Joan Didion's husband died suddenly one evening while she was preparing a salad for dinner in their New York apartment. After some time, Didion explored her terrible loss in a memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, which was eventually staged as a play starring Vanessa Redgrave. This year, Wendy Ishii took on the role at Bas Bleu Theatre Company, and her performance was mesmerizing. Didion, according to her own account, is a "cool customer," and her prose is wry, strong, musical and sometimes almost detached. Ishii, whose great strength as an actor is her emotional depth and expression, reined herself in to take on Didion's persona, shaping her own large talent to the contours of another artist's consciousness — which made the single moment when she revealed the chaos and anguish within doubly moving.

Meadowlark

Before they became the sort of international superstars who headline places like Red Rocks, the Lumineers played many an open mic at the intimate Meadowlark. Every Tuesday night from 9 p.m. until 12:30 a.m., the venue gives local singer-songwriters a chance to test out new material, refine older songs or just show people what they're made of during their fifteen-minute allotment. At the Meadowlark, you just might see — or be — the Next Big Thing.

Miners Alley Playhouse

Dedicated theater-goers know that opening night is often the best time to take in a show — not just because you're the first to see the completed production, but because many companies celebrate their openings with snacks and drinks. After every opening night, Miners Alley sets out a lavish spread on a long table in the beautiful anteroom to the auditorium, loading it with cheeses and fruits, some hot selections, candies and sweets. And you can buy drinks at the well-stocked bar.

The original plan for the 2013 Biennial of the Americas called for downtown to be turned into one big art fair. That didn't happen, but we did benefit from the brilliant "Mine Pavilion," a timber tower designed by the Chilean architectural firm of Pezo von Ellrichshausen. The multi-story piece, which emerged from the median at Speer Boulevard and Larimer Street, was a skeletal tower with periodic set-backs as it rose to the sky. Made from Colorado beetle-kill wood set on a base of broken local stone, "Mine Pavilion" functioned as a visual link between downtown and Auraria, a goal that has eluded Denver since the '70s.

Though she was gravely ill this past winter, Robin Rule, who earlier in the year had closed her bricks-and-mortar gallery in RiNo, was still determined, after decades in the art business here, to remain a part of it. Together with Adam Gildar, she co-curated Dimension and Symmetry: Clark Richert at the Gildar Gallery. It was a handsome solo given over to one of her closest friends and one of the most loyal artists in her former stable. Poignantly, the show was still up when Rule died, in December, and remained up for many weeks after. It proved that though life is short, art is long, and Rule's contributions are lasting ones.

The motion-based performances dreamed up by Patrick Mueller and Control Group Productions cross so many disciplinary lines that it's hard to know what to call them, and perhaps it's ridiculous to even try to pin it down. For the second leg in the troupe's journey called Salon Romantik, Control Group threw a party where the audience could wander through as participants; the third portion of Salon Romantik, which took place last fall, loaded up buses for a tour of staged performances at locations along the route. Where to next? The sky's the limit. And no matter where they end up, Mueller and Control Group are sure to being new levels of sophistication to the Mile High City. Find out how high in June, when the next installment of Salon Romantik goes live.

Vintage Theatre

Vintage Theatre has come up with a clever scheme to solve the where-do-we-eat-before-the-show conundrum, partnering with Copacabana Grill Catering so that play-goers can order anything from full meals to appetizers to dessert and coffee, and eat — comfortably seated at a table in the lobby — before or after the show. This is not your typical dinner theater, and the food is just as adventurous. Theater offerings include musicals and dramas; entrees range from Brazilian-style lamb chops to bacon-wrapped chicken breast. Perfect combinations are possible.

At first the idea of a death cafe might seem morbid — a place designed for goths and very sad people. But in fact, the Denver Death Cafe is not like that at all — instead, it's a healthy forum where people can talk about death in self-actualizing ways. The free Sunday-afternoon meetings, part of a global movement that started in London in 2011, unfold over coffee, tea and cake at changing locations every month, and are meant to be life-affirming rather than the opposite.

PlatteForum

We plop down our dollars to drink wine while creating identical paintings, but deep down inside, don't we know that's not really art we're making? PlatteForum's make.workshops go the extra mile by pairing creative drinkers with storied members of the art community to create projects of lasting value. Past instructors have included painters, sculptors, fiber artists and more, leading such projects as jewelry making, sun printing, poetry writing, felting and collage. Fees benefit PlatteForum's real reason for being: programs pairing underserved youth with artist-mentors.

Seventh Circle Music Collective
Anthony Camera

When Aaron Saye took over the space formerly known as Blast-O-Mat in August of 2012 and renamed it the Seventh Circle Music Collective, he had some impressive boots to fill. Fortunately, the gregarious filmmaker and music fan had organizational skills honed during his years of tour managing, and he competently took on the challenge of helming a DIY venue. Saye brought together an invested group of volunteers and established a booking policy that welcomes all styles of music. As a result, most shows feature solid bands that are still below the public radar, and young people who have yet to navigate the realm of bars or other commercial outlets have become regulars here. For these reasons and more, Seventh Circle offers an essential resource in a thriving music community.

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