What to see, do, hear and read in Toronto this February
Including an indie powerhouse’s most emotional tour yet, an exhibition on reclaiming Indigenous culture and a new adaptation of a classic play by Anton Chekhov
1 Fresh off a string of European concerts, indie’s premier melodramatic singer-songwriter brings her latest batch of ballads to Toronto. Mitski’s seventh full-length album, The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We, includes the tracks “I Don’t Like My Mind” and “My Love Mine All Mine,” which have been regulars on Spotify’s recommendation lists since they came out last September. The album, with its softer, mildly country vibe, presents a collection of lush, ennui-soaked tributes to the promises and contradictions of America—themes that are perhaps better enjoyed from this side of the border. Massey Hall, February 10 to 12
2 Australian theatre is having a moment in Toronto. Last month, the AI-anxiety play The Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes ran at the Berkeley Street Theatre, and now another hit Aussie play is making its Canadian debut. Created by famed playwright Joanna Murray-Smith, Rockabye follows an aging British pop star seeking to restore her former glory with a comeback album while in the midst of adopting a baby from Africa. The show was praised as an incisive take on modern-day celebrity worship when it debuted in 2009 at Melbourne’s Sumner Theatre—and it may be even more relevant today. January 26 to February 11, Factory Theatre
3 In her first solo exhibition at a Toronto gallery, Pizandawatc / The One Who Listens / Celui qui écoute, Montreal-based Anishinaabe artist Caroline Monnet tackles themes of language, loss and reclamation by capturing the sound waves of words spoken in her ancestral language in layers of wood, imprinting the voices of her people onto physical objects. The exhibition’s title, Pizandawatc, is the traditional name of Monnet’s family—a fitting tribute for a show that wrestles with the legacy of colonialism. January 18 to March 23, Art Museum at the University of Toronto
4 Growing up isn’t easy for anyone, but try being a gay kid in a hyper-religious immigrant family in the Toronto suburbs during the 1970s. That’s the hand artist Maurice Vellekoop was dealt, and he played it well, becoming a prolific cartoonist and illustrator. He shares his journey in a new graphic memoir, I’m So Glad We Had This Time Together, which traces his life story from familial estrangement to personal discovery as a student at OCAD, including all the rough patches along the way. Vellekoop, known for his cheek, injects some fun into an at-times difficult tale. Out February 27
5 Valentine’s day is just around the corner, and your special someone may be expecting a special something. Whether it’s one-of-a-kind jewellery to show your love and appreciation or something less conventional, Toronto’s artists and artisans have it covered. More than 85 of them are coming together at the Great Hall for this year’s February edition of the Toronto Art Crawl. Expect paintings, photography, sculptures, fashion, homewares, skin-care products and more, plus a selection of food vendors so visitors can snack while they shop. Bonus: those who arrive early can snag a free swag bag. February 11, The Great Hall
6 Montreal-born singer-songwriter Sam Roberts and his band are back on tour, this time for their eighth full-length album, The Adventures of Ben Blank. Released last October, the new LP tries on a Sgt. Pepper–style concept, featuring a mysterious fictional character, Blank, as the album’s narrator. It’s a challenging conceit for any artist, but with six Juno awards over a 20-year career, Roberts and his crew are up to the task. February 9, History
7 Neil deGrasse Tyson has been talking about space for a long time, and as science gets more advanced at searching the stars, he’s had to continually update his material. In the five years since he filmed his StarTalk TV series, the James Webb Space Telescope has transmitted some truly spectacular images of the cosmos—and a lot of juicy data. Tyson returns to the stage in this lecture-style talk to discuss the ever-evolving possibility of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe with a video presentation. The VIP package includes a private Q&A with Tyson plus a group photo and an autographed poster. February 6, Meridian Hall
8 This touching tale of love between a fox and a hunter may or may not make you cry (and no, it’s not The Fox and the Hound). The Cunning Little Vixen is a three-act opera written by Czech composer Leoš Janácek in 1923, and this month, the Canadian Opera Company is staging its own production. Featuring Canadian soprano Jane Archibald as the titular vixen and conducted by COC music director Johannes Debus, it’s both the story of a single fox and an allegory for humanity’s increasingly fraught relationship with nature. January 26 and 28; February 3, 8, 10, 14 and 16; Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts
9 Step into a soaring Russian mansion with CAA Theatre’s production of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, a turn-of-the-century tragicomedy about a landowning family that has fallen on hard times. First performed by Crow’s as a theatre-in-the-round production in 2022, it has now been adapted by set designers Julie Fox and Joshua Quinlan for a more traditional staging at the CAA. The expansive layout gives each character the chance to live within the space—an approach that’s well suited to Chekhov’s talents. The legendary playwright, notes Fox, was a master at observing human behaviour. Here, Fox and Quinlan tell us about how they built a set that does justice to his work. February 2 to 25, CAA Theatre
1. A pile of firewood carries multiple meanings: the labour required to heat the house, a nod to the original outdoor setting of the first act and a symbol of Chekhov’s conservationist leanings. In Uncle Vanya, one character decries clearing forests for industry and commits to replanting his own.
2. In this pivotal scene, Serebryakov, a professor, presents a radical idea for the family’s struggling estate. “It’s a particular moment in Russia, with the emancipation of the serfs, where these minor gentry were suddenly losing sources of income and struggling with what to do,” explains Fox.
3. While most of the costumes were designed to evoke the 1890s setting, costume designer Ming Wong took occasional modern liberties, like dressing Serebryakov’s daughter Sonya—who puts in a good share of physical labour on the estate—in practical trousers.
4. Vanya has just pulled up this chair to the middle of the room to confront his brother-in-law (and the owner of the estate), Serebryakov. His seated position represents the power imbalance between him and Serebryakov, who stands to the left.
5. Fox describes the gramophone as “the period equivalent of a TV.” It’s the gathering place around which the family tells stories and listens to music. It also helps set the scene—there’s an Erik Satie piano piece playing when the audience enters the theatre.
6. A traditional Russian samovar sits on the centre table. “There’s a lot of eating and drinking, a lot of tea and alcohol,” says Fox of the play. The samovar was borrowed from Soulpepper Theatre.
7. Hazy sunbeams simulate the warmth of summer in Russia, which cranks up the tension between the play’s characters. These rays, perfected by lighting designer Kimberly Purtell, were a special treat for Fox and Quinlan. “You need a lot of space beyond the set to create the effect of sunlight,” says Fox. Luckily, CAA Theatre has that.
8. While the set shows only one part of the mansion, its designers wanted to make the rest of the house feel present. Some lines are delivered just off-stage, as if from a hallway leading to the main room. Here, French doors lead to the mansion’s garden.
9. Columns, walls and windows stretch up into the rafters, emulating the soaring vaults of high European architecture. In the CAA production, the stage extends outward diagonally, projecting the ceiling over the audience.
10. The once-grand country estate has fallen into disrepair, as can be seen by the rotting floorboards.