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Daylong ‘Ghost Town Alive’ show turns Knott’s into a Wild West improv stage

Daylong ‘Ghost Town Alive’ show turns Knott’s into a Wild West improv stage
"Ghost Town Alive" is set to run throughout the summer at Knott's Berry Farm. (Knott's)

The new interactive "Ghost Town Alive" entertainment experience at Knott's Berry Farm injects Wild West characters and improv storytelling into the original heart of the Buena Park theme park.

On a recent visit to the park, I spent a few hours wandering around Calico, the Wild West ghost town at Knott's, as about two dozen characters in 1850s-period costumes interacted with visitors and assigned them duties to complete throughout the Wild West ghost town. The live-action role-playing adventure features an extensive backstory that develops throughout the day and changes daily.

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I found the improv play to be thoroughly engaging. The daylong show drew in kids and adults, who ran around completing chores at the behest of the actors. The story was so enveloping I never left Ghost Town and at times forgot I was at a theme park with roller coasters and other rides.

The best part about the first-of-its-kind "Ghost Town Alive" experience was that the visitors determined their level of involvement. You could walk through Calico and view the actors as atmosphere talent, or engage the characters in a story that has the potential to last all summer.

While I was in Calico, there was a lot going on, including an election for mayor, a 75th-anniversary hoedown party and the arrival of the Mayfield gang -- which could only portend trouble.

After claiming to have a deed to the town, the Mayfields robbed a train and then held up the assay office and the bank. I was in the bank when a masked Tiny Mayfield came in with his revolver drawn and demanded money from the safe. The bank robber was forced to flee by a band of kids so invested in the story that they grabbed at the bandit's suspenders and nearly succeeded in a citizen's arrest.

Before long, the sheriff formed a posse of park visitors that strolled down one of the Wild West streets just as a shootout unfolded on the rooftops of the saloon. The Calico Gazette newspaper quickly produced a late-breaking edition with a new banner headline: Crime Spree!

In between the action, visitors stopped by the barber shop for hand-painted handlebar mustaches, made wanted posters of the Mayfield gang at the sheriff's office and delivered laundry to the town's merchants and residents. Visitors who dropped by Goldie's mercantile and textile shop offered advice on which dress she should wear to the hoedown.

Knott's Ghost Town dates to 1940, when Walter Knott relocated the Gold Trails Hotel from Prescott, Ariz., to his Buena Park farm in hopes of entertaining customers waiting in hours-long lines to enter wife Cordelia's chicken restaurant, according to media materials on the park's official website.

Over time, Knott expanded on the popularity of the hotel with additional buildings from deserted ghost towns. In 1951, he bought and restored the Calico ghost town in San Bernardino County and adopted the deserted mining town's name and aesthetic for his burgeoning theme park.

The new "Ghost Town Alive" show runs daily at Knott's throughout the summer.

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