Introducing inTO, a new monthly arts and music series launching in July that will see Toronto’s top cultural engineers host intimate, one-night-only gatherings aimed at transcending the fourth wall.
It often feels like we devour all of our cultural experiences—music, art, etc.—in one of two ways: through big brands throwing equally big (read: exclusive) parties (like Diet Coke importing Estelle for a TIFF party, for example), or through more traditional, controlled models (like the frequently underwhelming live show experience, i.e. anything at the Sound Academy). That just-announced Metric show at the ACC feels like another example of the kind of give-and-take that requires a sacrifice, threatening the intimacy of our relationship with those who produce the work we consume and endorse. The grandiose, while exciting, can sometimes develop a layer of inaccessibility that prevents ascension to a more visceral plane. (And I think about Marina Abramovic, and about the effect of the artist being present—like actually present, physically, emotionally and mentally.)
There’s something missing from the presentation and digestion of cultural works in public forums, where we often enjoy, say, a song or a piece of art, and then move on, and where the stories behind those works are often left for dead in the pages of our magazines and DVD commentaries. Cue the new “experience-based” culture/arts-focused series inTO. It’s the joint brainchild of Marcello Cabezas, artistic producer at macIDeas, and the duo behind Sceneopolis, a paid arts and culture subscription service.
Each month, inTO producers will invite a rotating cast of city-famous guest hosts (“ambassadors”) to craft their own unique night out in the city that orbits the arts scene. Popping-up at a venue near you, the series will travel the 416 for one year. The first lands at Kitch Bar, just north of north, on July 19 with an evening assembled by Jeffrey Remedios, the Arts & Crafts bossman responsible for disseminating national treasures like Feist, Chilly Gonzales and The Darcys. For the launch event—officially titled “Living Room Jam”—Remedios has wrangled his label’s buzzy new act Eight and a Half (the Broken Social Scene/Stills mash-up) for a night of tunes in tandem with a specially-crafted menu that includes tacos and on-the-house drinks (well, it’s in your ticket price, which starts at a member price of $49). Instantly, I’m sold: last time we saw Eight and a Half, they were playing the opening of a condo showroom, with a set stuffed into the night’s rear-end like an after-thought. The number of confused faces proved the medium didn’t do them justice. It felt sterile, and wrong—and that’s not to say the boys didn’t perform well. (They were great, but you can imagine how shellacked it all felt.)
To understand the inTO endeavour, you have to know more about Sceneopolis. “Rather than just sitting down as an audience member of a particular show, we wanted to create unique experiences that enable people to make a night out of a cultural activity by increasing the interaction of the audience with the artists as well as with each other,” says co-founder Mladen Svigir, who runs the org with fellow Harvard MBA-er Lisa Cousins. For Svigir, the inTO series is a natural evolution of the original idea and business model behind Sceneopolis. “We recognized an opportunity to not only work around existing arts and culture events, but also take advantage of local talent and provide audience members opportunities to interact with celebrities, artists, and each other on a more intimate, authentic, and human level.”
To achieve this out-of-audience experience, Remedios will co-host the Living Room Jam with entertainment reporter Mary Kitchen and help moderate a discussion with the band about the creative process and what it’s like to be an artist. “Arts & Crafts works as a platform for artists to communicate with fans. It made sense for a Toronto act to be part of this,” he says. There will be a question and answer period, too, and a “mix-and-mingle” aspect. Obviously, the event architecture will develop naturally, but that’s the excitement of a new avenue. The only thing I can begin to compare it to is the monthly Polaris Prize Record Salon. Or a progression of Inside The Actors Studio. I mean, MuchMusic’s Intimate and Interactive doesn’t exist anymore; MTV Unplugged is on life support. (And neither came with food.)
The producer/consumer pedestals—often mere pop-cult projections of rabid commercialization and idol worship—keep getting higher, and it’s fine, I support artists trying to make money and those willing to make it happen. This is what inTO aims to sidestep: it’s about leveling the playing field. “We’re looking at a new way to consume culture outside of the traditional,” says Cabezas. “We’re trying to create a full sensory immersion of these intimate experiences. We want to reinforce the lasting relationship with people who enjoy the arts and those who put on those authentic experiences.” He’s serious: only 100 tickets will be made available for this first event.
The “Toronto” theme is also a large part of the project, and the city represents a driving force for all involved. “You’re in the same physical and creative space as these artists; it’s the look, touch and feel of Toronto and the people within it,” says Remedios, a Scarborough native who has played a major role as one of the pioneers of independent music in Canada. “Toronto has started to become interested in Toronto for Toronto’s sake. Not too many of us are looking externally for validation of the art coming out of the city. We’re promoting from within, and you can see it as a maturing cultural centre.” He hopes the night will attract anyone “with an interest in music, culture, and our city. You might want to learn a little bit more than by just going to record store or a concert.”
For Cabezas, a 416 native as well, the inTO series is like an emblem of Toronto’s massive cultural change over the last decade. “There’s a huge mentality shift, we’re all allowing ourselves to dream and see that these dreams can actually happen. There are various people who taking clear responsibility to do things that will allow them to make their mark on the city,” he says. “It’s a new Toronto; we’re building and documenting our own history. People are realizing that they have a responsibility to have a say and take action on the type of city they want it live in and create for the future.” In other words, being a passive spectator is not an option within the confines of the Living Room.
For Svigir and team Sceneopolis, it’s about unearthing the forgotten (and maintaining the important) in a rapidly-changing city, so Torontonians can get beneath the veneer of that ‘world-class’ status. “We hope that [inTO] will bring a deeper appreciation and understanding of how these artists approach their work, leverage their talents, and help create a more vibrant city along the way.”
TIFF’s artistic director Cameron Bailey has been tapped to curate an evening around the “celebration of reggae” for the August instalment. And UBER, the new private car/cab service, will be providing a deep discount for those making the trip up to Kitch, which—look!—is probably already out of your comfort zone. Rumor has it that Lisa Tant, the former head honcho at Flare and newly-appointed publisher at HELLO! Canada, is also on board for a night of intrigue. Of course, I know the long-list of guest hosts under consideration, but then what would be the fun in that? After all, it’s not an urban adventure if you know what’s coming.
Thursday, July 19 at Kitch Bar, 220 Geary Ave. Tickets begin at $49, available here starting today. 8 p.m. – 11:30 p.m.