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Best Fiftieth Original Show for a Theater Company

Buntport Theater

Courtesy Buntport Theater Facebook page

Every now and then, something pops up that feels purely Denver, and in the theater scene, that's Buntport, a company of six talented artists who create their productions — often hilarious, sometimes deeply moving — through a brainstorming process that miraculously always produces a coherent script. It's experimental work, but not the arrogant, "you're-too-stupid-to-get-this" kind or the trendy, expensive immersive stuff turning up everywhere these days. Based on whatever intriguing morsel of news, myth or fantasy has caught a company member's attention at some point, Buntport's work is homegrown, original, and entirely itself. Catch it if you can, and/or take any visitor who asks what's special about Denver. After a pandemic-induced delay, Buntport's fiftieth original show debuts this month.

Rick Villareal

The mission of Motus Theater is to "create original theater to facilitate dialogue on critical issues of our time," and it's definitely delivered during the pandemic. The company grew out of Rocks Karma Arrows, a multimedia work exploring Boulder history through the lens of class and race; over the past fifteen years, the focus has expanded to take in the entire country. Most recently, the JustUs and UndocuAmerica projects brought in speakers from all walks of life to share the words and experiences of immigrants and people who were formerly incarcerated, which were then shared online.

Talented actor, playwright, director, filmmaker and activist donnie l. betts delves into Black history regularly for his Destination Freedom radio-play series on the Broadway Podcast Network. But betts is also an award-winning documentarian who's struck gold with positive stories about Black life and Black heroes, including Colorado-centric films about the historic enclave of Dearfield and Denver physician Dr. Justina Ford. His latest is 2022: The Year of Lincoln Hills, the story of a Black-owned mountain resort community that opened in 1922, some of which still survives today. It's just one more link in betts's campaign to preserve the past and share it with today's audiences.

The Colorado Dragon Boat Festival has grown from a summertime tradition to a year-round institution that includes a film festival. Academy Awards-anointed flicks such as Parasite and Drive My Car are evidence that filmmakers in Asia, as well as peers aligned with the region's diaspora, are among the most innovative on the planet today — and the annual Colorado Dragon Boat Film Festival demonstrates that there's plenty of fascinating material beyond the highest-profile productions. The 2022 edition, which ran in early March at the Sie FilmCenter, gave viewers the chance to see many of these films on the big screen, where they belong; programming ranged from Listen Before You Sing, inspired by the true story of the Vox Nativa Taiwanese Foundation Choir, to Free Chol Soo Lee, a documentary focused on a man wrongfully convicted of a gang murder in San Francisco in the early 1970s.

The look of most art-house theaters tends toward blandness and conformity. But the Mayan, which opened in 1930, during the golden age of motion-picture palaces, is a reminder that going to the movies used to be an event. The Art Deco stylings, originally created by architect Montana Fallis and displayed to particularly spectacular effect on the building's towering facade and inside the main auditorium, make every screening feel a little more special. And the libations provided at the Mayan bar are capable of making even the most challenging cinematic fare go down a little more smoothly.

The newest multiplex in Denver proper, the AMC 9+CO 10 debuted in 2021, during a time when it was unclear if movie-going was on the way to extinction. The venue has thrived since, which is good news for those who understand that watching a film in a communal setting is something that can't be duplicated at home. The sightlines in the auditoriums are first-rate, the seats comfortable, the projection and sound systems state-of-the-art, and the location convenient for much of the city, with plenty of eating and drinking options nearby if you want to stretch out the evening.
Alamo Drafthouse

It used to be the worst part of seeing a flick at the theater: sitting through the elevator music in the semi-darkness, trying not to finish your popcorn before the previews. Alamo Drafthouse has changed all that by producing pre-show entertainment that's actually entertaining and directly related to the movie that you've paid to come watch. It's so good that even though Alamo theaters have reserved seats, many patrons still show up early on purpose just to catch all the trailers. Reely.

Fashion West rode onto Denver's fashion scene in August 2021. The forward-thinking fashion show was founded by Charlie Price and inspired by the raw spirit of the American West and the fashion sense of the creatives who give it style — not to mention Price's experiences at Milan Fashion Week and on the reality TV show Shear Genius. Working with talented models, stylists, makeup artists, photographers and more, they showcased the city's fashion designers both on the runway and in partner publication Fashion West magazine. Cowboy boots were optional.

University of Colorado Boulder dance educator Helanius Wilkins likes to say that he'll most likely keep tweaking his current project, Stitching the Geopolitical Quilt to Re-body Belonging, until he dies. It all began when the pandemic lockdown collided with the murder of George Floyd, when Wilkins would walk alone for up to sixteen miles a day, gathering his thoughts about being a Black man, a dancer and an artist seeking both his place and a realization of social justice in an unstable world. That led him to visualize a project akin to sewing a quilt, which has developed into a process that begins by hosting conversations with communities of marginalized people across the nation. Each group's unique stories culminate in a movement performance choreographed by Wilkins. It's a beautiful cycle, and it's only just begun.
Claire Duncombe

Junkyard Social isn't just a playground for kids; it also serves as an organized date-night drop-off spot, a STEAM laboratory, a summer camp, a family disco and a hands-on art project workshop. But Junkyard Social is also a playground for adults, who are welcome to join their children on the jungle gym or just hang out with a coffee from the cafe. It offers yoga, live music and a grown-up storytelling group, and you can rent it for a party. Why go anywhere else?

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