Escaping from the ordinary is easier than you think
By Lisa Kay Tate
When day-to-day life gets a little boring or overwhelming, it might be time for a brief escape from reality. If the need for escape is more than a good book or movie can provide, area residents can seek the adventures of virtual reality and escape rooms or seek out special events ranging from a Renaissance ArtsFaire or Comic Con where dressing up in costume is encouraged.
With Halloween and Day of the Dead approaching, some people also find themselves wanting to visit more menacing realms, whether at a haunted house, zombie walk or ghost tour.
However they do it, there are several ways in the El Paso and Las Cruces area to make an escape into other worlds, and return safely home to reality.
Escape into Virtual Reality
The reality of Virtual Reality (VR) is catching up to the futuristic technology of movies and books such as “Ready Player One,” “Tron,” and “The Matrix,” and El Pasoans can sample the cutting edge this month at the first-ever El Paso Short Film Virtual Reality Film and Gaming Festival hosted by ImpacFest Oct. 27-28 at Fablab and the Foundation Room Downtown.
Claudio Lai, who manages the event, said visitors can sample Playstation VR Games and Experiences, Microsoft Hololens holographic experiences and also award-nominated locally and internationally made VR, HTC Vive and Oculus games.
“This event is not just unique for El Paso but the world,” he said. “Most of our experiences and games only cost between $3 per experience or $10 for the whole day. We believe in allowing everyone to access these technologies.”
In addition to the VR experiences, various educational workshops will be hosted at Fablab by local film and music companies from El Paso, including Beacon Hill Studios. Topics include how to create a VR film, VR audio, cinematography basics, scriptwriting and music for film.
Lai said the offerings are aimed at audiences of all ages.
“This festival is a fully interactive event featuring tactile virtual reality film and gaming experiences, and is designed to reach a larger and younger audience by only showing films or games which rate at PG13 or lower,” he said.
So far the festival has received more than 2,500 local and international VR film and game submissions from more than 100 countries, and in more than 47 languages. More than 150 films of various genres have been selected for the event.
Other features of the event include top gamers such as Mariana Laguera, and local musician Brandon Bailey Johnson.
“(Johnson) will be performing live on Saturday night to a live musical and video projected experience with a local 3D artist projecting video onto the buildings synced to Brandon’s live music,” Lai said.
Visitors also can interact with augmented reality games projected onto the floor.
The festival is about more than games and entertainment, Lai said. The event will live stream Tedx Talks of El Paso in VR, and show demonstrations of the latest VR technology for kids with special needs. Part of all ticket sales will support individuals with the Autism Society of El Paso.
“The goal is educate the population about how VR is being used in a multitude of ways not just primarily as it is now for VR gaming and watching films,” he said.
Escape into a favorite movie
Even without VR, people can become part of their favorite movie at one of Alamo Drafthouse Cinema’s Movie Parties, as well as “quote-alongs” and “sing-alongs” scheduled throughout the year. These events often feature trivia, costume contests or other activities, goodie bags of movie “props” allowing audiences to take part in the action, and specialty menus. Family movie parties for new releases are also planned year round.
Analiza Guzman, Creative Manager for El Paso’s Alamo Drafthouse, said these events take the movie-going experience to the next level.
“It kind of builds up the energy. Even if you’ve seen the movie hundreds of times, it makes it feel like you’re seeing it again for the first time,” she said.
Some El Paso favorites include “Grease,” “La Bamba,” “Ghostbusters,” “
Dirty Dancing,” “Purple Rain” and “Clueless,” which sold out four showings.
Guzman said October is a great month for interactive movie parties, including “The Shining,” “Practical Magic,” “Beetlejuice” and “Little Shop of Horrors,” as well as family “cereal parties” for shows like “Monster House” and “Corpse Bride.”
One big event, she said will be an “all clown” showing of Stephen King’s horror film “It,” where guests are encouraged to dress up as clowns.
“When you’re with 124 other movie nerds of the same mind as you, it just creates this atmosphere that makes it a whole new experience,” Guzman said.
Escape into an escape room
Solving mysteries and puzzles has always been popular distractions, but now people can be part of the story as they work out the solution through El Paso’s two new “escape rooms,” Operation Outbreak: El Paso Escape Room, and Monkey Mayhem.
In an escape room, teams of two to eight people enter a room, and become “locked into” a mystery or adventure. They must solve a series of puzzles and “escape” the story before their allotted time runs out.
Operation Outbreak owner Misael Garcia said he played his first escape room in March 2017 in Washington and instantly got hooked.
“As soon as I got back in town I started playing with the idea of opening one here in El Paso,” Garcia said. “Growing up I wanted to go to film school but ultimately decided to pursue a business degree. By opening up an escape room I was able to merge both of my interests.”
Garcia said escape rooms are growing in popularity because they give a feeling of being in a movie or video game.
“Each scenario transports you to a setting you’re not accustomed to, and allows you to interact with the room to make you feel like you are in charge of your destiny.”
Since opening Operation Outbreak nearly a year ago one of his favorite things he gets to see is the reaction of the guests.
“It never gets old when a team comes running out of the room in excitement as they escape in the last few seconds, or when someone finally figures out how to solve a certain puzzle after everyone seemed to have been stumped by it,” Garcia said. “Another fun dynamic is seeing how teams work together. Every team has a different strategy and it’s very interesting to see that play out.”
When building the rooms, which currently include the Sherlock Holmes-themed “Baker Street Mystery,” where guests try to dismantle a high-profile gang terrorizing Victorian London, and the zombie-themed “Escape the Undead,” Garcia wanted each adventure to be completely self-containedany of the rooms.
“Everything that you need can be found somewhere in the playing space,” he said.
Soon to be added is ‘The Vault,” which Garcia described as “a bank heist-themed room, which puts you in the shoes of the bad guys. Closer to the end of the year we will have our fourth room which will be an underwater steampunk train adventure.”
In addition, Garcia said every room is also equipped with cameras and microphones. That way, if participants need “a little help” the room’s game masters will assist them.
Although escape rooms are not scary “haunted attractions,” they are recommended for at least age 13 and older,.
The other escape room adventure, Monkey Mayhem near the Monticello area on the West Side, is undergoing remodeling. Their rooms include a “Quest for the Throne” medieval adventure and the murder mystery “Slaycation.”
Escape into cosplay
Everyone who dreams of becoming a superhero, or other fictional character can do so through the increasingly popular world of cosplay, which has evolved beyond just Halloween time “dress up,” into a merging of performing arts and DIY costume and prop-making.
For those wanting to take this pastime to the next level, El Paso Comic Con (EPCon) gets bigger every year.
El Paso Comic Con promoter Troy Stegner said top attactions include featured guests, movie-related vehicles, panel discussions, and the cosplay contest.
“The costume contest is always a big hit and there are a lot of talented costume fabricators in the area,” he said. “The costumes keep getting better every year.”
Last year, Stegner said the con introduced a “nerd trivia” contest.
“We plan to make that even bigger this year,” he said of the 2019 EPCon planned for April 12-14.
Stegner said he wouldn’t really call the Comic Con an “escape” from the real world, as much as an opportunity for people to celebrate, express and explore their pop culture fandoms, which are very much prominent in the real world today.
The world of cosplay has become an artform in itself, and some area cosplayers are able to actually use this costuming and performance skill to gain paying jobs for appearances, as well as volunteer their time for charitable efforts and appearances. Asylum Comics on Mesa hosts regular cosplayer meet-and-greets, allowing various cosplayers to show off their work.
Some cosplay groups have become in-demand parts of public events, particularly charity events. These groups include El Paso’s Dewback Ridge Garrison, part of the worldwide Star Wars cosplay community 501st Legion; the local Vhe’rang Clan of the Manalorian Mercs Costume Club; and the El Paso Ghostbusters and their youth affiliate, El Paso Young Ghostsbusters, all of whom have made appearances at charity 5K events, parades, movie premieres and children’s hospitals.
In addition to the Superhero category, there are Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Historical, Anime, Horror and Gaming-theme categories, as well as special categories for groups and youth participants. The costumes are judged on originality, creativity, the effort and difficulty of making, and crowd reaction.
Escape into a haunted house
There is no more immersive way to experience the haunting season than escaping into, and from, a haunted house. Some experiences have even evolved from haunted maze to allowing visitors to actually hunt the haunts.
One of the top-rated experiences by area residents is the Texas Terror Trail Haunted House running through Nov. 3 at WinkeyDoodles Paintball Adventures in Canutillo, which is also home to the Zombie Adventure.
WinkeyDoodles owner Billy Crossland said the terror trail is something they originated in the El Paso haunt scene.
“We have pioneered many different effects not seen in the local market like the claustrophobia effect, the spinning tunnel, the laser floor and our ‘white room’ sensory deprivation effect,” he said.
Crossland said the original zombie hunt also makes the Terror Trail stand out .
“We were among the first in the country to offer something like that, and although it has changed from shooting paintballs to laser weapons the interaction and danger from the zombies is now up close and personal,” he said.
Crossland said the trail has been rated as one of the Top 10 Texas haunts on at least two different review sites.
In addition to the Terror Trail, the area’s other haunted attractions in El Paso include KLAQ’s Haunted House. Last year’s house, Area 52-Alien Crash, was at Desert Warriors Paintball on Montana, and included the addition of an alien shootout paintball event. There is also Fort Bliss’s Massacre on Marshall Road.
For people who want to escape into the paranormal side of El Paso, Lost El Paso Paranormal hosts regular ghost tours and walks throughout Downtown El Paso, Sunset Height, San Elizario and Concordia Cemetery, including at the popular Día de los Muertos festival. Their first paranormal tour of Hueco Tanks is planned for Oct. 27, and they also host tours dedicated to past eras including the Roaring 20s Downtown Ghost Walk.
For those who would rather be spooky than look for spooks, there’s the free Downtown Las Cruces Partnership Zombie Walk for all ages Oct. 27 at Plaza de Las Cruces, with the zombie parade, costume contests, vendors and live music.
Some people may want to delve more into the gothic world of vampires. Tricky Falls hosts its Full Moon Vampire Ball for ages 21 and older Oct. 20. The event features “DarkWave” music with gothic and vampire attire encouraged.
Escape back through time
Whether it’s to the age of chivalry, Old West or other days gone by, some groups have created ways to make time travel feel possible.
For nearly five decades Doña Ana Arts Council has taken area residents back to the Age of Chivalry at the Renaissance Artsfaire, held the first weekend in November at Las Cruces’ Young Park. The 47th annual fair, which offers dozens and dozen of the Southwest’s finest artisans selling their wares, is Nov. 3-4.
Doña Ana Arts Council Director Kathleen Albers said people have really embraced the whole Renaissance theme each year, and come to the Faire costumed as knights, ladies in waiting, wizards, fairies and more. Whole families have dressed up, and even decorate their baby strollers.
“It’s so much fun to see people get off the ‘Royal Carriage’ (shuttle bus to the event) in costume,” she said. “It seems like this is a great way for visitors to escape the modern world because they start planning and making their costumes weeks in advance.”
She said two great ways to escape during the fair are by visiting the royal courts: The Queen’s Court and the Crimson Bear Court.
“Each court is a large area of the park that is set up with special tents, period music, juggling and other entertainment, re-enactments of Renaissance dining and dancing, Renaissance Fashion shows, and sparring opportunities with Knights in armor.”
The 85 artist and vendor booths are very popular with visitors, selling fine art and crafts including pottery, jewelry, textiles and more, Albers said. Many of the goods sold recall the days when everything was made by hand, and the vendors dress to fit the Renaissance atmosphere as well.
“Even though visitors may use their modern charge cards, the art is handmade and one of a kind pottery, jewelry, textiles and unique products of the Southwest,” she said.
The event’s many details and recurring characters and presenters are part of what helps make it not just a way to escape to another time, but to make if feel both familiar and welcome. This includes visitor favorite “Robert the Ratcatcher,” and his ‘Ratapult’ set on a grassy knoll on the west side of Young Park Lake. He uses his hand-made catapult, hurling “rats” that are actually beanbags made from burlap.
“He also gives an enlightening lecture about rats, The Plague, and other tales of old,” Albers said. “Robert the Ratcatcher is Las Cruces artist Bob Diven, who is also the designer of Magellan The Dragon who floats all weekend in Young Park Lake.”
There are also a few more recent changes and additions to the faire, including jousting on horseback events from Order of Epona, and the “re-born” Magellan the Dragon, who now blows smoke, opens his mouth and makes dragon sounds.
Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) groups at the Renaissance ArtsFaire maintain the Queen’s Court with music, dance, armor and combat demonstrations, as well as a look at the arts and sciences of the era, and chances to “fight with the Knights.”
The group is one of the most visible groups recreating the Medieval and Renaissance culture. This worldwide group has been around for more than 50 years, with El Paso’s Citadel of the Southern Park, encompassing El Paso County, Hudspeth County, and parts of New Mexico.
The group focuses more on participation than on elaborate weaponry, and uses safe, foam-padded weapon replicas in its battles. The El Paso area Amtgard oversees their Kingdom of the Burning Land where weekly “Ditch Battles” take place every Saturday at Memorial Park. These battles have been held regularly for nearly 30 years, and visitors and new players age 14 and older are always welcome.
There is also Victorian era and its fantasy retro-futurism offshoot, Steampunk. Those who love the era and literature can take part in the monthly Victorian Sci-Fi Book Club at the historic Magoffin Home State Historic Site. Authors from H.G. Wells to Jules Verne are featured each month, and guests are encouraged, but not required, to dress in steampunk or Victorian fashion, and enjoy tea. The events are free, but advance RSVP is required at Magoffin Home. October’s book is Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.”
Plan Your Escape
Ready to get away? Here’s a quick list of where to find information on events that provide opportunities for travel through different times and dimensions, shape-shifting, becoming part of the story and more.
Additional listings of haunted houses, ghost tours, mazes, zombie walks and more spooky stuff, plus a variety of other Halloween events, can be found on pages 6-8 of this issue.
• Renaissance Artsfaire — The 46th annual event is 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 4-5, at Young Park, Walnut and Lohman in Las Cruces Information: Doña Ana Arts Council (575) 523-6403 or daarts.org.
• Amtgard Games — Kingdom of the Burning Land’s weekly battle games are 1 p.m. November to April and 2 p.m. April to November at Memorial Park. Information: amtgardinc.com.
• SCA’s The Citadel of the Southern Pass — Events can be found at southernpass.org or on Facebook at Barony of the Citadel of the Southern Pass.
• Operation Outbreak El Paso Escape Game — 4530 Montana, Suite E. Information: escapegameep.com or on Facebook at EscapeGameEp.
• Monkey Mayhem (currently undergoing renovations) — 120 Paragon, Suite 101. Updates for new opening dates at monkeymayhemescaperooms.com or on Facebook at MonkeyMayhemep. Information at 228-8621.
• Lost Cruces Escape Room — 775 S. Telshor, Suite G4. Information: (575) 323-2112, lostcruces.com or on Facebook at LostCrucesEscapeRoom.
• Cluenumdrum Escape Room— 580 S. Valley Drive, Suite 100, Las Cruces. Information: (575) 9300, cluenundrum.com or on Facebook.
• El Paso Comic Con (EPCon) — April 12-14, 2019 at El Paso Convention Center, with costume contest at 8 p.m. Saturday. Information: elpasocomiccon.com or on Facebook and Twitter.
• Victorian Sci-Fi Book Club — 2 p.m. the third Saturday of the month at Magoffin Home State Historic Site Visitor Center. Information: 533-5147 or visitmagoffinhome.com.
• ImpactFest’s El Paso Film Virtual Reality and Short Film Festival — Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 27-28, at FabLab and the El Paso Foundation Room in Downtown El Paso. Information: 257-8470, elpasofilmfest.org or IMPACFest.org.
• Full Moon Vampire Ball at Tricky Falls — Oct. 20. Information: 351-9938,
trickyfalls.com or on Facebook.
• Alamo Drafthouse — 250 E. Montecillo. Movie Party schedule can be found at drafthouse.com/el-paso or on Facebook, at AlamoEP. Information: 845-7469.
Copyright 2018 by Cristo Rey Communications