The Harbourfront Centre is launching a new festival that will push the boundaries of what it means to be brave. Presenting some of the world’s most courageous and outlandish artists, thinkers, writers and musicians, the inaugural BRAVE: The Festival of Risk and Failure asks the question: If all we have to fear is fear itself, why be afraid?

Encompassing 18 days of free and ticketed programming throughout Harbourfront Centre from July 12 to 29, BRAVE will include such headliners as the unabashed filmmaker of cult classics Hairspray and Cry-Baby, John Waters; multitalented surgeon-turned-comedian who is dubbed the “Jon Stewart of the Arab world,” Bassem Youssef; and musician and motivational speaker Bif Naked.

Living on the edge and creating important work in the face of remarkable odds, these exceptional artists bravely share their funny, sad, and piercing stories filled with the risks, failures and triumphs that have made them the daring people they are today.

“We’re presenting BRAVE because the only way that new ideas can be created is by rejecting existing ones,” said Director of Cultural Engagement, Laura McLeod. “Bravery is having the strength to face fear, and it demands risking failure in order to succeed. All of the artists participating in this exciting festival are fearless and defiant. Some are flame-throwers, others exiled from their homes and native lands, but all of them are brave enough to disrupt the status quo.”

In addition to ticketed shows, BRAVE will also present a diverse slate of FREE concerts, movie screenings, stand-up comedy, dance, storytelling, visual arts and special events. Offerings include Exiled at Night, a late-night extravaganza taking over the Artport Gallery with live performances, installations, DJs and surprises (July 28); the Canadian debut of the Museum of Failure (opens June 23), a quirky popup exhibition direct from Sweden that celebrates the notorious marketing missteps, experiments and failures of big corporations; must see performance by world renowned artist, activist and Queen of Live Loops, Māmā Mihirangi, who weaves live loop, vocals, instruments and percussion, beat-boxing and storytelling that speaks to environmental and Indigenous women’s issues; and an opportunity to tell your own story of bravery and triumph to poet and author Ronna Bloom, who will then create a personalized poem for you on the spot.

• An Evening with John Waters – Thursday, July 12, 7:30pm ($65+)
Join John Waters as he discusses his influential body of work and the many boundaries and buttons that continue to push audiences. Enjoy a candid and titillating conversation about his misfit adventures, standing up for the underdog and how he came to create cult classics like Pink Flamingos, Hairspray, Cry-Baby and Female Trouble that shattered taboos.
• Bif Naked: How I Came to Love Myself Today – Friday, July 20, 7:30pm ($20)
A survivor of a drug overdose, sexual abuse and cancer, Bif Naked is sure to inspire as she shares her remarkable story of strength and resilience, told with humour, naked honesty and outrageous optimism. She will also perform songs from her most recent album, Bif Naked Forever: Acoustic Hits and Other Delights.
• Bassem Youssef: The Joke is Mightier than the Sword – Thursday, July 26, 7:30pm ($65+)
The surgeon-turned-comedian and creator of the Middle East’s first-ever political satire show shares his thoughts on the political climate that led to the Arab Spring, its parallels to the current state of American politics and how propaganda lays the foundation for dictatorial regimes, tackling difficult subjects with wit, intelligence and charm.


• Ramy Essam – Friday, July 27, 9:30pm
One of the loudest youth voices and a true advocate for a progressive and modern Egypt, Ramy Essam takes audiences on a musical journey with his Egyptian and English rock songs.
• Ana Tijoux presents Roja y Negro – Saturday, July 28, 9:30pm
Having been born in Paris to exiled Chilean parents who fled the brutal dictatorship of Pinochet, this Grammy-winning rap musician has emerged as a voice for disenfranchised Latinos everywhere.
• Thomas Mapfumo and The Blacks Unlimited – Sunday, July 29, 5:30 pm
One of the best-known artists in African music, Mapfumo is a musical-political force in the struggle for self-rule in Zimbabwe, where he was forced into exile for more than a decade before being released in 2017.

• Tellin’ It Like It Is: Cathy Jones and Gina Yashere – Friday, July 20, 7:30pm
Award-winning actress and comedy legend Cathy Jones steps out of her comfort zone with UK-based Last Comic Standing star Gina Yashere during a new comedy sketch featuring stand-up, improv, personal stories and more.
• We Ain’t Terrorists: Ali Hassan and Dave Merheje – Thursday, July 21, 9pm
Ali Hassan and Dave Merheje come together for a superlatively funny evening of stand-up comedy with an honest and hilarious examination of culture, stereotypes, misconceptions and the challenge of just fitting in.

Visual Arts
• Ola Volo – Beginning Thursday, July 12
A new Harbourfront Centre commission for the summer of 2018, renowned Kazakhstan-Canadian artist Ola Volo transforms the World Café building into an elaborate mural drawn from history, multiculturalism and folklore.
• Sean Martindale – Beginning Thursday, July 12
Toronto artist Sean Martindale creates large-scale, public art that opens conversation about community and global issues. Sitewide installations include a life-sized cardboard statue of Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei.

• John Waters Marathon – Thursday, July 12 to Monday, July 25, various times
Enjoy a showcase of the work from one of cinema’s leading innovators, featuring screenings of films such as Pink Flamingos, Serial Mom, Cecil B. Demented and many more.
• He Hated Pigeons – Friday, July 13, 8pm
Canadian filmmaker Ingrid Veninger builds on notions of serendipity, risk and impermanence during this feature film accompanied by a live improvised score. Presented by Punk Films and the CFC Slaight Music Residency.

• The Breadwinner – Sunday, July 15, 3pm
This Oscar-nominated animated film is about a headstrong Afghanistan girl who disguises herself as a boy in order to provide for her family. The screening will open with a live performance of Afghan music by composer and instrumentalist Qais Essar. Additional family-friendly film screenings include Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and The Wizard of Oz.

The Main Ingredient Silent Disco – Saturday, July 14 to Sunday, July 29, various times
Let loose at a silent disco, dancing to different live DJs via wireless headphones. Give your inner soul a moving moment on a silent dance floor.

For more information about BRAVE: The Festival of Risk and Failure, click here. Tickets start at $20, and are available for purchase online at, in-person or by calling the Harbourfront Centre Box Office at 416 973 4000.


About the Author

Bryen Dunn is a freelance journalist with a focus on travel, lifestyle, entertainment, and hospitality. He has an extensive portfolio of celebrity interviews with musicians, actors, and other public personalities. He enjoys discovering delicious eats, tasting spirited treats, and being mesmerized by musical beats. Reach out -