“Ghost Town Alive” connects with children of all ages and abilities, along with other sensory friendly entertainment options.
It was high noon in Calico, 10-year-old Lali Cervantes stood in the center of the street, keeping an eye on the villains walking toward her. They were going to try and take over the town, and she was going to help the Sheriff and citizens of Knott’s Berry Farm’s Ghost Town stop them.
Of course, it was all in fun for Cervantes, who likes to take part in the interactive show “Ghost Town Alive!” at the theme park in Buena Park. Cervantes has autism and regularly visits the park to play in the town.
“The first year of ‘Ghost Town Alive!’ we brought her and weren’t sure how she’d react,” said Catheryn Cervantes, her mother. “But she warmed up to it and now looks forward to getting involved in the story and interacting with the characters.”
Knott’s officials were not expecting the interactive show to have such a connection for children with autism, or other children with developmental challenges, but they were pleasantly surprised when several took to the live entertainment event. They said many of the kids, like Lali, visit regularly, on a weekly basis, to take part in the show.
It’s the third year for the interactive summer time show for all ages, comprised of western characters (played by 20 or so actors at the park) including the “bad guys” (the Mayfields), a sheriff, deputies, school teachers, mayor and many more, all acting out a story where the Mayfields try to invade and take control of Calico Ghost Town.
“I like to help the sheriff,” Lali said as she walked around Ghost Town, always on her guard while also searching for clues that would stop the Mayfields from claiming ownership of the town, along with the help of the town’s fictional characters.
Lali said the clues are important in helping figure out what “no good those Mayfields are up to.” During her visit, Lali stopped off in the Sheriff’s office to play cards with the Sheriff, checked in at the bank to see if anyone had robbed it, and looked to see if the Postmaster had any mail that needed delivering in the Calico Post Office.
“The over-the-top involvement of the actors with the kids and others keeps her involved,” Catheryn said. Other parents with children with autism have discovered Knott’s and “Ghost Town Alive!” to be educational and fun as well.
Anita Diaz of Corona, says her autistic 13-year-old son Daniel likes it in a different way. “He really connected with the music of the hoedown, but watching it from afar, not close-up,” she said.
Diaz said Daniel always brings a video camera with him on his regular visits, shooting a variety of things and then studying the video at home. Besides watching the hoedown, Daniel has a regular schedule of rides he goes on in a particular sequence. His parents are using his newfound fascination of the annual show to help him learn how to do different things out of sequence. Since the hoedown is the finale, taking place at 5:30 p.m. of “Ghost Town Alive,” it has helped Daniel learn to adjust to the sequence change.
“For him, it’s the music. It just gets really exciting to see the way that he gets his video camera, videotapes it, and then comes home to watch it,” Diaz said.
Because theme parks are not always the best sensory friendly places for those with autism, with the noise and crowds combining to overload the senses, Knott’s also created a special quiet room for families with children with autism.
Building on the connection with the families, Knott’s parent company Cedar Fair decided to partner with the Autism Society for a special “low-sensory” event the week of July 16-22 at all of its theme parks, including specially priced admission tickets. Some of the proceeds from that week will be donated to the society.
For more information visit: pages.cedarfair.com/autism
For more information about the schedule for “Ghost Town Alive!” visit: www.knotts.com.
By Mark Eades