First-rate Shakespeare is very rare in Colorado, and that's why we were so excited by the Denver Center Theatre Company's glowing, intelligent production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Visually beautiful, smartly directed and with strength in every corner of the cast from top to bottom, it both brought new insights to this much-performed play and emphasized old pleasures.

Best Short Film Shot in Denver Involving a Bleeding Clown

Jamin Winans

You never find out why the clown suffering a gunshot wound when Jamin Winans's spectacular Uncle Jack opens in medias res is, you know, dressed as a clown, but that's part of what makes this short film so great: Things are not really explained. Rather, they're hinted at through the titular uncle telling his niece a bedtime story via Bluetooth while being chased by gun-wielding debt collectors, eventually into a very recognizable Flossy McGrew's (how could it not be?), where he concludes that the prince "was addicted to gambling, he drank too much, ran a failed carpet-cleaning business and lived happily ever after in a far-off land." Written, directed, shot and scored by Winans — the auteur who gave the same treatment to the Denver-shot, virally pirated Ink last year — it's an absurd, hilarious, surreal and touching story whose beautiful cinematography uses its four-minute run time to make a handful of downtown locales look about as good as they ever have.

Once upon a time, the coffee shop was a place for anyone with a guitar and a decent voice to take a stab at performing. Starbucks all but eliminated this concept in the '90s, though, replacing it with purchasable music-that-fits-a-lifestyle compilations. So in 2010, who better to play at a Starbucks (at 934 16th Street) than nervesandgel, resident noise creator and supreme in-your-face performer? Imagine walking into Starbucks, ready to throw down your hard-earned five bucks on a venti caramel soy latte and instead being hit by a wall of sound and a man on the floor screaming about cats. It totally happened, and we were so glad it awkwardly did.

The town's best new singer-songwriter doesn't really play shows — but even so, James Cooley, who releases under the Mesita moniker, is one of the most compelling local songwriters in recent memory. With a breathtaking falsetto croon that recalls Bon Iver, he plays a gorgeous brand of folk that will, well, take your breath away. Even more impressive, he performs every instrument on his recordings, which he engineers and produces himself. And what makes the best even better? It won't cost you a dime to get your hands on his entire discography. You can download it all for free on his website,, and that includes his brand-new album, Here's to Nowhere.

With American Tomahawk, Adam Halferty makes some of Denver's most beautiful, captivating music. His spartan yet soaring songs burn bright — but once your eyes adjust to the shower of sparks, you realize that those gorgeous melodies illuminate some truly horrific and harrowing shit lurking in the crevices. Like shards of glass baked into hard candy, the lyrics — which reportedly reflect on a child-molester neighbor from when Halferty was growing up in the Ozarks — are unflinching, unnerving and incisive. And "1993," which debuted last year, was particularly stunning: "Poor rotten soul with no hope, forgot your name/Young little boys on their knees in your house/Did you make men of them?" The chorus pivots on the lines "No one will know, get them while they're young. You're free," before resolving into the last verse: "Now you're touching the dog and smelling your hands and fucking your sister/Pissing the bed and hiding the sheets and scared of the future/In a house in Missouri is where they found your body."

Perhaps because Denver is not particularly known for its street art, let alone its rich cache of artists and photographers, Month of Photography promoter Mark Sink and Illiterate Gallery decided to do something to help change the way the nation — make that the world — views us. And how. Together, they masterminded and provided the local manpower for a global exchange of photographic images, collectively titled The Big Picture, that have been blown up, Xeroxed and wheat-pasted on walls and billboards not just across Denver, but in some international locations. Photos by our local artists now grace billboards in Switzerland, while works by foreign photographers are all over our town. And lucky us: We get to find — by chance or with the Google map provided — amazing images in the most unexpected places.

As an actor, Mark Rubald communicates a radiant decency. When he's on stage, you just plain like him; you want him to be happy and succeed. So he was perfectly cast as a good-natured working stiff in Curious Theatre Company's production of Circle Mirror Transformation. You could see how puzzled Schultz was by all the arty stuff going on in these acting workshops, how intrigued by sexy little vixen Theresa and how sad when their affair fell apart. And yet you knew he'd carry on, as calm, kindly and competent as before.

Mike Hartman always brings a deep, humorous authenticity to his roles — as he did to kvetchy, diabetic Sid, the protagonist's father in The Catch in the Denver Center Theatre Company premiere. Emotionally stunted, endlessly critical of his son, craving sugar every waking moment, this Sid was funny and annoying. And still, in a sneaking way, you loved him.

Gaston, Belle's rejected and vindictive suitor in Beauty and the Beast, may be vain, a dope and a brute. But Stephen Hahn's version in the Phamaly production was so full of wild, juicy, hang-the-consequences vitality that you could see exactly why all the village maidens pined for him.

Best Supporting Actor in a Shakespeare Production

John Hutton

In the Denver Center Theatre Company's production of Othello, John Hutton took the role of Iago and made it entirely his own, his interpretation so strong — both entirely original and true to the script — that it shed new light on the action. Unlike the slithering black snake we half expected to see, this Iago was an old soldier, a bluff man of the people, so apparently honest that you could fully understand why everyone around him, including his wife, would fall for his machinations.

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