Ghost Town Alive! – How Knott’s Berry Farm beat Disney to the immersive punch

in Knott's Berry Farm, Theater, Theme Parks

Along the way, citizens are enlisted to deliver packages and messages, join posses, and even cast votes in an election. You can choose to enter and leave the story whenever and wherever you like. Maybe you want to spend your time hanging out and chatting with the town’s barber, or make yourself useful by doing civic duty at the Town Hall or School House. You can even give in to your black-bandanna bad side and become a member of the Mayfield gang itself, helping the lanky elder Ike and nephews Scruffy, Fluke, and Tiny plan a bank robbery.

Like many immersive experiences, a lot of what you get out of Ghost Town Alive! depends on what you put into it. But beyond the numerous possible character interactions and assigned tasks, there are scheduled events that happen on average about once an hour throughout the day. Be at the train station at 12:00 noon to witness a prisoner delivery by the U.S. Marshal Service. Attend Town Hall at 1:00 PM for the same prisoner’s trial. Above all, pay attention to what characters say to you and to each other so you know what will be happening where. It’s easy to miss out if you aren’t putting in the effort to keep up.

There are also hidden messages left throughout the town by a mysterious figure known as the Raven. Can you decipher the clues and uncover the Raven’s identity? As always, don’t be afraid to ask for help from the townspeople.

The entire event culminates in the Founder’s Day Hoedown in Town Square just outside the Calico Saloon. Line dancing, bluegrass singing, and a conclusion to the overarching story bring Ghost Town Alive! to a close in the liveliest way possible.

It’s amazing to consider the stamina and choreography involved in corralling the enormous cast, but both times I’ve experienced Ghost Town Alive!, everyone seemed to be where they needed to be, when they needed to be there. The characters, even the bad guys, are uniformly endearing– it’s difficult to play favorites when you kind of want to pal around with all of them. This year’s story was a little too similar to last year’s to make the 2017 event wholly distinct, but that also makes it perfect for anyone who hasn’t experienced it before to get in on the ground floor.

I have to assume that Disney is watching how their quaint Orange County counterpart is bringing immersive theater to vibrant, fun theme-park existence in Ghost Town Alive!, and I can only hope they “borrow” (the concepts, if not the specifics of) some of the better ideas for what it’s planning for Star Wars Land. With just a little polish, this kind of long-form interactive storytelling can and will become the future of themed entertainment.


Ghost Town Alive runs now through September 4th at Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, California. Be sure to visit the park’s official website for more information and ticketing resources.


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