Best Jump Start for BIPOC Playwrights 2023 | Emerging BIPOC Playwrights Project, Flamboyán Theater | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

Flamboyán Theater founder Jon Marcantoni, who is a playwright, fiction writer, editor and all-around theater honcho, knows firsthand how hard it is for playwrights of color to get their plays read, let alone produced and staged before an audience. Articulate and resourceful, Marcantoni knew he had the chops to help. The result is the Emerging BIPOC Playwrights Project, a fully realized program in collaboration with Control Group Productions. Now in session, the project explores basic training in theater and is trailblazing new ideas about staging a play.
Michael Ensminger

Comprising only disabled performers, Phamaly Theatre Company produces stirring plays that allow people traditionally shunned from the industry to collaborate and share their talents. It was the subject of the 2021 documentary Imperfect, which followed director Regan Linton as she endeavored to put on Phamaly's production of Chicago during its thirtieth season in 2019. And in 2022, Phamaly was recognized at the Colorado Theatre Guild's annual Henry Awards, where the company's five founders were given Lifetime Achievement Awards. The theater partnered with Su Teatro last fall for a riveting, immersive performance of The Rocky Horror Show, and is currently presenting Spring Awakening at Northglenn Arts until April 8.

The Denver Fringe Festival has done well for itself, especially considering that its first two iterations, in 2020 and 2021, occurred during the pandemic. The four-day celebration of the performing arts hosted its first fully in-person festival in 2022, at venues scattered across RiNo and Five Points, with forty unique shows produced by local creatives. Attendees get to see everything from cabaret and burlesque to aerial and circus arts, musical theater, magic shows and more. Endeavoring to be as inclusive and fair as possible, the curation process is open-access, meaning nearly every submission is accepted, and if there is not enough space for all applicants, a lottery, rather than a jury, is used to approve works. Even better, 70 percent of the festival's proceeds goes to the artists themselves.

Each year in April, the much-esteemed Aspen Film Shortsfest is one of just four Oscar-qualifying short-film festivals in the country. In 2022, Shortsfest selected 77 films to screen out of 3,000 applicants from around the world, and winners included director Joanna Quinn's Affairs of Art, which went on to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. This is far from the only Shortsfest film to be nominated for an Oscar, proving that its jury is dedicated to showcasing high-quality and moving works year after year.

You might think there are fewer and fewer reasons to go to the Pavilions anymore, but the Regal theaters up on the third floor have kept us going back, even as other tenants of the 16th Street Mall fixture come and go. Between the free underground parking, the comfy state-of-the-art seating and two floors of theaters — ranging from standard digital to RPX to the sense-shattering 4DX (don't ever see a summer blockbuster again without it) — this place should be a lot more crowded than it usually is. Until it gets rediscovered by Denver (unlikely until the 16th Street Mall renovations are done), take advantage of the light crowds and the amazing experiences to be had. Let's all go to the movies!

500 16th Street

Where else? The Mayan has everything you'd want in an art-house cinema: landmark status, a rich local history, a surviving original design, a neon marquee and the smell of nearly a century's worth of buttered popcorn. All of this legacy plus three screens of DLP digital projection and sound sits smack on Broadway in the center of Denver. The Mayan screens some of the finest little-movies-that-could, many of which too often get lost in the shadows of Hollywood blockbusters. Everything in us loves the Mayan: our eyes, our hearts, our minds. Long live all the Landmark theaters — but especially the Mayan.

Named for the cryogenically frozen Grandpa Bredo, who was discovered in his grandson's Tuff Shed in Nederland, this festival is wholly unique, just like Colorado. Although there was a brief period last year when Frozen Dead Guy Days seemed to be going the way of its namesake, it was revived, thank heavens, by Stanley Hotel owner John Cullen, who bought the festival after its former co-owners announced it was canceled. Although FDGD had to move to Estes Park and for the first time included fees (admission has always been free), we had only good things to say about the new iteration — though the lines remained as long as ever. Coffin races were still a major draw, but there was also a stellar lineup of music with quality Colorado acts, including the Kyle Hollingsworth Band and Break Science. Grandpa Bredo may still be in Nederland, but there were enough people dressed like him (as usual) that his presence was thoroughly felt.

First it was Denver Comic Con, and then after San Diego Comic Con trademarked that name, it became Denver Pop Culture Con. But only for one year: FAN EXPO HQ bought the convention in 2021. No matter the name, the four-day summer event has remained a favorite for geeks in Colorado and beyond. Whether you're into comic books, Lord of the Rings, superheroes, Star Wars, Star Trek, Dungeons & Dragons, cosplaying or all of the above, FAN EXPO is the convention of the year. In 2022, the con returned fully in person for the first time since 2019, and guests included all the hobbit heroes from LOTR (Elijah Wood, Billy Boyd, Sean Astin and Dominic Monaghan) and a spectacular set of Star Wars stars (Anthony Daniels, Ming-Na Wen, Katee Sackhoff).

Need an unforgettable game to blow away your guests at your next event? Frick Frack Blackjack is a no-cash, no-limits, barter-style blackjack game in which all the dealers perform as comedic, paisley-clad carny characters who pull you into an epic, imaginative world where everything — except money — goes. Bring your weirdest, wackiest items to bet at this funfest, where you can win anything from an original Battleship game to a human tooth, and if you run out of items, not to worry: You can always bet your soul on the Willy Wonka-esque contract the dealers provide. While the game is constantly traveling around the country to music festivals, you can still find it at many events around Denver. Be sure to follow the Frick Frack Blackjack Facebook and Instagram pages to stay updated about game nights near you.
Selene Arca

After a fabulous renovation by Lonnie Hanzon, the intimate cabaret venue beneath the Daniels & Fisher clocktower on the 16th Street Mall celebrated its sweet sixteen last year with a bang. The space is perfect for a date night or a hang-out with friends, with lush velvet curtains in reds, purples, blues and gold covering the walls and minimalist dainty wooden tables. An escapist retreat, Clocktower Cabaret hosts music, burlesque, comedy, drag and dance shows, plus much more. Consider it Denver's very own Moulin Rouge.

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