Live theatre is a wonderful thing, but without knowing how to find student ticket prices, it can be an incredibly daunting endeavour for your already empty wallet. Finding your way to the theatre (especially out of town) and around the complicated student discounts can be exhausting, so we at blogUT have put together a short list of some of the best theatre in the city and how to access it at reasonable prices. Stay tuned on blogUT for reviews of many of the shows from these festivals.
1. Best of the Toronto Fringe Festival (July 20-27)
Price: $15 for 2 shows (each ~1 hour long)
Location: Toronto Centre for the Arts at the North York Centre subway station
Did you mean to go to the Fringe Festival and miss it because there are just way too many festivals in Toronto in the summer to actually be able to attend them all? Don’t despair! You can catch the Best of Fringe at the Toronto Centre for the Arts (right at the North York Centre subway station on the Yonge line). Here you can see two one-hour Fringe shows in one evening for the low price of $15. Pitch Blond is a must-see one-woman show by local actress/director/writer Laura Anne Harris, playing on July 23rd at 7PM, about Hollywood actress Judy Holliday during the McCarthy years. It’s brilliantly directed and Harris is a fantastic actress : you actually have to remind yourself that there’s only one actress on stage.
2. Broadway musicals in Toronto (ongoing throughout the summer)
Price: Under 30? Tickets starting at $35, if you join <30 Dancap
Location: Four Seasons Centre (Osgoode station) and Toronto Centre for the Arts
These days you can see the best of Broadway musicals without ever having to shell out for a trip all the way to New York City! In fact, you can see these shows for just $35 (when regular tickets are more like $40-65). We reviewed 9 to 5: The Musical, which showed earlier this summer, and check back soon for a review of the Tony-award-winning musical Next to Normal, playing from now until July 30th, which is a FABULOUS new musical about the trials and tribulations of a bipolar woman and her family coping with the disease (and other normal things). At $35, it’s a steal (bear in mind that regular-priced best seats for musicals at Stratford can run up to $120)! Also coming up this summer is Come Fly Away with music by Frank Sinatra and choreography by Twyla Thorpe.
3. Soulpepper Theatre in the Distillery District (year-round)
Price: Student tickets for $28. Or join StagePlay for $22 tickets if you’re 21-30! Or 21 and under? Get $5 rush tickets on the day of the performance.
Location: Young Centre for the Performing Arts in the Distillery District (take the King car to Parliament)
Schedule: Full list of performances here and performance calendar here
Sometimes it’s nice to simply enjoy some local talent, and I’m always game for an excuse to visit the beautiful historic distillery district. The Soulpepper Theatre company has shows year-round but as UofT students, summer is probably the time when we actually have time on our hands to enjoy theatre! This summer, you can see the one-act show The Kreutzer Sonata (**), Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie (review coming soon!), Ionesco’s Exit the King (opens August 6th), and Torontonian Judith Thompson’s White Biting Dog (opens August 12th). There are a lot of different student discounts to navigate which can be a bit confusing. If you’re under 21, then either buy advance student tickets ($28 for full-length plays, $25-35 (any age) for one-act plays), or rush tickets in-person, 30 minutes before curtain, for $5 (cash only). If you’re 21-30, first join and check with stage play on the day of the show. For Monday night shows, you can buy advance tickets from stage play for $22. For more date flexibility and advanced tickets, I suggest buying advance student tickets for $28 online, anytime. I’m pretty excited about The Glass Menagerie and Exit the King.
4. Stratford Shakespeare Festival (until October 30th)
Price: $25 for Play On tickets (aged 16-29) or $29 for TIXX
Location: Stratford, Ontario
Schedule: Season calendar
The Stratford Festival is one of the best theatre festivals in North America, especially if you want to get your yearly fix of Shakespeare. This year’s must-see Shakespeare is Richard III starring Seanna McKenna. The festival is also mounting Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, Twelfth Night, and The Merry Wives of Windsor. The musicals are Jesus Christ Superstar and Camelot – not the most inspired plays of recent years but could be worth a visit. Also playing: The Little Years, Moliere’s The Misanthrope, Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming, Grapes of Wrath, and Shakespeare’s Will. I’ll be posting a review of Richard III soon (it’s fabulous!) and possibly other plays later in the summer so keep your eyes peeled for those.
Getting Discount Tickets
The best way to get tickets is to check for Play On dates, which are usually posted 2 weeks in advance, which are the cheapest tickets and the best (discounted) seats: for $25, you get tickets for the best available seats in the house, excluding A+ seating, and you only need one person in your party to be between 16-29, in order for the discount to be valid for all seats (up to 4). If there aren’t Play On tickets available for the shows or dates that you want, then the next best thing is the TIXX program, which will randomly assign you to Balcony seats (A, B, or C) but it won’t tell you what your seats are until after you’ve already paid. It’s also $29 per ticket but there are no age restrictions whatsoever. If you’re in the area, purchasing rush tickets on the phone or in-person on the day-of may be an option, too, but it’s unrealistic for Torontonians. The plus side for Rush tickets is that you can get a discounted price (20% for A+ seating; 50% for C seating) on better seats, but it’s still likely to be more expensive than either Play On or TIXX. And A seating is perfectly adequate.
The biggest problem with going to Stratford, for us city folk, is actually getting to Stratford. The easiest (and probably cheapest) thing to do is to drive there. But not all of us downtown folk have licenses! The next best bet is to take the Stratford Shuttle bus for $48, on select Saturdays in July, August, and September. It will pick you up in downtown Toronto, drop you off in Stratford in time for a 2PM play, and bring you right back afterwards. The downside is you can’t see two plays in one trip. Look for “TO Direct” on the Stratford calendar. The only other reasonable option is to take the train, which costs $50-70, depending on when you book. The trouble with the train is that it doesn’t arrive early enough in the day to see a 2PM show and it leaves too early to catch an 8PM show, so you have to stay overnight. There are lots of places to stay, but they book up quickly on weekends, and finding very cheap accommodations can be tough. Check out the Stratford accommodations guide for more information.
Price: $24-60 (details below)
Location: Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario
Schedule: Season schedule
A nice alternative to the Stratford Festival is the Shaw Festival, down in Niagara-on-the-Lake. This season’s line-up is particularly exciting, including My Fair Lady (which is essentially Shaw’s play, Pygmalion with excellent songs added in), and Tennessee Williams’s wonderful play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. True to its name, the Shaw festival is putting on three more Shaw plays: Heartbreak House, Candida, and On the Rocks. Look for reviews on blogUT next week of My Fair Lady and Heartbreak House and the week after for reviews of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Candida.
Getting Discount Tickets (complete list)
The best deal is to get tickets for a performance marked as a “student special matinee” where you can get $24 tickets for any available seat. The next best thing is to book $29 balcony tickets at the Festival Theatre for any regular-priced performance. If you’re under 30, you can also book $30 tickets for preview performances, but there are only a few of them and the show is still considered “unfinished” at that point (they won’t let our reviewers from blogUT review preview shows!) and it’s not the cheapest option anyway. If you can drive, then you might want to consider going to a Sunday evening performance where you can get tickets for $46-60 (except at the Studio theatre), but I would make sure that you’re getting better seats for your money before booking.
Driving is the easiest way to get there, but if you don’t drive, there are still some reasonable options. On weekends, the easiest way to get to the Shaw Festival is probably to take the Go Train from Union Station to Niagara Falls (~$20 each way, schedule here) and then board the Falls Shuttle from the Go Train station into Niagara-on-the-Lake ($3.50 single fare). You can arrive early enough to go to a 2PM matinee and leave after a quick and early dinner or a leisurely dinner. You can also take a Via Rail train, for $45 round trip, which will definitely get you in town in time for a 2PM show but could be tight getting back as your show would need to be done by no later than 5PM to likely be able to make the 5:45PM train from Niagara Falls. You can stay overnight – it’s definitely a tourist destination – but it can get pricey and will book up early.
For indie Toronto theatre, consider checking out the SummerWorks festival on August 4-14. There’s also a lot of great Toronto theatre being produced by recent grads of the UofT UC Drama Program. In particular, I’d recommend checking out plays by the Red Light District company (especially anything directed by Lauren Gillis who did Alkestis last year, which I raved about) and Pandemic Theatre (especially anything starring Tom Davis, who is undoubtedly one of the best actors to graduate from UofT in recent years).
Feel free to leave questions in the comments section. The whole process can be pretty daunting since there are so many different options for students. I’m well-versed in the first four festivals, and I still found Soulpepper and Stratford discounts to be a headache to wrap my head around. Transportation out of town to Stratford and Shaw can be tricky if you don’t drive, but there are ways of getting there, if you want to! And there’s a whole lot of good theatre to be found there. If it’s too expensive or too much work for you, then do check out something in town, as there’s much to see without going too far!