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Wonderland Bang! Bang! Electric Shooting Gallery Now Open at 132 F Street in Salida

The Queen, Tweedledee, Tweedledum, the White Rabbit and others have taken up residence in the rear of Corvus Clothing and Curiosities in Salida and are ready to engage the curious of all ages with a 300-square foot, glow-in-the-dark, electric “shooting” gallery.

Electric Shooting Galleries are popping up around the country, but there’s no need to travel a long ways to an expensive theme park or catch up with a traveling carnival, when it’s right in the historic downtown Salida creative district.

Masters of stagecraft and costuming, Tamar Madrigal and Brandon Blake have completely made over their former Escape Room, this time creating an Alice in Wonderland-themed, arcade-style “electric shooting gallery”.

Meanings and metaphors from Lewis Carroll’s 1865 classic “Alice in Wonderland” still keep people guessing at what the author may have intended. “Alice” continues to engage both children and adults and is often cited in pop culture. Madrigal and Blake have connected with this commonly used interpretation as one of the inspirations for their theater arts installation: “Following the White Rabbit means following an unlikely clue and finding yourself in the middle of an extraordinary situation.”

Visitors can pop in a dollar’s worth of quarters, pick up a glow-fur-lined “blaster” and experience the vivid colors, blacklight, and futuristic sounds of a highly challenging, interactive art installation.

As Madrigal explains it, you’ll get 15 tries for every dollar to test your skill as you aim your laser beam at one of the colored, LED-lit, clusters of three-light targets. Each color is worth different points and to increase the fun, the game is ‘conditional’. That is, “Some targets open up and reveal other targets or make something else move; it depends on where you’re aiming and what you do.” she said.

If your aim is true, you’ll get positive, audible feedback, which reveals other possibilities to drive up your score as you try to follow the cleverly crafted, electronically animated puppets in their world.

Behind The Scenes

As Blake defines the start of just one scenario: “Tweedledee hits the ball. It flies through the sky over to Tweedledum while the ball, being batted back and forth, is flashing as another target.”

“These targets are not static like in many arcade games,” explains Blake. “Our design changes it up and makes it harder to hit. The ‘puppet rabbit’ in the tree has a target in his hand while he’s jumping up and down. Here, without a time limit, you can watch and see what happens, then try to plot a strategy”.

Blake noted “there are channels on YouTube dedicated to people looking for odd roadside attractions. This might just be one of those.”

“We hope some people may be drawn to Salida just to make the circuit,” said Blake. “It’s a small way to wave a flag and have one more reason for people to come to visit.”

The couple is inviting visitors to drop in often to work on your personal-best high score or challenge your friends for bragging rights, one-on-one. Participants aren’t working against the clock, so it’s all about being in the moment and enjoying a bit of fantasy. This may be a great way to wile away some time after school, on Friday, or when waiting for a table at Amicas.

For the older player, Wonderland Bang! Bang! is a chance to leave the real world behind and “reset” after a long day at work. (According to Madrigal, during their soft launch, people ranging in age from seven to 50 seemed highly excited about the new attraction.) It can also be a spur-of-the-moment thing; ducking in to seek shelter from a late-day wind or rain storm or simply to see what’s new in the store.

Animatronics™ in Salida?

Animatronics is a form of robotics animation created by Walt Disney Imagineering years ago for shows and attractions at Disney theme parks, and subsequently expanded on and used by other companies.

The animated “robot puppets” at Corvus are part of a computer server-driven system. Blake and Madrigal bought the “guts of the system” from owner Daniel Zepeda of Electronic Shooting Galleries LLC,  now in Morelia, Mexico. The couple then used their theatrical backgrounds to make it unique and more sophisticated than what the firm’s pre-packaged systems could offer.

There are currently 16, sensor-driven targets with more to come. The “flowers” in the set are run by an automaton to make them move the way that Blake wanted.  The gallery covers almost 300 square feet, with a rich depth of field, created by multiple visual and theatrical tricks. While seeing it in person is the best way to appreciate the latest in stagecraft, there are some definite nods to past traditions.

Visual Illusions

Blake explains how visual illusions help to fool the eye: “In old Victorian theaters, puppet theatres, as well as in vaudeville, and early opera productions, people used sharply raked stages, multiple platforms, layers, and stairs to give the illusion of depth in a narrow box.”

“One example is how to create the motion of waves in the ocean. By moving rippled, vertical banners in opposite directions, your mind ‘sees’ this as waves, drawing you in. In our gallery, besides having set pieces move, we also use different dimensional scales and visual patterns to create the illusion of close-up vs. distance. And of course, proper lighting is key.”

Another local artist helped inspire the concept of the creatures based on character sketches. Using repurposed fiber and materials, Madrigal added fiber mâché and finished the personality of the characters using her costuming background.

About Corvus Clothing and Curiosities

For almost seven years, Corvus Clothing and Curiosities has offered a unique experience at 132 F Street in Salida. Blending retailing, costume design and a background in the theater is what makes Corvus unique.

Owners Tamar Madrigal and Brandon Blake say they wanted to branch out and complement the already well-served local, kids’ toy market. With “off the wall” “gag”, and quirky things aimed at an older age demographic, both locals and visitors, high schoolers (and even their parents) there is something for everyone.

Tamar Madrigal attended theater school at Texas Tech and both she and Brandon Blake worked at the Art Deco-style Georgetown Palace Theater near Austin, TX.  Madrigal did costumes and props for musical productions and children’s theatre. Blake designed and produced the theater’s visual graphics and set design.

Krampus tries to snare some “naughty” adults in addition to his usual younger targets at Corvus Clothing and Curiosities in 2019. Courtesy photo

Corvus offers a wide variety of locally-designed and produced T-shirts, Tank Tops and Hoodies, drawing on Tamar Madrigal’s theater background and Brandon Blake’s eccentric sense of humor. Graphics and slogans are often tongue-in-cheek, satirical, and generally thought-provoking, unlike those found in typical tourist town gift shops.

Masks, games and novelties are also available. Halloween is a major seasonal event, as is the annual holiday visit of Santa Claus’ polar-opposite “Krampus”.

Coming Attraction: “Krampus” Pays His Annual Visit on Black Friday, Nov. 25

Half-goat and half-demon, Krampus is one of the companions of Saint Nicholas in parts of Europe, including Austria, Bavaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Northern Italy including South Tyrol and the Province of Trento.

During the Christmas season, Krampus punishes naughty children, acting as a sort of alter ego to Saint Nicholas, who traditionally rewards well-behaved children with gifts.

Krampus is expected to appear at Corvus this year on “Black Friday”, November 25.

Featured image: “Alice in Wonderland Bang! Bang! gallery inside Corvus Clothing and Curiosities, 132 F Street in Salida. Brandon Blake photo and video.