As any millennial will tell you, the digital world is now the real world, a place where, fingertips to keyboard, information readily becomes intellectually palpable in a matter of seconds. And the art world, where things are changing just as quickly, represents just one facet of how far technology has taken us in a couple of decades. Ivar Zeile and Ryan Pattie of Denver Digerati have plugged into that bullet train for Friday Flash, the organization’s summer screening series, which utilizes a giant LED screen in the Denver Theatre District to share the cutting edge of motion-based art and animation. The 2014 series hits that screen tonight with Download This/Image Anarchism, an introductory barrage of twenty short works in succession, beginning at 8 p.m. at the intersection of 14th and Champa streets.

“For Download This, we’re amassing clips by notable and not-so-notable artists from all over the world in digital animation, and you’ll be able to download their artwork on your computer,” Zeile explains. “The whole crux of that idea of downloading content is that it’s incredible how it’s transforming our society. We’re not telling people what they’ll be seeing in advance, but we can guarantee they’ll see some of the most cutting-edge work being made.”

Plug in and hang on: Friday Flash continues with a kid-oriented program on July 18 and 19, and a September 19 slate unveiling this year’s Denver Theatre District-commissioned works. For details, visit denverdigerati.com.
Fri., June 13, 8 p.m., 2014

100 things to do in Colorado before you kick it

Since the start of the new year, we've been filling a Colorado bucket list on our four blogs — Show and Tell, Backbeat, Cafe Society and the Latest Word. But now our suggestions are spilling over into print, so that everyone can see the top twenty items on our list of the 100 things to do in the Denver area before you die. Enjoy.

20. Order a Mexican hamburger at the original Chubby's at 2 a.m.

What is Denver's greatest culinary contribution to the world? It may well be the Mexican hamburger, a concept that got its start on Santa Fe Drive in the late '60s — about the time that Stella Cordova was purchasing the Chubby Burger Drive Inn on West 38th Avenue. She quickly bolstered the menu with a Mexican hamburger and some of her other recipes, including another incredible Colorado creation, the gravy-like green chile that's thicker, hotter and tastier than the New Mexican variety. Although Stella passed away a few years ago at the age of 100, her dishes live on — and there's no better way to fend off a potential hangover than stopping by Chubby's at two in the morning for a Mexican hamburger buried in green.

19. Hear your song played on the radio.

Denver has one of the most vibrant music scenes in the country, with a staggering number of venues and an equally stunning number of talented acts that hail from here. For a struggling musician, the struggle is made that much more palatable by the realization that hearing your music on the radio is not just a pipe dream, but a very real possibility. For the better part of the past decade, KTCL/Channel 93.3 has blessed a steady parade of acts with their That Thing You Do! moment. It hasn't always translated to fame and fortune, but it definitely celebrates local vocals. Hear, hear!

18. Watch the sun rise over Sloan's Lake from the Lakeview Lounge.

Denver's best dive bars are slowly disappearing, victims of this rapidly gentrifying city. And at the Lakeview Lounge, from a perch on a barstool — the floor is so worn that there are holes in the linoleum where the stools have stood for decades — you can see some of that change: The St. Anthony's development south of Sloan's Lake is about to explode. But the real view is directly east across Sheridan, across the lake — where, on the last day of Daylight Savings Time, you can watch the sun rise shortly after 7 a.m. (and the bar's opening), sipping a Bloody Mary and toasting a time-honored tradition.

17. Dance at the Church.

Ever want to do unholy things in a holy place? Look no farther than the Church, a nightclub housed in a building that was once really a church. The exterior still reflects that earlier calling — and the interior, with its three stories of dance floors, makes the Church one of the most beautiful clubs in the country. Once you get your grind on under the beautiful stained-glass windows and the cathedral ceiling lit by lasers and moving lights, you'll forget all about the fact that you're sinning in the house of the Lord.

16. Dance at Beta Nightclub to the FunktionOne sound system.

For fans of dance music, few things can compare to a perfect sound system — especially when the best international DJs are playing music through it. At Beta, the FunktionOne system takes this experience to an entirely different level. Each FunktionOne setup is custom-designed for the room in which it's installed, and at Beta, no expense was spared. Surrounded by four towering corners of speakers, Beta's main-room floor has no competition when it comes to sub bass and crisp audio. Couple that with the Kryo fog system that Beta keeps in-house, and you have a world-class experience. The biggest names in the world play the decks at Beta, and each one maintains that this is one of the best clubs in the country.

15. Relive your youth at Lakeside Amusement Park.

The rides at Lakeside Amusement Park are sturdy but not even close to high-tech, and their squeal-inducing, brain-swirling squeaks and trembles bring on a rush of instant nostalgia...if and when they're running, that is. The food is cheap and bad for you; the lines are short but the atmosphere is long. At Lakeside, you can be a bobby-soxed teenager forever and ever, even if you never wore bobby sox the first time around. It's our no-frills, down-and-dirty, magical fortress of fun — and, truly, you haven't lived until you've circled Lake Rhoda on a moonlit train ride. The neon alone is history caught in amber.

14. Make a pilgrimage to the first Chipotle.

Students love fast, cheap food — but in July 1993, they got more than they bargained for when a stylish, fast-casual Mexican joint opened near the University of Denver, at 1644 East Evans Avenue. Inspired by the big Mission burritos he found in San Francisco, Steve Ells decided to raise money for that fine-dining restaurant he planned to open one day by first opening Chipotle Mexican Grill, which would serve big burritos stuffed with quality ingredients. That was twenty years ago, and Ells never did open that fine-dining restaurant. Instead, he's opened more than 1,000 Chipotles around the world, feeding a cult of fans and inspiring endless knockoffs.

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13. See Big Head Todd at Herman's Hideaway.

It doesn't happen often, but when it does, you definitely want to be on hand to see Big Head Todd and the Monsters get back to their roots and bring the band back to where it all started all those years ago: Herman's Hideaway. There's a special energy in the room every time Todd Park Mohr and company climb back on stage and play, as though the past two decades never happened. It's the Colorado equivalent of seeing the Boss at the Stone Pony.

12. Spend the day at Water World...

Sporting more water features than you could ever dream of experiencing in a single day, Water World attracts a monster wave of humanity every hot day of summer, all jostling on giant inner tubes and down massive slides or lazing in wave pools and traveling through the Voyage to the Center of the Earth raft adventure. Generally accepted as one of the best water parks in the nation, this is where Colorado cools off — its biggest beach. Famous fact: South Park immortalized Water World under the alias of "Pipi's Waterpark" in an episode titled "Pee!" Say no more.

11. ...and the evening at Casa Bonita.

Casa Bonita is our castle of kitsch, a Pepto-Bismol-pink palace where the dirt is palpable and the food is nasty, but we go anyway, because, you know: Cliff divers! Fire spinners! Mariachis! BLACK BART'S CAVE! Eff Disneyland. Eff everything! We have Casa Bonita, world, and you don't.

10. Survive an encounter with Blucifer.

Denver is filled with wonderful museums and galleries. But the city's most renowned art collection may well be at Denver International Airport, whose public-art portfolio was named the best in the country by USA Today readers last year. We love Gary Sweeney's "America Why I Love Her" for its good-hearted celebration of America, and even enjoy how Leo Tanguma's murals have inspired a host of conspiracy theories about the New World Order building concentration camps under the airport. But the real leader of this pack? "Mustang," the giant blue devil horse that killed its creator, Luis Jiménez, and now stands guard outside the terminal, frightening tourists with its glowing red eyes and really large anus.

9. Buy a cowboy shirt at Rockmount Ranch Wear.

Patriarch "Papa" Jack Weil opened Rockmount Ranch Wear nearly seventy years ago, down among the warehouses of what's now known as LoDo, on the edge of skid row and the buried roots of early Denver. He famously lived to 107, and continued to show up for work there until the end. Now led into the 21st century by third-generation Rockmount heir Steve Weil, this Western-wear corral has become a favorite of rock stars and celebrities, who show up for their close-ups in Rockmount's signature diamond-snapped, sawtooth-cut cowpoke regalia. But even regular folks can buy a Rockmount to call their own, from the same brick warehouse in the same old part of town.

8. Drink gunpowder whiskey and eat Rocky Mountain oysters at the Fort.

Waugh! When Sam Arnold moved west, he became fascinated with the history of the region. So he set out to build an authentic, if slightly shrunken, version of Bent's Old Fort in the foothills above Denver, and turned it into a legendary restaurant: The Fort. The setting — with a stunning view of Denver — isn't the only draw here; Arnold also resurrected many recipes from the Old West, including whiskey flavored with gunpowder (less for the bang than to blot out the flavor of trading-post rotgut). It's just the thing to wash down that staple of state fairs and rodeos throughout the West: Rocky Mountain oysters. For the timid tenderfoot, the Fort serves its fried bull's balls with plenty of sauces to hide the taste...and texture.

7. Ride the 15/16 RTD bus routes — all the way.

Colfax Avenue, aka U.S. Highway 40, famous (or is that infamous?) for being the longest commercial street in the nation, is 26 miles of Colorado lore, from the rundown, neon-lighted motels that have welcomed tourists into Denver from both the East and the West for decades to the more recent clusters of artist communities and hipster hangouts stretched along its expanse. But you haven't known Colfax at its grittiest until you've cruised it by RTD bus, lurching from stop to stop with the hoi polloi, traveling from the edge of the plains at Chambers Road in Aurora to the blue foothills of Golden at Tenth and Washington.

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6. See how the Beat goes on at My Brother's Bar.

The building at 2376 15th Street has held a bar since at least the 1880s, perhaps even earlier. For more than forty years, it's been home to My Brother's Bar, a place so well known for its classical music, great, greasy bar burgers and down-home atmosphere that it doesn't even have a sign outside. But it serves up history as well as stiff drinks: During its incarnation as Paul's Place, which ran from Prohibition through the '60s, this saloon was a hangout for Neal Cassady, the inspiration for Dean Moriarty — as well as a generation of Beats and other free spirits — in Jack Kerouac's On the Road. But while Cassady was still a teen in Colorado, he rang up a big tab at Paul's — and asked a pal to cover him, as documented by a letter still hanging at My Brother's.

5. Watch a Broncos game from the South Stands.

Even during those years when the Broncos aren't nearly as good as they have been this season, it's no snap to get tickets — and they're even harder to come by in the South Stands, where they're treasured by incredibly loyal fans who pass them down from generation to generation. No wonder, since being in the presence of this orange-and-blue crew is a lot like rooting alongside members of a family — exuberant, passionate, occasionally insane members, granted, but family nonetheless. You'll never look at a Broncos game the same way again.

4. Somehow, some way, get a ticket to the Great American Beer Festival.

The metro area has been dubbed the Napa Valley of craft beer, and a river of brews runs through it every fall, when the Great American Beer Festival returns to downtown Denver, bringing tens of thousands of bearded, pretzel-draped, soused beer fans to town. The festival, founded in 1982 — six years before Denver got its first brewpub — has grown into a major international event, one that has to be seen to be believed. But good luck: Tickets sell out in a matter of minutes. Fortunately, festivities spill over into bars, brewpubs and tap rooms all along the Front Range.

3. See a show at Red Rocks.

While seeing a show at Red Rocks might seem like the most obvious music-related thing we could pick to top our bucket list, there's a simple justification: Red Rocks is, hands down, the Centennial State's most prized destination. While playing a show here is a crowning achievement for any act, seeing a show here — with the majesty of the sun painting the sky behind you as it sets while you watch the city lights glinting in the distance below — is unlike anything you've ever experienced. Depending on who's on the stage, you might even call it religious.

2. Join the Mile High Club — without ever setting foot in a plane.

To join the Mile High Club in most states, you need a plane ticket, a vacant bathroom and some serious moxie. In Colorado, all you need is a partner, and with that "Menver" nickname long since outdated, finding one isn't hard, no matter who you are. With an average elevation of 5,280 feet, much of Denver is fair game for high-altitude nookie — but if you want to be precise about it, the city's official mile-high markers are a row of purple seats at Coors Field and a plaque on the steps of the State Capitol, the latter a particularly titillating place to join the club.

1. Read the Thomas Hornsby Ferril poem at Confluence Park, where Denver got its start.

Denver got its start when gold was found in the shallow Platte River, close to its confluence with Cherry Creek. Although that discovery was soon overshadowed by big strikes in the mountains, a tiny settlement sprang up along the banks of the two waterways in 1858, eventually turning into Denver. Today, Confluence Park is one of this town's great amenities, a great place to go for a stroll, try out a kayak, or just watch kids frolic in water that no one would have dared venture into two decades ago. And tucked away to the side is a plaque etched with this poem by longtime Denver poet laureate Thomas Hornsby Ferril:

Two Rivers

Two rivers that were here before there was

A city here still come together: one

Is a mountain river flowing into the prairie;

One is a prairie river flowing toward

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The mountains but feeling them and turning back

The way some of the people who came here did.

Most of the time these people hardly seemed

To realize they wanted to be remembered,

Because the mountains told them not to die.

I wasn't here, yet I remember them,

That first night long ago, those wagon people

Who pushed aside enough of the cottonwoods

To build our city where the blueness rested.

They were with me, they told me afterward,

When I stood on a splintered wooden viaduct

Before it changed to steel and I to man.

They told me while I stared down at the water:

If you will stay we will not go away.

Find the rest of our bucket-list items and their descriptions posted on their individual blogs:

On the Latest Word (Part I, Part II):

25. Spend 4/20 inhaling at Civic Center Park.

24. Catch a T-shirt shot by super-mascot Rocky.

23. Take a really inappropriate photo with the Big Blue Bear.

22. Attend an Avs game where Patrick Roy loses his shit.

21. Ride the halls of the Stanley Hotel on a Big Wheel.

20. Buy something at The Annie's, the planet's first licensed marijuana store.

19. Have the best costume during a Denver Cruisers ride.

18. Thrift-binge at every Denver-area Goodwill on half-price day.

17. Open and close the Colfax Tattered Cover.

16. Wear such disgusting makeup at the Zombie Run that even the other zombies are grossed out.

15. Watch a Rockies game from the Purple Row.

14. Drive over Trail Ridge Road.

13. Watch the CU Buffs beat a decent team.

12. Scale a Fourteener.

11. Crab-walk up Red Rocks.

10. Ride all of Denver's bike trails.

9. Follow Bat Masterson's urine stream to the bathrooms at the Oxford Hotel.

8. Take part in the Tomato Battle at Copper Mountain.

7. Watch the sunrise and sunset on the same day from the Continental Divide.

6. Be the first skier of a Colorado ski season.



On Cafe Society (Part I, Part II):

25. Have a spot of tea at the Brown Palace.

24. Sip free samples on the Coors Brewery tour.

23. Eat a turkey leg at Taste of Colorado.

22. Have your chiles roasted on Federal Boulevard.

21. Order chow from a food truck and eat it in a brewery.

20. Harvest your own vegetables at Miller Farms.

19. Load up your basket at the Boulder Farmers' Market.

18. Get a cinnamon roll at Johnson's Corner.

17. Enjoy a glass of wine and the view from the Flagstaff House patio.

16. Get a burger at Bud's.

15. Join the crowds at Pete's Kitchen at 3 a.m.

14. Get called "hon" at the Breakfast King at 4 a.m.

13. Hit a Santiago's drive-thru for a breakfast burrito at 7 a.m.

12. Try to chat with a knife-wielding kitchen worker at El Taco de México.

11. Have a martini in the Cruise Room.

10. Drink the three-margarita limit at the Rio Grande.

9. Get coffee at the Market and watch the action on Larimer Square.

8. Stop by Rioja and say hello to Jennifer Jasinski, Denver's first James Beard Award-winning chef.

7. Try to get a reservation at Frasca Food and Wine.

6. Have a beer at the Wynkoop Brewing Co., Colorado's first brewpub.



On Show and Tell (Part I, Part II):

25. Ride the Kit Carson County Carousel in Burlington.

24. Walk where the dinosaurs walked on Dinosaur Ridge.

23. Cruise Federal Boulevard on Cinco de Mayo.

22. Go four-wheeling in the San Juan Mountains.

21. Watch fireworks from Ruby Hill.

20. Get your cosplay on at Denver Comic Con.

19. See where Buffalo Bill is REALLY buried.

18. Visit Doc Holliday's grave (and then go soak your bones) in Glenwood Springs.

17. Take in a Pack Burro Race during Leadville's Boom Days.

16. Have a drink under the full moon on the roof at MCA Denver.

15. Visit the Kirkland Museum.

14. Spend a haunted night at the Croke-Patterson Mansion.

13. Locate all the gnomes at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.

12. Take a stroll through time across the Millennium Bridge.

11. Hold a seance in Cheesman Park.

10. Shop your way down Broadway from First Avenue to Englewood.

9. Buy your souvenirs at I Heart Denver.

8. Hike the Colorado Trail.

7. Ride the (RTD) rails.

6. Visit every Denver art district in one night on First Friday.



On Backbeat (Part I):

25. Get a picture with the dancing security guard at Red Rocks.

24. Sign your name (or take a pic) in the tunnel at Red Rocks.

23. Celebrate Elvis's birthday with the late, great Velvet Elvis.

22. Busk on the 16th Street Mall.

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21. Audition for the People's Fair.

20. See a summer concert at the Botanic Gardens.

19. See Itchy-O wow unsuspecting crowds.

18. Catch a Colorado Symphony collaboration.

17. Visit the Colorado Music Hall of Fame.

16. Take a class at Swallow Hill.

15. See a summer concert at Chautauqua.

14. See a summer concert at the Mishawaka.

13. Play at the open-mic night at the Meadowlark.

12. Play at the blues jam at Ziggies.

11. See a show at a DIY space like Rhinoceropolis or Seventh Circle Music Collective.

10. Go to Lipgloss.

9. See a jazz show at El Chapultepec.

8. See a jazz show at Dazzle.

7. Go crate-digging at Twist & Shout and Wax Trax.

6. Record a song at the Blasting Room.

5. Hear your song played on the radio.

4. Dance at the Church.

3. Dance at Beta Nightclub to the FunktionOne sound system.

2. See Big Head Todd & The Monsters at Herman's Hideaway.

1. See a show at Red Rocks.


Alamo Drafthouse Cinema
The folks at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema think 1984 was a very good year, and for that reason, the Littleton outpost will be screening favorite films from thirty years ago throughout April. Tonight's flick is Miloš Forman's Amadeus, one of the best classical-music biopics ever made. With a script by playwright Peter Shaffer, the fun film brightly characterizes Mozart ― played to the hilt by Tom Hulce ― as an eighteenth-century rock star, but takes a dip in the dark side of the pond by exploring rival composer Salieri's (F. Murray Abraham) deep-seated envy of the younger phenom. It swept several top honors at the Academy Awards, including Best Picture, but what most people don't know is that the version of Amadeus that made such a splash in ’84 was streamlined for the short-attention-span MTV generation, with a great deal of footage left on the cutting-room floor.

Luckily for us, tonight's showing of Amadeus features the director's cut, which includes up to twenty minutes of restored footage and was released later on DVD for a home-viewing audience that didn't care how long it was. See the movie in all its original glory at 7 p.m. at the Alamo, 7301 South Santa Fe Drive in Littleton; for information and tickets, $10.75, visit drafthouse.com/denver/littleton or call 720-588-4107.
Mon., April 14, 7 p.m., 2014

Community Returns -- and Feels Like Community Again

Community returns for season 5 on January 2 with a two-episode block that plants its feet on the study room table and regrounds the characters after a fourth season of viewer discontent and lost purpose.

It's impossible to discuss the season opener without talking about the show's creator. The sweet, funny first episode, titled "Repilot," follows graduate Jeff Winger (Joel McHale), returning to Greendale Community College after his law career stalls. As in the original series pilot, Winger harbors bad intentions and ulterior motives. The episode also marks the extremely improbable and welcome return of series creator Dan Harmon, rehired by Sony Pictures Television with its own apparent set of Winger-ish motives: On the cusp of the 100 episodes that make series syndication lucrative, Sony execs probably don't much care who's in charge.

That was apparent during season 4, when Sony replaced Harmon with David Guarascio and Moses Port, former show runners of Just Shoot Me, a series with a notably broad, mass-market sensibility antithetical to Community's exuberantly unconventional spirit. The result was a flat, false imitation of Harmon's previous seasons that leaned heavily on forced meta-comedy and had the overdetermined jokiness of Robin Williams impersonating a faith healer. (We did, however, learn that Oscar-winning screenwriter Jim Rash, who plays Community's Dean Pelton, does a really good Joel McHale impression.)

Harmon claims he was never told why he was fired prior to the fourth season. The trades often cite an inability to wrangle the notoriously prickly Chevy Chase. But Chase was fired from the show after Harmon's departure, and the pair have remained friends -- so who's the bad Chevy wrangler, exactly? Draw your own conclusions, but Harmon has the distinction of having worked professionally with Chase for a longer extended period than any other person, including Beverly D'Angelo or Chase's former SNL costars.

"Repilot" quickly reestablishes the show's original structure: Unhappy with post-college life, the show's principal characters, with the exception of Pierce, return to Greendale for postgraduate studies. Harmon has long professed his allegiance to Joseph Campbell's monomythic narrative structure and developed an own eight-point story circle with which he structures his writing. In accordance with this story structure, Winger gets what he came for, but pays a high price: He's now the school's pre-law professor.

In the second episode, "Introduction to Teaching," Winger begins his new academic career in appropriately half-assed and half-hearted Greendale fashion. Troy and Abed enroll in a Nicolas Cage Studies course. Annie antagonizes Winger for his lack of effort -- it's business as usual, but without Chevy Chase. Pierce's absence is filled by a new character: criminology professor Buzz Hickey, played by Breaking Bad's Jonathan Banks, who becomes a mentor as Winger acclimates to his new role.

It's remarkable how large a footprint Chase's character Pierce plants on these first three episodes, given that he's no longer a series regular. The third episode, "Cooperative Polygraphy," pivots on Pierce, with his open displays of racism, gender bias, white-guy entitlement, old-guy befuddlement, and bad-guy conniving -- all despite the fact that Chase never appears on camera. That's a real testament to Harmon's abiding loyalty to his characters and the sharpness of the writing staff.

This might be some tiny consolation to fans of Donald Glover, who's leaving the show to focus on his recording career as Childish Gambino and launching a new series he's created called Atlanta on FX. "Cooperative Polygraphy" plants the seeds for Troy's imminent departure -- Glover only signed to appear in five episodes. Harmon has sheepishly admitted that Glover is his favorite actor of the show's ensemble; in the idiom of the mythic story cycle he loves, maybe losing Glover is the high price Harmon has to pay for the triumph of getting his show back.

On his podcast, Harmontown, Harmon has said that he never visits the set during production because he's too busy in the writers' room and the editing bay. He approaches television as a writer first, and he's said that the show's characters are all projected aspects of his own personality. Harmon's own virtues as an artist aside, it's hardly surprising that he's better at writing for these people than anyone else.

Buell Theatre
As summer segues into autumn, the Denver Center Attractions theater season is up and running with Pippin, a Tony Award-winning musical that’s proven itself timeless on Broadway, where the Brechtian ’70s hit resurfaced again last year to rave reviews. Bob Fosse’s involvement in the original show, featuring music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and a book by Roger O. Hirson, as well as a nod to cirque-style choreography, all give Pippin a sizzling edge even in the present.

Luci Arnaz anchors the touring cast in the role of Berthe, while actor John Rubenstein, who created the role of Pippin in the show’s 1972 premiere, returns in the role of Charles; other names in the cast include The Voice fourth-season finalist Sasha Allen as Leading Player and Kyle Selig as the 21st-century version’s modern Pippin. Pippin opens today at the Buell Theatre, in the Denver Performing Arts Complex, and runs daily except Mondays through September 20; get you hot tickets, starting at $25, at denvercenter.org or call 303-893-4100.
Saturdays, Sundays, 2 p.m.; Tuesdays-Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Starts: Sept. 6. Continues through Sept. 20, 2014

Zoot Suit Riots changed the future for Jose Mercado's students -- and for him

It was just a spring musical — a ritual, like homecoming, familiar at nearly every high school in the United States. But when the lights came up on Zoot Suit Riots at North High in May 2004, they revealed a very special show.

The twenty teenagers who made up the cast of Zoot Suit Riots had traded basketball games, parties, dates and studies for rehearsal time. They'd eaten dinner between scenes, often chips from a vending machine or a pizza brought in by a mom; they'd sometimes done their homework. They'd learned and botched dance numbers, fallen down, broken character. They'd run their lines a hundred times, drilled them into their squirmy teenage brains. They'd moved each other to tears.

After rehearsal, they'd often gone straight to bed, exhausted. Other nights they'd met up at somebody's house, talking about the play over beers that someone's older cousin had bought at a liquor store on Tejon or Zuni, the back roads of the north side.

Tensions were high on opening night. The sets smelled of wet paint. One of the male leads, Elvis Nuñez, was still walking with a minor limp after getting into a car accident one reckless night after rehearsal. Expectations were high, too: Westword had featured two of the young actors on the cover of the April 22, 2004, issue.

All three performances wound up selling out — a first in North High history. The play drew parents and grandparents, local business owners and Denver City Council members. The following year, a reprise of Zoot Suit Riots became the first high-school production ever staged at the Buell Theatre in downtown Denver, a venue normally occupied by big-budget touring Broadway shows. Nuñez, the boy with the limp, wound up in the New York Times. And the year after that, some of the cast members from this poor, inner-city school traveled to Scotland for the largest high-school theater festival in the world.

The young performers didn't know what would lie ahead when the final curtain came down on Zoot Suit Riots. They just knew that they were somehow different. So was their school. So was their neighborhood. And so were their futures.

**********

At age 29, José Antonio Mercado had worked hard to put distance between the poverty and struggles of his childhood in Greeley and his current reality as a recent graduate of the master's program in theater arts at UCLA. He'd already caught a few great breaks on stage in Los Angeles: a role in Wit and one in Mayhem, with Megan Mullally, for example. The city suited him. During the week he studied and worked with his role models; on weekends he saw shows and danced salsa.

In 2003, though, Mercado had to quickly return to Colorado when his mother, Rosa, succumbed to breast cancer after a long illness. Rosa had raised him as a single parent, and her death stripped him of the most meaningful relationship in his life. When he learned of an opening in the drama department at North High School, he applied, somewhat on a whim. The job would keep him busy while he dealt with his grief and tied up his mother's affairs. He planned to stay in Denver for a year, tops.

"Being a high-school teacher was the furthest thing from my mind," Mercado says. "I knew that with an MFA, teaching at a university was probably going to be part of it. But I wanted to be a professional actor. That was fully my plan."

But the North job was immediately consuming. The school was a crowded, bustling ecosystem with more than 1,600 students; it had seen a series of administrative shakeups and regularly underperformed on district assessments. With no formal training or experience as a public-school teacher, Mercado was assigned to teach drama as well as American literature. He constructed classes around his favorite authors and playwrights, starting with Shakespeare and moving into contemporary Latino authors.

"The students reminded me of myself," says Mercado, now 39. "I was a young teacher by comparison to many of the other teachers at the time. I was only ten years older than most of the students. I was just like those young kids, with so many dreams. My parents had a sixth-grade education. My dad was an illegal immigrant. I didn't have someone on a daily basis telling me to do my homework, and neither did these kids."

When it came time to choose the spring production for those kids, Mercado selected Zoot Suit Riots.

The musical, by Luis Valdez, had never been performed at a high school. The decidedly mature script, based on the true story of a racially charged murder case in Los Angeles that pitted young Hispanics against police in 1942, had great characters — strong Chicano voices for both males and females — and explored violence, racism, police brutality and institutional injustice, all themes Mercado saw as ripe for exploration at an inner-city high school, where close to 90 percent of the students were of Mexican descent, and nearly as many were poor.

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Mercado hand-selected the cast — twenty boys and girls who represented the exact cultural moment at North High School in 2004: jocks and cheerleaders, straight-A students and kids on the verge of dropping out. There was George, newly arrived from Mexico, who spoke little English but could out-dance anyone. There was Addison, one of the few white students in the cast, more interested in computers than theater. There was Tina, whose parents had never attended an event at school — because she'd never been part of one.

"I was raised by a single mom. So was almost every single boy in Zoot Suit Riots," recalls Mercado. "They had the hope and desire to succeed; they needed someone to give them permission. I had the energy, the time and expectation, to help me heal. It was the perfect storm. I needed to be a workaholic, and they needed someone who had the time to give them."

Mercado proved not just an energetic director, but an aggressive promoter. Virtually unknown in Denver's creative circles, he hustled like an insider, securing publicity, donors and supporters for the rechristened Black Masque Theatre Company. He got people to do things for free — including building sets and loaning expensive vintage clothing for costumes — and enlisted donations from businesses in the neighborhood. North wasn't accustomed to this kind of attention.

"We were just so used to North getting a bad rap," says Alexandra Paulson, who appeared in the original Zoot Suit Riots as well as a revival that Mercado staged at the Historic Elitch Theatre in 2010. "Suddenly we were in the newspaper, like, every week. I thought I was a celebrity. It was probably one of the most profound things that ever happened to any of us, or to the school."

"The culture in the school was one of low expectations," says Mercado. "There was a shock when the students' talent was brought out. I heard it all the time: 'These kids go to North?' The teachers, members of the community — they didn't know. That initial shock was followed by appreciation and a certain pride that manifested in this neighborhood that was transitioning from being a traditional Mexican neighborhood to the Highland of today."

In 2004, the area around North High School was still known by locals as "the north side" — an area that for decades had been associated with gangs, crime and poverty. But to most who lived there, it was simply home, a neighborhood that had been occupied by Latino families for generations. The stretch between Tejon and Clay streets along 32nd Avenue, a path traveled daily by hundreds of North students, was lined with Latino-owned businesses: La Raza Records on Zuni, Panaderia Rosales on Clay. But change was coming. Real-estate signs and condominiums were going up; a few old houses had been knocked down.

"Zoot Suit provided a point of unification," Mercado says. "You had groups that would not normally interact. The Chicanos and the Mexicanos would not normally have had anything to do with each other. But in the play, you had kids who barely spoke English and white kids and Latinos, all together. When the play opened, the new arrivals who didn't have kids came to the auditorium, where they'd sit next to somebody's Mexican-American grandmother. Those kids brought communities together."

In 2005, Mercado convinced the city to let him produce Zoot Suit Riots at the Buell Theatre. On the night of the show, when the cast entered the large theater from the back of the house, they received a standing ovation from a sold-out crowd.

"It was the first time parents from the north side had ever been to the Denver Performing Arts Complex," Mercado says. "It was the first time they ever felt invited to come downtown for a show."

Drama soon became one of the most popular electives at North. Mercado continued to push students creatively, selecting texts that explored Latino culture, civil rights and oppression. In 2005, students wrote One Love, a musical that explored the connections between hip-hop and identity. The following year, North was accepted for inclusion in the North American High School Theater Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland. After raising $60,000 — with help from parents and community leaders — Mercado took a group of students to Great Britain, starting with a tour of London. Once in Edinburgh, amid thousands of high-school thespians from across the United States, they earned an award for their performance of Simply Maria, a challenging drama about a young Mexican immigrant.

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As North's profile rose, so did Mercado's. He got a Denver-based agent and started doing voiceover work, commercials. His efforts gained the attention of then-Mayor John Hickenlooper, who recommended him for a spot on the Denver Commission on Cultural Affairs.

"No one would have cared about this drama department if it had come out of the Denver School of the Arts," Mercado says. "That it came out of North, that was the surprise. After that, my definition of success changed — from a selfish, 'Look at me, on stage, in a movie,' instant-gratification kind of thing to being about helping these kids believe in themselves. And it was a whole new rush. It was very gratifying; it turned me on."

Mercado didn't leave Denver after all. But after four years, he did leave North. In 2007, he joined the theater department at the University of Colorado Denver. It was a practical move, an upward move for an aspiring artist: Mercado had access to students with more formal theater experience, better facilities, more mature appetites. Still, more than five years later, Mercado considers his work at North to be the most significant of his career.

"I haven't had the same impact in that environment," he admits. "Academia is really good at talking, and I'm really good at doing. I'm not so interested in art for superficial purposes. I'm interested in art that changes the world."

**********

As an eighteen-year-old high-school senior, months from graduation, Emily Hare had no desire to be a serious person. Not yet.

Things were going well for Hare. Unlike many of her peers at North who came from single-parent homes, she had a stable family life. She was well liked, pretty, involved in swimming, yearbook, photography. She was a free spirit with a full course load, including several advanced-placement classes. "I always wanted to participate in things. I didn't want to go home; I wanted to fill my time," remembers Hare. "You know, I was in high school. I just wanted to hang out with my friends, and get a passing grade in my classes, and have fun."

So Hare was wary when a young stranger took over as North's drama teacher. José Mercado was intense and demanding, and he wanted to talk about history and the role of art in preserving Latino culture. She decided to give him a chance, and landed a part in Love, Laughter & Lágrimas, the first play Mercado directed at North. The following semester, Mercado insisted that Hare try out for Zoot Suit Riots; he cast her as Alice McGrath, the play's female lead — not an ingenue, but a reporter-turned-revolutionary who fought for justice on behalf of the zoot suiters.

Alice was a demanding role, one that forced Hare to dig deep inside herself. What she found there was a genuine, innate talent.

Hare committed herself fully to Zoot Suit Riots, and to Mercado. When she wasn't on stage, she was next to him in the house, clipboard in hand, observing the action as the show's assistant director. Part of her job was to corral the group of students she'd become extremely close to over the course of the production.

"All of us who were in the play, we could be wild," she says. "Kids from that area were just so creative. We were so used to hip-hop culture. There was a tremendous flavor to that group. Technology wasn't such an influence yet. We didn't have cell phones or an iPad. Even if that stuff would have been around, our parents wouldn't have been able to afford it. Instead we entertained each other with challenges, like, 'Who can do a better handstand?' or 'How many cartwheels can Ali do with one hand?'

"The play gave us this new artistic outlet that was so important," she continues. "It gave us hope. We loved being around each other. We had a guaranteed two or three hours a day to laugh and not to cry or get yelled at. Even if we were being rowdy, there was always purpose behind it. We were always making progress."

Hare was ambivalent about going to college, but her parents were not. North's guidance counselor pointed her to the University of Hawaii in Honolulu, which had programs in both photography and theater. Her work in Zoot Suit Riots boosted a high-school record that was impressive enough, at least on paper, to secure a spot.

"Honestly, I can't tell you a lick of what I learned in high school," Hare says today. "State capitals? Still don't know 'em. Math and science did not come naturally to me, like philosophical thinking and brainstorming, the creative things we explored in theater. What I remember is once getting kicked out of a class for asking questions and being inquisitive, and I remember writing a kick-ass play in drama class and having a lot of fun in the darkroom and in the theater.

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"Zoot Suit Riots was a saving grace," she adds. "Without it, I wouldn't have gone to Hawaii. I would have just gone through high school with the usual kind of experience. Zoot Suit helped me realize I could really make something out of this passion."

During her freshman year at Hawaii, Hare returned to Denver to perform in the revival of Zoot Suit Riots at the Buell. "It gave a boost to my ego," she says. "I remember flying back and one of the flight attendants introduced me to the whole plane, over the loudspeaker. That was surreal. I felt like I was famous for a good little minute."

Despite early academic struggles, Hare earned a bachelor of arts in theater in 2008. She stayed in Hawaii for another year, part of a traveling troupe performing at schools. Then she moved back to Colorado, where she faced a series of unscripted setbacks. After being badly injured in a car accident, her older brother had to relearn to walk and talk, an ordeal that strained Hare's close, Roman Catholic family. She soon became involved with a man she met at a fitness club in north Denver. They married, but the contentious relationship ended in divorce two years later.

Today Hare is on a spiritual quest to define herself as an adult rather than a character.

"I was mentally tripped up by this idea that every single moment of our lives is theater," she says. "I lived in this fantastical world. You get a script and say, 'Okay, I'm this now.' You take on all of these roles that are fake; every single day is an act. I think because of my theater background, I had all these internalized emotions that I'm just starting to sort out. I'm realizing that honesty is so important. It's so much more important to be honest than to act like something you're not."

Hare now lives with her parents, not far from North High School, and works at a downtown law firm. Though performing is not currently part of her life, she dreams of opening a small, experimental theater that explores the connections between perception, the senses and drama. Alice is never very far from her mind.

"I've carried Alice along with me throughout my life," she says. "She fought for what she believed in, even though she didn't know what would happen. I feel like I'm always fighting for something and never winning. Right now I guess I'm just fighting to be a positive person, to be happy, and to figure out what that means." **********

For all the splash it made in the media, Zoot Suit Riots was never any part of any academic assessment, as is so often the case with extracurricular arts-based programs. Still, it produced some impressive stats. In 2004, North's graduation rate was estimated at 60 percent by Denver Public Schools (and significantly lower by the community group Padres Unidos), yet all but one of the twenty young people who participated in Zoot Suit Riots graduated from high school. More than half went to college.

Many, like Jacquie Adam, were the first in their family to do so.

Adam (then Jacquie Granados) was in the group of drama students who traveled to Scotland with Mercado in 2006. When she returned, invigorated, she applied to both the Daniels Fund for a scholarship and the University of Denver for admission. She was granted both, and earned a bachelor's degree in communications with a minor in theater. One of her younger brothers followed her to DU; he graduated last year, also a Daniels Scholar. Her youngest brother entered Metro State University of Denver last fall.

"Before Scotland, I had no idea of what my future looked like," says Adam. "I was just a little Mexican chick, you know? That trip really opened my eyes, showed me there was this whole world out there. It showed me, like, 'Yeah, we can travel. We can learn. We can do awesome stuff.'

"When I came back, I was super-inspired to get myself together, to do something with my life," she adds. "My mom and dad were so proud. I'm the first person in my family to go to college. That trip really changed my whole family's future."

Now 24 and married, Adam is back at North — as a teacher-mentor with Colorado Uplift, which helps develop student character and leadership skills. "I was exposed to so much at North, being in those plays," she says. "I wanted to see how I could help the kids come out and do something with their lives, instead of just being in the 'hood. I wanted to show them there's a whole world out there. It's not just about the north side."

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**********

Elvis Nuñez was on his fourth high school when he was cast in Zoot Suit Riots — and it wasn't North. He'd started at Highlands Ranch, where he lived with a supportive aunt and spent the first month picking fights with well-off suburban kids. Closer to home at Manual High School, there were fewer fights but also less actual school. He soon moved on to North. "I bullshitted my way through it," he says. "Academics? I didn't care for them."

For Nuñez, the whole school scene was impossible to take seriously. He'd seen real life: His mother went to prison when he was six and stayed there for a decade; he'd been raised by a loving grandmother in the rough Swansea neighborhood.

By the time Mercado held auditions for Zoot Suit Riots, Nuñez had been kicked down the road to the Denver Public Schools's Contemporary Learning Academy, with other problem kids.

Today Nuñez has tattoos, a few battle scars and the same burstingly bright brown eyes and smile that led Mercado to cast him as El Pachuco, Zoot Suit's conscience. The play gave him a place to put his energy and style, his creativity and anger — all equally present within his teenage personality. It gave him a stability, a second family. "The people who were cast in that play, we connected on a level that was so deep," he recalls. "And then it was over, and it was so devastating. It was like a breakup, only worse, because you're breaking up with so many people at once. That play wasn't going to happen without our positivity, without us loving each other as much as we did. It wouldn't have been as magical."

For Nuñez, the magic landed him on the cover of Westword, in the Denver Post and even in the New York Times, which featured him in a piece about the re-emergence of the zoot suit. "I took those stories into the principal's office at North and said, 'Look. I'm representing North. This is the first good press this school has had in a long time. You've got to let me back in here.' I knew I wasn't going to boost their grade level, but I had to be there," he says. "Without drama, I never would have graduated. Nothing would have kept me there."

Nuñez was readmitted, and he continued to represent. He helped create One Love, and helped Mercado raise a significant amount of money for the Scotland trip. In 2005, after six years of high school, he graduated.

"Up until that point, I'd always been told I was an asshole, by everyone," he says. "Zoot Suit gave me an outlet to show the world what I had. A belief in myself. It helped me to expand my consciousness and to study, to learn about Chicano history, indigenous history, to find my roots. I learned so much about what I could do."

What he could do, it turned out, was pretty much everything. Nuñez is now the father of a five-year-old boy, a member of a respected graffiti crew, a breakdancer, a teacher and a coach. Through the Denver Parks and Recreation My Card program, he teaches young people the skills that kept him engaged, and alive, through high school and beyond: art, performance, sports. He coaches basketball and soccer, teaches kids how to cook and care for themselves. "It's the coolest thing I've ever done," he says. "Hanging out with these kids, giving them somewhere to go, a chance to play and just have fun. That's what life's about.

"That's something I've figured out lately: It's not about some big message you're gonna understand someday. It's just about living."

**********

Alexandra Paulson was in José Mercado's drama class the day he started at North. When Mercado introduced himself, Paulson interrupted with a question. About his butt cheeks.

It was the kind of test high-school students throw at new teachers, adult interlopers in their finely honed social order. Mercado didn't flinch.

"He laughed," she remembers. "And then he said, 'That's a great idea. Let's spend this class telling jokes out loud to each other.' He made it a theater game. I loved him instantly. He was just this unique person who popped up in the middle of all this craziness. He pushed us really hard. And I always wanted to strive to please him."

In Zoot Suit Riots, Paulson played Lorena, fiancée of romantic lead Henry Leyva, played by Ernest Apodaca, her boyfriend at the time. When she wasn't running dance routines or scenes with Ernest, she was practicing flips and aerials on stage or in the aisles of the auditorium. Outgoing, bold, equal parts beauty queen and class clown, the seventeen-year-old Paulson had a quasar's energy. She was captain of the cheer squad and leader of a clique that had more than a touch of bad-girl glamour.

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But when showtime came, her focus was clear. On stage, she gave everything she had to Lorena.

"School was social for me," says Paulson. "I wasn't really successful at anything until I got into theater. I'll never forget the smile on my dad's face on that first opening night. It was a huge thing for my whole family. My mom and I had had some problems in our relationship. I got into trouble when I was younger. Once the plays started, she was so pleased. It made my mom and dad so proud."

The spring after Zoot Suit Riots, Paulson was part of the group of students who wrote and produced One Love. It was the first time she felt a direct connection between what she learned in class and who she was. "I had always hated math and those kinds of classes," she explains. "But I loved to write — and we wrote a whole play. Honestly, everything I learned in high school, I learned in those plays. They helped me find my confidence, how to deal with people. They taught me about writing and creative expression. They showed me teamwork and how to follow through."

At the end of her senior year, Paulson was awarded the first Richard Lucero North High Alumni Scholarship — a full ride to Metro State, where she enrolled in the theater department. In her third year, with the blessing (and continued funding) of the Lucero family, she changed direction, enrolling in the nursing program at Emily Griffith Technical College. Last year, Paulson completed her RN at the Denver School of Nursing; she now works at St. Anthony Hospital/Centura Health.

That Paulson — the cheerleader who thought she hated learning — chose one of the hardest professions imaginable would probably surprise those who knew her freshman year. It surprised her, too: "If it wasn't for those plays, I never would have gone to nursing school. Period."

Nursing school was physically, mentally and emotionally brutal — all training for the life-and-death daily reality of the actual job. On tough days at work, theater helps. "I try to just be myself and be super-silly with my patients when I can," she says. "I try to make them smile, to make them feel better. It's definitely a performance, every day."

Paulson is 27 now, but her energy is undiminished by adulthood. For fun, she performs with a flaming hula hoop. She periodically shows up in small-budget movies filmed around town. Last year, while shooting scenes at a local dive, Paulson sprang into action when a real customer had a seizure at the bar. "It was a horror movie, and my character had been murdered, so I was completely covered in fake blood," she says. "The paramedics showed up and I told them everything that was going on. They were like, 'Okay, good job on this guy. Now, what the hell happened to you?'"

On weekends, Paulson goes underwater: She's part of the Mystic Mermaid cast at the Downtown Aquarium, performing in a giant tank with eels, sharks and a 400-pound fish. She won the job while she was still in nursing school. Training to be a mermaid — which requires her to swim expertly and hold her breath for seventy seconds at a time — was nearly as challenging as training to be an RN.

"It's crazy and it's hilarious. You have to be super-cheesy. You're down there with all of these fish. I once got bit by a sea turtle. It was like, 'Ahhh! No one told me these things bite!" she recalls. "I'm just a performer in my heart. I'm always looking for some little performance. For me, it's just a way to relax, to chill. It's just a part of who I am. It's always going to be."

**********

Ten years after Zoot Suit Riots, Mercado is returning to North next week with Dreaming Sin Fronteras, which opens March 21 in the auditorium where he held hundreds of hours of rehearsals back in 2004. Elvis Nuñez is a member of the cast, and some of the volunteers Mercado enlisted to run sound and lights for Zoot Suit Riots will once again be behind the boards.

"It just seemed perfect to do it at North," Mercado says. "We asked the principal, and she said yes right away. It's perfect, full circle."

Dreaming Sin Fronteras explores the DREAM Act through true stories, collected from young Latinos whose lives have been shaped — and often limited — by their legal status. The narratives will be dramatized by a cast that includes Mercado's students at the University of Colorado Denver; the show is sponsored by the school's College of Arts and Media as well as its Office of Diversity and Inclusion and Office of Student Affairs. For Mercado, it's another chance to use theater to bring people together.

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"Immigration is an urgent topic; we just couldn't do it in a conventional play," he says. "To break with conventions and norms is not something I'm unfamiliar with. We'll be using their stories to show that these kids are every bit as American as the next person; their voices need to be heard."

One of those voices belongs to Alejandra Cardona Lamas, who, as a recent graduate of Gateway High School, was among the victims of the Aurora theater shooting in July 2012. As she recovered, her physical and emotional trauma was compounded by a fear that her status as an illegal immigrant would be revealed. Haunted by visions of her family being deported, she contacted a lawyer who helped her apply for a special visa granted to victims of violence at the hands of American citizens. Last year, Lamas and her entire family were given legal status. She's currently pursuing a degree in social work and criminal justice at Colorado State University.

When Mercado approached Lamas about using her story in a monologue, she decided to risk it — and she'll be in the audience with her family next week. "I've never really gotten the opportunity to see how people perceive my story," says Lamas. "Maybe it will do a lot for my self-growth and healing. Maybe it will help me realize that I made it somewhere that a lot of people wouldn't have gotten to. I hope the audience is able to see my story as the outcome of my being a survivor rather than a victim. I want them to look at it like, 'Wow. She's awesome and strong.'"

Mercado is hoping that powerful stories like Lamas's will help pull audiences not just from North and the surrounding community, but from the entire city. He's assembled a high-profile group of musicians, including Raul Pacheco of L.A.'s Ozomatli and Shawn King of DeVotchKa, to curate the soundtrack and raise the profile of the show. And once again, he's working the area for supporters, hosting a series of fundraisers in the now-bustling LoHi restaurant district.

The north side is a very different place today than it was in 2004. Over the past decade, the population has shifted from nearly 60 percent Latino to nearly 60 percent white. Students on their way home from North now walk a transformed 32nd Avenue, packed with high-end restaurants and boutiques. In February, the last Mexican-music store in this heart of the neighborhood closed; a realtor's shingle hangs in the window.

Change has come to North High School, too. The school's numbers are improving: In 2012, North claimed one of the highest rates of growth for all the traditional 9-12 high schools in DPS, and its performance rating was upgraded last year, from red to orange. The campus is now shared with a charter school, STRIVE Preperatory, as well as the North Engagement Center, which serves the area's most at-risk youth.

Like most public schools in Colorado, North is transitioning to the new Common Core standards, which stress competency in traditional subjects like language arts and math. Theater is an elective — untested and, as a performance indicator, undetectable. The Black Masque Theatre Company is active, but not the draw it once was. Athletics and music are now among the school's most popular activities.

When North's library was remodeled last year, principal Nicole Veltzé — who attended the first performance of Zoot Suit Riots in 2004 and took over as principal in 2011 — oversaw the installation of a tribute to the play, built right into the new architecture.

Last fall, Veltzé hired a full-time theater teacher. This fall, the school will stage a musical.

Author's note: I first met José Mercado and the people in this story ten years ago, when I wrote Westword's cover story about Zoot Suit Riots. Like everyone else who shared in the strange, creative alchemy of that experience, I was changed by Zoot Suit. In the years that followed, I moved back to north Denver and got involved with the Black Masque Theatre Company as a volunteer. I helped Ali, Jacquie and Elvis write One Love, and after raising money for the Scotland trip, I traveled with the group to Edinburgh. By this time, I had left Westword and, like Mercado in 2004, was processing the loss of my mother. Theater at North High helped me to heal, too, and to refine a belief that all people, especially young people, are creative and capable when given opportunities that unlock their potential. I'm not impartial to the people or events in this story: It's my story, too.

This book club has everything: great titles, a dynamic facilitator, interesting company all deeply engaged in relating works of literature to their life experiences. The only hitch is you have to be in prison to join. Ex-librarian Karen Lausa's largely volunteer effort to bring serious books into the Colorado Department of Corrections, which began with a group of lifers at Limon in 2012, has expanded to several other facilities, demonstrating that incarcerated men and women, adults and juveniles are all hungry for a good story — and a chance to reflect on what it can teach them about their own wrong turns and possible paths to redemption.

Jones Theatre
Charlie Miller and Emily Tarquin of Off-Center @ The Jones know well the value of storytelling — and of touching people’s hearts and making them cry or laugh out loud through shared experiences. But their idea of pairing naked stories with such unlikely elements as aerial dancers, puppeteers, actors, music and video to flesh it all out in unexpected ways? Miller calls it “artistic matchmaking" — and even now, he’s not 100 percent certain how it’s going to turn out.

He and Tarquin will find out, along with the rest of us, when Lived/Re-Lived, a collaboration with Andrew Orvedahl and Robert Rutherford of the Narrators — a monthly showcase of local celebs telling stories on changing themes — opens tonight at the Jones Theatre. Three of the series’ best storytellers — playwright/performer Jeff Campbell, Denver Zine Library director Kelly Shortandqueer and comic Timmi Lasley — will share their real-life yarns, while Off-Center’s tailored stagecraft and shenanigans go on around them.

“I love when we work on things that surprise even us!” Tarquin says of the experiment. “We always try to work with a bunch of local people, and it’s going to be cool to see how they’ve expanded on the stories. This is an exciting show for us!”

Lived/Relived kicks off at 8:30 p.m. at the Jones, in the Denver Performing Arts Complex, with Rutherford hosting, and continues at the same time the next two Fridays, March 14 and 21. Admission is $15; visit denveroffcenter.org or call 303-893-4100 for information and reservations.
Fridays, 8:30 p.m. Starts: March 7. Continues through March 21, 2014

No+place+says+Denver+like+Civic+Center+Park.
The Fourth of July is all about the bombs bursting in air and the stars and stripes forever, but it’s also about family and community and eating watermelon. Get your patriotism on a night early at the annual Independence Eve celebration in Civic Center Park, a party with fireworks that’s not only free, but promises something for everyone, from toddlers right on up to Grandma and Grandpa. All that’s required are a blanket or low-rise lawn chair and a picnic (food trucks will also be parked on site for another edible option), and maybe a few hundred of your closest family and friends.

“For the fifth year in a row, Civic Center Park will be Denver’s place to celebrate country, community and culture,” says Lindy Eichenbaum Lent, head of the Civic Center Conservancy. “We are thrilled that Independence Eve has become a treasured community tradition rooted in Denver’s first and only National Historic Landmark.”

This year’s event will start at 8 p.m. with warm-up sets from the MIX a cappella group and the Hazel Miller Band, followed by the Denver Municipal Band’s mixture of patriotic favorites and a pastiche of pop tunes through history, by artists from the Andrews Sisters to Pharrell Williams. And it all wraps up with a fabulous light show and fireworks display over the City and County Building after dark, courtesy of Anadarko. Come early to settle at the park, located at Colfax Avenue and Broadway; visit civiccenterconservancy.org for more information.
Thu., July 3, 8 p.m., 2014

CU-Boulder campus
Sam Gregory, one of the most interesting and talented actors around, began his professional life working for the California Shakespeare Theater soon after graduating from college. “I made $50 a week,” he says. “Maybe $43.37 after taxes.” This summer, Gregory returns for his third season with the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, playing the ghost of John Barrymore in the comedy I Hate Hamlet, and Henry IV in Henry IV, Part I. Both are being staged in rotation with The Tempest; Henry IV, Part II; and The Merry Wives of Windsor.

“It’s all about the text with Shakespeare,” Gregory says. “People come to listen, so you spend most of your time understanding the words, making them clear. When you’re doing a comedy, inevitably Shakespeare gets 90 percent of the laughs. All the shtick you add -- the funny hats, ad libs, pratfalls -- are a waste of time. And some of Shakespeare is just gorgeous fun to speak. They say iambic pentameter is the closest rhythm to a heartbeat.

“My biggest challenge this summer is getting the audience to willingly believe I’m a king for two and a half hours. We all have preconceptions about what a king should be. I want to make him human, but also uphold my duties as monarch and father.”

The CSF repertory begins tonight at 8 p.m. with The Tempest and runs through August 10, with outdoor performances at the Mary Rippon Theatre and indoor ones at University Theatre on the University of Colorado at Boulder campus. For information and tickets, $10 to $64, visit coloradoshakes.org or call 303-492-8008
June 6-Aug. 10, 2014

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