Best Movie Programmer Without a Budget 2018 | Adán de la Garza | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

If you're a major nonprofit or a corporation, it's possible to book compelling movies. But what is a DIY microcinema programmer working on a shoestring budget supposed to do? In Denver, Adán de la Garza, curator of Collective Misnomer (his title is a misnomer, because he's the sole brains behind the operation), manages to offer a challenging mix of short films and experimental documentaries, and even hosts traveling filmmakers at a variety of spots, including the Dikeou Pop-Up, the Sie FilmCenter and the Alamo Drafthouse Sloan's Lake — all with money he brings in from the door and donates himself. He does this with his ethics intact, by ensuring that his filmmakers get a cut of the door.

Kenneth Hamblin III

When it comes to putting on a stunning festival, it's hard to beat the Denver Film Society's annual Denver Film Festival, which offers up nearly two weeks of programming each year, including blockbuster independent films, documentaries and a handful of experimental works and animation. In addition to movies galore, the festival also gives Denverites the opportunity to hobnob with actors, directors and producers on the red carpet and in theaters and bars. The fest just turned forty, and we can't wait to see what the next four decades bring.

Readers' Choice: Denver Film Festival

In the social-media world of inspirational-quote memes and viral feel-good videos, it can be hard to find authentic voices. Fortunately, Denver has Lady Speech. The poet, performer, tarot reader, intuitive, spellcaster and Westword MasterMind takes to Facebook several times a week to share her thoughts on the current state of the world, centering feminism, blackness and mental and physical well-being through her mini-orations. Sometimes she shares her wisdom with brief status updates; other times, this life guide will post stream-of-consciousness videos. If her Facebook briefs have you energized, the witch-of-all-trades also conducts private tarot readings, teaches ceremonial healing for trauma survivors and is even an ordained minister. Tune in to the Lady Speech spiritual network on Facebook to be enlightened and energized, but be forewarned: This queen is passionate with her words, and some of her mini-sermons are NSFW.

Best Theater Company to Pop Up in Unexpected Places

Audacious Theatre

Whether putting on a show inside a music venue, a brewery, a pizzeria or the basement of an old Denver mansion, Audacious Theatre is the master of transforming a space. This small, local immersive company has a knack for creating ambience with a just a few yards of fabric and some simple lighting tricks. It converted the Parkside Mansion into a murderous dungeon for an original production, Lady Killers, and was able to perfectly capture the sleaze of a '70s pick-up bar for its own version of David Mamet's Sexual Perversity in Chicago. For Audacious, immersive also means highly interactive, as artistic director Ren Manley and company break the fourth wall by inviting audience members to perform karaoke, throw darts at pictures of ex-lovers and beat the crap out of piñatas.

There are decent dinner-theater offerings throughout the area, but nothing as tasty as the evenings hosted by BDT Stage, previously Boulder's Dinner Theatre. For starters, the food is several cuts above most dinner-theater fare — we found housemade burrata on the menu last time we visited — and artistic director Michael J. Duran always casts reliably talented performers who know how to carry a tune. And then some, as in the case of Always...Patsy Cline, currently playing through May 20. Fall brings the updated I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change. And we know that you're sick of Disney's The Little Mermaid by now, but we're betting your three-year-old isn't, so plan on under-the-sea enchantment and a happy toddler this summer.

M. Gale Photography

Three plays in rotation, all completely different from each other: a crazy comic version of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility in which the flying, sliding, hopping furniture is almost a character in its own right; a magic realism piece centered on a sick child called The Electric Baby; and a powerful production of Arthur Miller's tragic All My Sons, about a man haunted by a crime he committed during World War II that led to the deaths of several young pilots. The Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities has brought back the concept of repertory with its Black Box Theatre, and one of the pleasures of attending all three well-staged productions is seeing the versatility of some of the area's finest actors in a variety of roles. The plays are shown in rotation through the first week of May, but we can expect another worthy round next year.

The Miners Alley auditorium is one of the most pleasant in the area. Even better is the lounge, where you'll find a full bar called Lillie's Saloon that's open for an hour before showtime. Yes, you can carry your drink into the theater — and you'll also have a chance to mingle with the actors in the lounge afterward. It doesn't hurt that under the direction of Len Matheo, the company is doing a very interesting mix of contemporary and traditional work these days. We're particularly intrigued by Aaron Posner's District Merchants, a sharp and humorous take on The Merchant of Venice, running from May 18 to June 24. Remember: free beer and wine on opening night.

Courtesy Benchmark Theatre Facebook page

As the first offering in its new and permanent space in Lakewood (first pioneered by Edge), Benchmark presented A Kid Like Jake, a thoughtful and well-executed play about a four-year-old who loves princesses and wants to dress as Snow White for Halloween, and the efforts of his worried parents to get him into a first-rate preschool. The rest of this inaugural season will introduce local audiences to interesting and critically acclaimed works that are still relatively unknown here, along with a new play by local author Jeffrey Neuman. And then there's the second annual Fever Dream Festival, a "celebration of science fiction, fantasy and horror featuring new and original works." Helmed by actors Haley Johnson and Rachel Rogers, Benchmark promises to bring an entirely new sensibility to town.

Aurora Fox Arts Center

There's been a bit of an identity crisis at the shabby, comfy old Fox over the past year — a handful of fantastic shows, as well as a couple that completely misfired. This summer, a new executive producer, Helen R. Murray, takes over, and her hire says a lot for Aurora's commitment to theater and the arts. An actor and writer, Murray founded The Hub in Fairfax, Virginia, a decade ago. She's a multi-award winner, known for working with playwrights and commissioning new plays. Before Murray takes the reins, however, the Fox will present Passing Strange, an exuberant and unusual musical by songwriters Stew and Heidi Rodewald that won the kind of praise you rarely hear from East Coast critics. Sounds like a fitting way to lower the curtain on the Fox's most recent act and prepare for the next.

Courtesy Buntport Theater Facebook page

You've got out-of-town guests who think Denver's still a sleepy cowtown? Or perhaps a onetime cowtown that's been leached of all individuality and character by developers? Take them to Buntport for one of the five-member writer-actor troupe's original plays. The company occupies a small, friendly, unpretentious playing space which it uses with incredible ingenuity, and we promise you'll have an evening packed with wit, insight and surprise that's funny as hell, completely unexpected, but also thought-provoking and often deep. We also promise that you won't see anything like this anywhere else — not in London, New York, Chicago or Podunk, Iowa.

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