Best Seasonal Immersive 2023 | SpookadeliaSpectra Art Space | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
Timothy Johnstone

Denver is becoming an immersive art destination, and that's all thanks to the work of local creatives seen in immersive experiences such as Spectra Art Space's Spookadelia. After opening each fall for the past five years, Spookadelia's run time has been extended almost every year as the result of its unflinching popularity. The fifth iteration, which opened in October 2022 and is still running through the end of April after multiple extensions, riffs on Carl Jung's philosophy of dreams, with playful art by local creatives, some of whose work can also be seen at Meow Wolf's Convergence Station. Follow a narrative plot with clues throughout the installation's dreamscape to uncover the name of the primary character, whose dream you're walking through — or just poke around for the fun of it!

Marc Billard

Artists Mel and Dorothy Tanner began experimenting with immersive experiences decades before it hit the mainstream, starting in Miami in the late '60s. Although the Tanners have both passed away, their legacy is kept alive at Lumonics Light & Sound Gallery, which opened in Denver in 2008, by Marc and Barbara Billard, along with archivist Barry Raphael, all of whom were part of the Tanners' collective. Lumonics Immersed is meant to be a healing experience, in which the Tanners' light sculptures pulsate to soothing music by Marc Billard. The $20 immersive happens every Saturday from 8 to 10:30 p.m., and provides a mind-expanding, unforgettable experience.

Control Group Productions performed its first experiential theater production ten years ago, and has consistently banged out two shows a year since then, even keeping the arts alive during the pandemic with live performances you could watch from your car. And last year, the troupe put audiences on wheels again for its production of The End, in which participants rode on a bus and visited post-apocalyptic sites. Control Group never fails to put the audience straight into the story, immersing everyone in its plotlines and guiding them through its always-entertaining narratives.

While most immersive experiences fail to engage all five senses, OddKnock Productions hit every mark over the summer with its sophomore immersive theater production, From On High. It took place in an abandoned warehouse in RiNo, where audiences were immediately immersed in the '80s office environment of a corporation called BANR, whose ultimate goal is world domination. A satire that produced as many laughs as it did deeply moving moments, From On High was a unique take on capitalism that beckoned audiences to return for repeat viewings. The group hasn't put on a production since then, but we're hoping to see more this year.

Whether partnering with Aurora's 5280 Artist Co-Op to tell a story about Black female homesteaders in Flyin' West or bringing Kate Hamill's edgy adaptation of Pride & Prejudice to the stage last year, Firehouse Theater Company regularly offers a mix of classic theater and newer productions, many of which center on the stories of marginalized communities. Operating out of the John Hand Theater (and former firehouse) on the Colorado Free University campus in Lowry, the space feels intimate and accessible for budding actors in a way few theaters do, while still offering a mesmerizing live experience. It all started with John Hand, but after his death in 2004, his sister, Helen, stepped in to lead this still-fledgling organization — and the rest, as they say, is history.

On the wings of a fifty-year anniversary, Tony Garcia and his intrepid crew at the Su Teatro Cultural & Performing Arts Center were able to accomplish a miracle: The company, which began by performing in the streets of Auraria and the Westside, was able to pay off the mortgage on the old Denver Civic Theatre, a venue it had been working out of since 2010. With Su Teatro's typically humorous touch, the theater invited the public to a toast and a mortgage-burning — or at least the acting out of one — in January.

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.

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