All posts by Amanda Hadi


The Rent is Too Damn High

By | La Boheme | No Comments

Each week, the editors of  La Bohème newspaper pick a theme for their issue, and solicit real stories from real Torontonians. This week’s story: “The Rent Is Too Damn High”

Recently, Craigslist listed a semi-private studio apartment for $1,750/month. This apartment, which the ad described as being “full of character” and offering “a unique immersive experience of Toronto’s vibrant street life,” is actually an unroofed laneway off Brunswick Avenue.

“When you look around, there’s no realer place for a writer. This is what Balzac and Hugo were talking about,” Rodolfo said. An aspiring screenwriter, he rents the laneway with an OCAD student named Marcello, who is is transforming their refurbished furniture into an art project for GradEx. “It’s a conversation-starter with our guests. Or any pedestrians that wander into the laneway, really. And the silver lining is there’s always a parking space available. If we ever have a car, that’ll be cool.” Originally from Ottawa, Rodolfo was unfamiliar with Toronto’s neighbourhoods, but he’d seen Kids in the Hall, and, he said, “I pretty much knew I was going to live in the West End.”

Rodolfo continues, “The rent is pretty reasonable for this area.” He’d checked out one-bedroom apartments in Queen West, where the average monthly rent is $1,900 (plus utilities) a month. He almost signed one of those apartments but he didn’t have the necessary paperwork to close the deal: landlords now demand 10 post-dated cheques, first and last month’s rent, a cleaning deposit, a repair deposit (your landlord isn’t going to fix that thing on their own), a reference letter from all former employers going back five years, dental records, access to social media accounts and, in some cases, a fresh urine sample. So, Rodolfo eventually landed here: the Mirvish Village laneway with “unbeatable” rent.

The laneway is prone to intermittent power outages. The thin insulation makes heating a wild fantasy. (From the ad: “This laneway has EXPOSED BRICK! The brick from the outside of the building is visible from inside the laneway!!!”) The smell can only be described as “ripe.” And the landlord prefers the housemates have “NO guests and MUST be there as little as possible during the day.” But its location boasts the the Holy Trinity of “B’s” worshipped by every twentysomething: Beer, brunch, and BMV.

And, Rodolfo adds, “It could be worse. At least it’s not Liberty Village, right?”

When asked for comment, landlord Benoît Baule stated that he planned to raise the rent by $250 a month when the current lease expires in June.

In this issue, we tackle the beast that is the Toronto rental market (will it cool down with Ontario’s recently introduced Fair Housing Plan?), hear from the other side (the landlord), and profile broke folks still living large and aspiring to the bourgeois life.

Image: blogTO


What I learned from trying (and failing and trying again) to evict my deadbeat tenants

By | La Boheme | No Comments

Gregory FinneyBy Benoît Baule, special to La Bohème

Each week, the editors of La Bohème newspaper pick a theme for their issue, and solicit real stories from real Torontonians. In our “Rent Is Too Damn High” issue, our Perspectives Column was penned by concerned citizen and landlord Benoît Baule.

We’ve all read stories about the lousy kinds of landlords around our great city. In the last few years, “The Six” has seen a spate of terrible, just terrible landlords treating their tenants badly. They ignore repairs, raise the rent, or evict without notice — you name it. But, I have to ask: What do you do if it’s the tenants who are the problem?

I live in the West End* and I’ve been a very successful, very trustworthy landlord in Toronto for many years. I rent properties in Corso Italia, Little Italy, the Annex and the former Mirvish Village area — and I have to tell you, nobody’s ever had a problem with me. Ask any of my old renters and they’ll say, “Benoît? Big Ben? Most trustworthy landlord I ever had. What a guy.”**

Now, the problem tenants in question, who are a couple of young guys, rent an apartment on Brunswick Street. I admit it’s no Palais Royale. But I charge a modest, competitive rate and I include hot water and a parking space — and they still act like they live in a cave. I just heard complaints that they were burning a fire — a literal fire — in the living room for heat, which I’m sure is because they had their electricity cut for not paying their bills. I haven’t gotten a rent payment from these two “artists” in months, but whenever I show up to get my money, guess what? There’s always drinks available! I have a line of potential renters who would kill for a great apartment like this one, and wouldn’t stiff me month after month with promises of “Once my script gets picked up” and on and on…

I’m a patient guy, and I’ve tried many, many times to get them out of there. Somehow, they end up appealing to my sense of goodwill and charity, and I give them another chance. My wife was right, I need to be tougher with these tenants. But I can’t help it. I guess I’m just a humanist.

I’ve got no choice left but to go over there and give them official notice that come the New Year, New People will be living in that space — ones who’ll understand that you can’t take advantage of Big Ben.



**Note from the Editor: Former tenants declined to respond to our request for veracity.

Against the Grain Theatre Opera Pub at Amsterdam Bicycle Club. Photo: Darryl Block

La Bohème 🍁 is SOLD OUT (for now)

By | La Boheme | No Comments

We have some news – great for us, but maybe sad for you: AtG’s La Bohème has completely sold out. And when I say “sold out,” I mean all of our tickets for our 8 performances — even for our new show date, May 31 — have gone like the wind. This was our earliest on-sale ever (a full 3.5 months ahead of the show date), and the fastest we have ever sold out the entire run of a show. We’re overwhelmed, gobsmacked and happy but also trying to figure out what that means for possible new fans of AtG who wanted to check out our hit show but maybe waited just a little too long to get their act together.


Stay tuned: We’ll have updates about whether we can offer additional seats/tickets as soon as possible.

In the meantime:

  1. Attend our free Opera Pubs. Running the first Thursday of every month, AtG Opera Pub nights are improvised, wild nights that offer up your favourite beer with a side of operatic arias and ensembles, performed by both established and emerging opera talent performed on our very own Craigslist piano. Free admission, $3.50 bottles of beer. Next event: 6 April 2017, at 9pm.
  2. Get tickets to our March 12 show: A concert of Viver and Schoenberg at TIFF Bell Lightbox. Tickets are $14 ($12 for TIFF Members) and include admission to a screening of Schoenberg’s unfinished opera Moses and Aaron.

Moses and Aaron with a Live Performance by AtG

By | AtG in the News, Upcoming | No Comments

BIG NEWS: We’re getting cinematic at TIFF Bell Lightbox. This March 12, we’ve partnered with TIFF to present a special live performance of an operatic work by Arnold Schoenberg ahead of their screening of Moses and Aaron by acclaimed filmmaker duo Jean-Marie Straub & Danièle Huillet. Featuring soprano Adanya Dunn with Topher Mokrzewski on piano. Limited seating, tickets in link below.

Sunday, March 12 at 3:15pm
TIFF Bell Lightbox
350 King Street West, Toronto

The first ever Toronto retrospective of one of the most important and influential filmmaking teams in cinema history, Not Reconciled: The Films of Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet runs March 3–April 2, 2017 at TIFF Bell Lightbox.

Presented in partnership with

tiff partner logo


La Bohème, Toronto-Style 🍁

By | La Boheme | No Comments

On sale Feb 1 at 10am
Running May 19–June 2

AtG’s La Bohème: Where an artist, a musician, a writer, a philosophy student and a not-so-happy landlord might cross paths in 2017 Toronto.

Everything about Puccini’s hyper-popular 1896 opera is relatable today: low-income artists and freelancers still haunt cafes, landlords will still “forget” to turn on the heat, and rent is still too damn high.

Pull a group of twentysomethings off the street on Bloor West — and that’s the cast of La Bohème.

In 2011, instead of trying to “bring new audiences to the opera house,” (and because we lacked an opera house entirely) we created a production that brought the opera to them—to the places our friends might hang out after work for a very, very cheap beer.

Our adaptation still kept Puccini’s characters and music, but we retold it for a contemporary audience, in English. And the story actually took place where folks were watching at the Tranzac Club: In Act I, Rodolfo and Marcello were sitting at shared tables with the audience. In Act II, the bar at the end of the room became the Café Momus.

This production, created on a shoestring budget by a handful of founding members, started our company. And it also began the tradition of convincing Music Director Topher Mokrzewski to become a one-man orchestra using an upright piano. (We think he’s OK with it now.)

So if you’re hungry for an updated #AtGBoheme with an entirely new cast, and want to see why Toronto is becoming one of the freshest destinations for opera, save the date:

At 10am on February 1, we start selling tickets to our 100-seat venue at the Tranzac Club.

We’ll see you at the bar.


RGD Jury names AtG’s creative identity “one of the top case studies in 2016”

By | AtG in the News, Design, Press | No Comments

We couldn’t be prouder to have a visual identity created by our friend Michael Barker at Acme Art and Design… The fact that it’s now an acclaimed case study is just icing on the cake. This month, an esteemed RGD jury selected Michael’s case study about our AtG rebrand as “one of the top case studies in 2016.”

Acme Art & Design captures the spirit of a unique cultural experience with visual identity for Against the Grain Theatre

A powerful graphic and clever visual device that tickles your brain and pulls you directly into the purpose of the client – clearly demonstrating what Against the Grain Theatre looks like and invites you to learn more.


Click here to read the full article on the top case studies selected

Click here to read Michael’s case study about designing our visual identity


Against the Grain Theatre Opera Pub at Amsterdam Bicycle Club. Photo: Darryl Block

Opera Pub – Un-Valentine’s Day Edition

By | La Boheme, Opera Pub | No Comments

Join us! For a raucous un-Valentine’s Day evening
as we sing hits from Puccini’s LA BOHEME (and more)
Nothing says “romance” like watching young bohemian couples unable to pay their rent and slowly dying of tuberculosis.

Thursday, February 2 at 9pm
at The Amsterdam Bicycle Club
54 The Esplanade, Toronto, ON
Free admission

Tickets to our next show, a remount of our smash-hit La Bohème, go on sale February 1. You can get a preview of the production at this free Opera Pub.

About AtG’s Opera Pubs

“It can all get a little wild.”

Running the first Thursday of every month, AtG Opera Pub nights are improvised, wild nights that offer up your favourite beer on tap with a side of operatic arias and ensembles, performed by both established and emerging opera talent. Free admission, $3.50 bottles of beer.

“[Opera Pub] has the feeling of an after party when musicians kick back, loosen up and playfully make music with their friends.” —Musical Toronto 

“It’s a simple idea, and one that could be a fantastic introduction for an opera newcomer. In the familiar environment of a pub, with no oppressive silence or close-quarters seating, people can enjoy opera in short bursts. Listeners have a drink in hand, they can get up and leave whenever they want, and they’re essentially left wanting more. Opera truly is best consumed live, and it’s hard to get more real-life than in a cozy pub.” —Schmopera

A Little Too Cozy

AtG tops the “Best of 2016” Lists

By | A Little Too Cozy, Ayre, The Rape of Lucretia | No Comments

We produced a handful of productions, both at home and in Banff and Ottawa, that we were really proud to see make year-end Best of Lists:

A Little Too Cozy: “A risk-taking production that soared to victory.”
—The Globe and Mail

Ayre “was one of those nights when you go to a show and immediately wish you could see it again after the curtain.”

The Rape of Lucretia and A Little Too Cozy: “Another good year for AtG.”
—Opera Ramblings

A Little Too Cozy: “Smart, engaging, fun, brilliant.”

Ayre “represented what I believe will be an increasingly important direction in classical music; an approach that not only looks, but sounds like our ever-changing cultural mosaic.”
—Musical Toronto

Liked what you saw this year? We have big plans for 2017, including an ambitious remount of La Bohème, and need your help. Your financial support goes directly into producing our next opera, and helps us hire young Canadian artists who are itching for more opportunities.

If you’ve ever wanted to help out, now’s your chance. Each and every dollar makes a difference. (And makes a great holiday present in someone’s name.)

Against the Grain Theatre Ayre, starring Miriam Khalil. Photo: Darryl Block

The reviews are in: Ayre

By | AtG in the News, Ayre, Press | No Comments

"Ayre is a perfect and tremendously satisfying example of cultural transcendence."

− The Globe and Mail

"The stars aligned with this project... Miriam's authenticity is palpable, whether in the romantic songs or the call to uprising."

− barczablog

"Khalil's performance is stunning, and to hear her sing Golijov's work adds a new level of admiration for her versatility."

− Schmopera

"This performance was that rare thing that raises the hairs on the back of your neck."

− Opera Ramblings

"An evening of power and resonance, the kind of which deep memories are fashioned."

− The Globe and Mail

"Shocking, brilliant, thrilling. It's all conquering, a concert production of major importance, a flawless synchronicity of music and theatre."

− Opera Going Toronto

"Miriam Khalil is spellbinding, her voice at turns lustrous and radiant, savage and snarling."

− Opera Going Toronto

"Like the whole audience, I was suspended in this stasis of stirred emotion — the repercussions of which were felt long after the final bows were taken."

− Schmopera


Invited by Ivany to address the audience on opening night, the shy, softspoken composer Osvaldo Golijov remarked, eyes twinkling, “Nations play a lot of different roles in history. Conflicts, they stay the same. Only the actors are different.”

By promoting Golijov’s vision of culture as a permeable wrapper, Against the Grain Theatre has injected a much needed dose of optimism into these uncertain times. Ayre is filled with spirit, soaring, crushed, defiant. But hope like Golijov’s music has a way of insinuating itself into the soul. We need to hear the message. Now more than ever.

—Ian Ritchie


Read more reviews and previews:

In Review: Ayre Schmopera

Review: Ayre | Opera Going Toronto

Against the Grain’s Ayre is a vital reminder that unity is possible | The Globe and Mail

Ayre: An Evening with Osvaldo Golijov | Opera Ramblings

Review: Ayre | barczablog

Don’t miss Ayre | Schmopera

Against the Grain’s Ayre to deliver powerful evening of cultural mash-ups | The Globe and Mail

Critic’s Pick | Musical Toronto

What to see this week in Toronto | Toronto Life

Genres fused in Ayre | WholeNote Magazine