From Instagram-celebrity dogs to Nelly Furtado collaborating with the Canadian Opera Company, our fair city is overrun with fundraising parties that are aiming to be relevant, fun, and anything but black-tie dreary.
It’s that time of the year again: when everyone’s vying for your money… for a good cause and a good time, of course. Last weekend, it seemed like the only things worth doing, and the only things being hyped, were fundraisers. There was a little bit of something for everyone—like, say, animals or music divas. The unofficial start to this season of fundraisers/galas/whatever-you-want-to-call-them was the canine coup known as Paws for a Cause, held last Thursday (Oct. 11) at 99 Sudbury.
Paws is the non-profit brainchild and passion project of The Globe and Mail‘s Laura Serra (a former contributor to The Grid) and Harry Rosen’s Paul Smith, two on-the-town, socially responsible dog-lovers who just want to help dogs in need. Now in its third year, the fundraiser has grown in spades, enlisting a host of special guests with each instalment. This year, organizers looked beyond city limits to snag Instagram celebrity Theron Humphrey and his coonhound co-star(let) Maddie. Together, they also form the duo behind the Tumblr blog Maddie on Things, “a super-serious project about dogs and physics” that sees Humphrey photograph Maddie in/with a variety of postures, places, and people. (And costumes! Just in time for Halloween!) A book and app are also forthcoming.
Paws’ theme—“99 Problems But a Bitch Ain’t One”—was a driving force behind the branding and, at $99 a ticket, Maddie’s appearance seemed to be icing on the cake. Indeed, there was a lot going on: a raffle station where you could pop one of 99 red balloons (set to the expected soundtrack, natch) for your chance at a prize; a Joe Fresh lipstick station where you could leave a kiss on a canvas and walk away with a new fall tint at just $5 a tube; Food Dudes feeding you; a portable cut-out of Maddie that you could walk around and pose for pictures with; plus my pals the Summer Fling DJs on deck. And more still: Paws’ hallmark canine fashion show (with “awwws” heard around the room) evolved to feature custom art (temporary tattoos and accessories a la Vegas showgirl) on dogs in place of custom clothing for dogs. (In the past, local designers created bespoke pooch ensembles as part of the runway presentation.) There was also an exhibition of exclusive photographs by Humphrey up for grabs. All this money and time spent goes to The Central Toronto Veterinary Referral Clinic‘s Cares Foundation to help owners with surgery costs, as well as a scholarship for a University of Guelph vet student.
Yes, it’s true: The overstimulating fun of these things is a large part of what attracts the crowd, and there’s very little to be bored about if you’re interested in the cause. But I often see the same faces within the same sets, and I stop to wonder who’s actually paying to go where and how well our nouveau-philanthropic charities are actually doing. (I mean, I’m guilty of going gratis.) And then I found the answer when two girls plunked down beside me and started a conversation—their politeness alone gave them away. “I was doing my hair one morning and saw this TV spot about the gala and it looked fun and interesting, so I called my friend because we both love dogs and we bought tickets,” said the 27-year-old hotel sales exec. Aside from being surprised by the open bar (always), what she said next is probably more interesting. “Plus, we thought it would be a great way to meet men.” Her friend nodded, struck by the irony that, in talking to me, they were probably in the wrong aisle of the meat market.
“So, what other galas should we go to? Where else can we meet people?” Funny she should ask.
There’s almost too many to keep track of these days, and they’re all developing a powerful cachet, gunning for the same mix of post-clubbing, taste-making, tech-savvy, fashionable, big-hearted people interested in exploring/refining their cultural tastes (or, really, just finding a husband). On Oct. 12, the day after Paws, Rethink Breast Cancer’s big annual fundraiser, BoobyBall, was celebrating a major attendance leap at the Sound Academy. (There’s also a Calgary edition.) While I may have had reservations about the venue, it allowed for a sold-out crowd of 1,500, with tickets starting at $75. Under the theme “Camp Booby,” the space was transformed into your favourite camp memories with a fake fire, a Tuck Shop candy station, marshmallow roasting, campfire songs, and a soundtrack by DJs Brendan Fallis and Mista Jiggz. I wasn’t there, but Twitter tells me it was quite the event, especially with two dudes who dressed up as s’mores. With an eBay auction still going, the event is expected to raise about $200,000.
If you missed Boobyball, you can look forward to this Thursday night’s Operanation, an annual fundraiser in support of the Canada Opera Company (COC). It’s multi-sensory and imaginative in its combination of all of the highlights—from music to food—found on virtually any social calendar. Established in 2005, Operanation is the COC’s headlining event at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts and it brings in over $100,000 for the Ensemble Studio Program, Canada’s premier training program to help young singers hit international stages and bring up the next generation of fans. Co-chaired by Arts & Crafts’ Jeffrey Remedios and public relations ace Amy Burstyn-Fritz, the event has a dinner and a gala portion designed to reach audiences across all demographics of present and potential opera lovers.
“We want to bring opera into the mainstream and open it up to a new audience at the same time—and that’s what the committee does with Operanation, through fashion, visual arts, and music,” says Burstyn-Fritz, who has played a key role in the fundraiser’s evolution for the past three years. On the visual side, artist Dean Baldwin will create a massive voice amplifier with which attendees can interact. Says Burstyn-Fritz, “We do a lot of tie-ins that take a classic art form and present it in a way that’s modern and relevant in a new light, matching it up with new ideas and genres.”
This year’s theme, “Sweet Revenge,” is based around the company’s current seasonal opera Die Fledermaus and, to compelement the fashion element, Ryerson students competed to create modern versions of the show’s costumes based on sketches, the top three of which will be unveiled. The Operanation committee also commissioned special menu items like blood-red macarons from Queen West’s Nadège Patisserie that feature a hint of chilli at the end. (They are also on sale at the shop from now until Thursday.) And there will be custom cocktails courtesy of molecular mixologist/BarChef owner Frankie Solarik. (I hear he’s also quite the performance artist with preparation.)
Music, however, is really at the core of Operanation, which Burstyn-Fritz credits largely to Remedios’ involvement and vision of fusing opera with modern Canadian sounds. For this instalment, Nelly Furtado and the Arkells will headline with members of the COC’s Ensemble Studio, the very program this fundraiser benefits. Last year, the same thing happened with Austra and Rufus Wainwright (and it was magical). Previously, Broken Social Scene was part of the live mash-up.
But with so many galas vying for the same audience, and a plethora of choice like we’ve never seen before, why go? Burstyn-Fritz states her case: “At the very base, it’s fun and you’re going to have a great time—there’s a lot you can do. But, beyond the night, it’s valuable and important to get involved in the arts because people are so enriched by them. It’s also a way to get to know a company and see where your interests lie.” And there’s the added incentive of 50 per cent off two season tickets with each purchase.
At $150 a ticket, Operanation promises a one-of-a-kind experience that will feed you in more ways than one. Plus, it’s way less frivolous an expenditure than, say, an iPhone 5 or a Madonna concert. Just sayin’.
Operanation happens this Thursday, Oct. 18. Tickets are available online or by phone 416-306-2309. Donate to Paws for the Cause here and to Rethink Breast Cancer here.