Best Surprising Theater 2017 | Aurora Fox | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
Aurora Fox Arts Center

Traditionally, the Aurora Fox wasn't a place where you'd find surprising, knock-your-socks-off productions, but under the leadership of executive producer Charles Packard, the venue has been taking on risky and ambitious ventures. Porgy and Bess, for example, which requires a plethora of African-American talent and a slew of operatic and near-operatic voices. Or Chinglish, which requires Mandarin-speaking actors and "perfecting the comic rhythms in two languages and subtitles," according to the Fox's website. "We suspected that early 2017 might be a fine time to reflect on America's place in the global economy and how to begin to find out what we don't know." The play runs until April 9 and will be followed by Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, directed by Colorado Public Television's Eden Lane.

The shows at Miners Alley are never boring — a mix of old and new, dramas and musicals, with an occasional surprise thrown in. Even on opening night, the atmosphere is light and casual, and jeans are fine. Best of all, your very reasonably priced ticket — $18 to $28 — lets you attend the opening-night celebration, held in the bright, art-filled lobby with its well-stocked bar. Here you get to relax, chat and, if you want, congratulate the performers, who will be coming out for a snack or a drink as soon as they're out of costume.

Readers' Choice: Edge Theater Company

The Catamounts don't go by the motto of "Theatre for the Adventurous Palate" for nothing. Always fresh and vital, often weird, sometimes witty and now and then profound, the Cats ferret out intriguing scripts and produce plays unlike anything you've seen around here. They're talented theater professionals, but they're also crazy about food, and they prepare feasts for their Saturday night shows. We're not talking cheese plates or chocolate-covered strawberries, but delicious chef-created dishes that coruscate with metaphorical meaning. And the crew makes cocktails to match: Catamounts artistic director Amanda Berg Wilson's favorites include last fall's Fish House Punch, a blend of plain and peach brandies with lemon juice, and the Milton, mixed in tribute to the English poet John Milton and concocted from Rittenhouse rye whiskey, McGillicuddy's peach liqueur and other drips and drops. "We like boozy cocktails," she says, and she's counting on you to like them, too.

It took decades for movie snacks to rise above the basics of popcorn, hot dogs, candy and soda, and decades more to deliver drinks and full meals straight to audience members in their seats. Austin-based Alamo Drafthouse really cracked that code, and when it opened its Littleton outpost in 2013, Seth Rexroad was in the kitchen, ready to lead his team through a lineup of dishes and adult drinks that viewers would find just as tasty as the film they were watching. And Rexroad's menu just keeps getting better. For a reel treat, he's created the Beer Dinners and Feasts series, taking classics like Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill saga or Coppola's Godfather films and building delicious, multi-course dinners — complete with paired beer from Colorado's best breweries — around the movies' characters, themes and general awesomeness. Recently these special events have been coming fast and furious, giving film fans multiple opportunities every month to feed their stomach and their soul. And you'll soon have more opportunities to sample Rexroad's work; he's been promoted to executive market chef for Colorado as the Alamo readies a second location at Sloan's Lake and three more spots soon to be finalized around the state.

Readers' Choice: Alamo Drafthouse

With all the satisfying and eclectic programming at the Sie FilmCenter, you need to keep your attention on the screen — which means you can't be distracted by uncomfortable surroundings. While some mainstream theaters are putting in fancy recliners, the Sie recognizes that those are more an excuse to grab forty winks than watch the program. So instead, it's kept the same comfy leather seats in its theaters for years; they're perfect for sinking into and soaking up the film. But the Sie isn't entirely averse to change; it recently remodeled the forty-seat Clausen theater with slightly larger Italian leather seats, which make you feel like you're sitting in that private screening room that you dream of installing in your basement someday.

Readers' Choice: Alamo Drafthouse

The Denver Film Society is turning forty years old this year; it birthed the first Denver Film Festival back in 1977. Two decades later, the organization expanded its mission to running a year-round arthouse, which would allow the audience to experience the quality offerings of a festival every single day of the year; when it moved into the SieFilm Center six years ago, the DFS really developed its daily dose of movies. With three screens, the Sie maintains a perfect balance of new and classic cinema, augmenting regular showings with popular mini fests like Women + Film, CinemaQ and CineLatino, as well as guest programmers like Theresa Mercado, with her magnificent and macabre Scream Screen series. And every November, the Sie is again home to the Denver Film Festival. This theater just keeps on spinning like a reel of film, only with no end in sight.

Readers' Choice: Alamo Drafthouse

Over the last decade, television has often stolen the limelight from filmmaking with shows like Mad Men and Breaking Bad, the rise of Netflix and all that "binge-worthy" original programming. As a result, what you find on the ol' boob tube is often better than what you see on the big screen at the multiplex. This televised revolution in storytelling caught the eyes of Randi Kleiner and Kaily Smith, who saw an opportunity to keep that momentum rolling with SeriesFest, a homegrown event that follows the film-festival model but focuses on television pilots instead of cinema, bringing the talent behind the industry out to the fans. Joining forces with the Denver Film Society, which produces the Denver Film Festival, SeriesFest proves that the best festivals can fill any size screen.

Readers' Choice: Denver Film Festival

Since 1955, First Person Cinema has brought some of the world's greatest experimental filmmakers to Boulder — and when we say "filmmakers," we mean it. The artists the group showcases often work entirely alone, sometimes painting or marking the film strip directly, other times crafting intricate, essay-style documentaries. Whatever these artists do, it's sure to be innovative. Most of the filmmakers use their own voice, as the name of the series suggests, and all are pushing the limits of what cinema can be. First Person Cinema has a couple of screenings left this spring and will resume at the start of the fall semester.

For nearly a century of filmmaking, 35mm film was the standard: a touchable and tangible material called celluloid that captures visuals at 24 frames a second and, when projected in front of a bright xenon bulb, shoots images onto a screen. Sadly, the advent of digital filmmaking has nearly put an end to this classic format, but there are still lovers of the medium — and movie houses that love to show it. At the Sie FilmCenter, the experienced projection team doesn't just show films; they love and respect the magical material on which they're made, and during screenings, they take care that every frame is in focus and the light and sound are perfect. As a result, the next time you watch something digitally, you may wish you were seeing it on film at the Sie.

Launched in 2012, Process Reversal is a nonprofit that has offered dozens of workshops in processing and developing motion-picture film by hand with chemicals, in DIY darkrooms and with hodgepodge gear. The group, which recently launched a screening series with the Sie FilmCenter, has taken equipment from now-defunct film laboratories and post-houses and has begun to use it in workshops; it hopes to ultimately open a community film lab where we can all process our own films.

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