From its burlesque house beginnings to star-crossed stints as a live-music venue, the stage at Southeast 48th Avenue and Hawthorne Boulevard has welcomed a dizzying breadth of entertainment over the past century, but its current attraction must be the flashiest.
In April, the Quarterworld arcade debuted an 8-foot-tall solid-state Tesla coil with dual breakout rods tuned to emit 90-decibel tones in time with jagged bolts of electricity. "Tessie" ranks among the largest of its kind anywhere in the United States—and appears to be the only singing Tesla coil expressly built for permanent residency in a video game hall. Although Tessie's musical repertoire has steadily grown—Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off" is a popular recent addition—the sonic limitations make it sound like Nintendo theme music. In practice, when the opening notes of Super Mario are thundered to simultaneous bursts of untamed electricity, performances are rather like Bowser bringing on the end of days.
Logan Bowden, the arcade's director of operations, had the idea for Tessie after arcade owner Phil Ragaway asked for a signature attraction to accentuate the "mad scientist laboratory aspect" of Quarterworld without causing danger to nearby drunks or children.
"I've been successfully electrocuted three times," Bowden laughs. "I'm very familiar with voltage."
There are plans for even greater spectacle in the future. "Eventually, I'd like to manufacture some much smaller-scale Tesla coils and start playing with plasma balls—different gases, different colors. Maybe down the road, my plasma ball chandelier will actually come to light," Bowden says. "At some point, with many waivers signed, people might even be able to put on a Faraday suit that gives them the ability to go and dance within range of the bolts. In the suit, the lightning will strike you but you won't be harmed. Oh, there's a lot of potential with what Tessie can do. She's no one-trick pony."