Inside the Westworld SXSW experience

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Westworld SXSW

The journey to famed theme park “Westworld” began in east Austin for a select few able to snag tickets to HBO’s interactive experience in town (though, really, not technically in town) for three days of South By Southwest.

The hit series kicks off its second season April 22, but from March 9 to 11 fans have a chance to explore the (fortunately mostly less-violent) world of Sweetwater. Half of tickets for the experience sold out ahead of SXSW, but the rest will become available online through the next few days, while others who take Lyft during the festival have a chance to win tickets as well.

Guests of the Westworld experience stand in line for check in and to receive wristbands (KXAN Photo/Kate Winkle)
Guests of the Westworld experience stand in line for check in and to receive wristbands (KXAN Photo/Kate Winkle)

Attendees at the preview event lined up at Eastside Tavern off East Cesar Chavez Street Thursday night, greeted by people wearing all white. On the rooftop of the building, they had a chance to sample snacks and get their own Westworld-themed cowboy hat, before being loaded onto buses emblazoned with white horses and “Escape this Reality” on the side.

After a ride that was estimated to take 20 minutes (but was really much more thanks to Austin traffic), visitors disembarked and entered through a curtain, greeted by a woman in white who said “Welcome to Westworld.” Through a white hallway was an old-fashioned door which led into a lavishly-decorated train car, complete with “hosts” who either greeted you or commented that it was rude to stare. They are, of course, mimicking the aesthetic of the show, but in this case it’s 60 actors and 6 stunt people playing robots living autonomous lives.

Disembarking the train car, people were greeted with two acres of an old West-style town (the location of which the experience’s creators requested not be specified), complete with people leading horses around. It took 40 people five weeks to build it. There’s a general store, a cemetery and a sheriff’s office. From there, the experience was entirely up to the guests. They could order a drink or play a hand of poker at the re-created Mariposa saloon from the show, or try some brisket and beans from the luxury Coronado hotel. They could talk with the hosts about their lives and discover mini-missions, like picking up a letter at the post office or getting a coin from the banker.

Just like Westworld (or any town), Sweetwater’s residents had their quarrels and weren’t afraid to settle them loudly in the streets. On occasion, the facade of the Westworld park was stripped away, and Delos workers in their hazmat suits cleaned up the scene of a standoff, or could be seen in a laboratory hidden in a cave working on a new addition to the park.

Eventually, after experiencing much of what Westworld had to offer in about two hours (though, likely, not all — the final script for the experience totaled 444 pages, and pulling off the production involved 58 vendors who started work in November) guests made their way back to the buses and back to reality.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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