Cinematographer Gio Toninelo's fascination with G.I. Joe inspired him to start the G.I. Joe Stop Motion Film Festival thirteen years ago. The festival screens all sorts of movies that use action figures to tell stories. Fun, right? But last year, Toninelo found himself duking it out with the toy manufacturer Hasbro, which threatened to sue him over the trademark to the festival's name. Undeterred, he renamed the Denver-based traveling event the Action Figure Stop Motion Film Festival, expanding the figurines that could be used in the movies (which he found to be a relief). The festival will be back in Denver this fall, and will then let other cities in on the action. G.I.O.: a real American hero.

Readers' Choice: Denver Film Festival

actionfigurefilmfestival.com

Even if you're not exactly a film fanatic, it's worth venturing off the mainstream movie-theater circuit a few times a year to see what kinds of movies are being made outside of Hollywood. For that, you can rely on the Denver Film Society, which shows a loaded program of indie, foreign and documentary films throughout the year and throws an excellent annual festival. Sweetening the deal is the Society's slate of memberships, which offer considerable value even for the casual movie-goer. All memberships get holders early access to tickets, occasional free screenings, discounts on concessions and happy-hour pricing on drinks at the Henderson Lounge in the Sie FilmCenter, where most DFS films are shown. And many of the memberships also include generous credit toward movie tickets, guest passes and cards for free popcorn and soda.

Best Place to See Talented Actors...Again and Again

Arvada Center

The Diary of Anne Frank at the Arvada Center.
Matthew Gale Photography
The Diary of Anne Frank at the Arvada Center.

Every year, the Arvada Center's Black Box Theater repertory company selects a group of top-flight actors for the season. These performers get several weeks of paid work, challenging roles in a never-predictable roster of plays that range from classics to surprising premieres, and a chance to work with great directors and sophisticated tech people. As a result, artistic director Lynne Collins tends to have her pick of talent. While the performer lineup changes year to year, the standard is always high.

Buntport Theater Company
Courtesy Buntport Theater Facebook page

Once you've seen a Buntport Theater Company production, you'll want to see them all. You'll want to keep recapturing the sense that you're in on something weird, offbeat, charming, smart, friendly and very special. Buntport, which has never lost its freshness over two decades of shows, is the brainchild of five enormously talented, inventive and literate writers — four of whom also perform. They create their own work or reimagine the work of others so that it becomes unrecognizable. Or perhaps more deeply recognizable. If you haven't been to Buntport, you owe it to yourself to get there, ASAP. And if you've been trying to explain Denver's unique quirkiness and humor to out-of-town friends, take them, too.

For a long time, Boulder offered little for serious theater-goers — surprising for a town of painters, dancers, scientists and other brainiacs. That changed a dozen years ago, when husband-and-wife team Stephen Weitz and Rebecca Remaly founded the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company. In the process, they brought serious theatrical professionalism to Boulder, and they've been mounting an eclectic mix of fascinating and mostly contemporary plays at the Dairy Arts Center ever since. The production you're seeing on any given night may be a disappointment or a revelation — or a twisty, clever, complicated mix of both — but we guarantee it will be worth your time.

Readers' Choice: Denver Center for the Performing Arts

There's a lot of good children's theater around town, but a visit to the BDT Stage's family-friendly summer offering should thrill any little one. To begin with, there's dinner, complete with a Shirley Temple and a kids' menu. Then there's the jovial, funny actor who introduces the show and will mention your child's name if you've booked a birthday bash. Finally, there's the colorful show itself, with all those exuberant comics, singers and dancers. And if the kids begin nodding off during this year's offering, Beauty and the Beast, they'll certainly bolt up, wide awake, at the chance to meet Beauty, the Beast, or perhaps the singing Candlestick at the end of the night.

Readers' Choice: Denver Center for the Performing Arts

Curious Theatre Company

"No Guts, No Story" is the maxim of Curious Theatre Company artistic director Chip Walton, repeated so often that audiences tend to chant the words with him when he opens a show. Walton has staged work by minority playwrights, satiric Englishmen and profoundly feminist women, upsetting plays and hilarious evenings. But though politics is almost always part of the event, these offerings are never simplistic or didactic. They may address an issue you've heard discussed a thousand times, but you'll come away with a deeper understanding of that issue, or an intriguing new take. This is exactly the kind of mid-sized, highly professional and visionary theater that elevates the Denver scene.

Garner Galleria Theatre

The offerings booked into the Garner Galleria Theatre by the Denver Center for the Performing Arts won't stress your brain or require profound, breathless attention. But if you want an evening of funny, crazed satire, tuneful song medleys or wonderfully silly skits, this intimate venue is the place to be. Corral some friends, dress as you please, order drinks from the friendly circulating waitstaff, and enjoy a good belly laugh. Or three.

Off-Center's Charlie Miller likes to explore the boundaries of theater. What happens if you do site-specific work? Throw out the conventional stage and the fourth wall? Create immersive pieces in which audience members become part of the action? Three years ago, he staged Sweet & Lucky in a RiNo warehouse; last year it was The Wild Party at the Hangar at Stanley Marketplace. These entertainments were a lot of fun and gave theater a new dimension, but they were also lush and hugely expensive to stage. Then came Bite-Size, five ten-minute plays by local authors in separate areas of BookBar, staged for a relatively bite-sized cost. This year Miller has a new Off-Center project, with an entirely different concept. If regular theater strikes you as too conventional or formal, prepare to be thrown off-center.

While most escape-room companies tend to cater to one type of player, and few deliver an experience that appeals to almost everyone, Puzzah is the exception to the rule. Novices will appreciate Puzzah's adaptive clue system that quickly learns their puzzle-solving pace and delivers automated clues to keep them on track. Experienced players will delight in Puzzah's unique and challenging puzzles, as well as the potential to unlock bonus puzzles if they progress through the game quickly. And since every booking is private at Puzzah, no one ever has to worry about playing with strangers. It's no puzzle why Puzzah is growing, with a third spot opening soon in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Readers' Choice: Denver Escape Room

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