave
RuPaul’s Drag Race, season 15 (Crave)

Recommended by Kirstin Beardsley, CEO, Food Banks Canada

“I’ve been tuning in to season 15 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, a joyful celebration of queer expression and community. I view the performances as opportunities to explore the truth, pain, absurdity and beauty of gender identity and the human experience.”