On any given Saturday night, Los Angeles serves up a dozen cultural oddities across the city, from beach-side circus tricks to downtown performance art. But perhaps stranger still is the chance to see these far-off acts all under one roof.
Started by the folks behind the geek-chic underground comedy gathering Super Ball, Saturday's TwentyWonder gathers a dozen of the city's marvels for a one-night whirl of art, science and music with proceeds benefiting Down Syndrome Assn. of Los Angeles. (TwentyWonder takes its name from Trisomy 21, referring to the extra chromosome that causes Down syndrome.)
The third annual TwentyWonder will host some 1,500 people at the L.A. Derby Dolls' 40,000-square-foot Doll Factory in Echo Park. The roster includes the gothic big-top performers of Cirque Berzerk, "Jackass" stuntman Steve-O in a twisted game of tick-tack-toe, Grammy-winning roots-rock singer Dave Alvin and, for good measure, Drag-u-la, the hot-rod coffin from "The Munsters." And those are just the sideshows.
"It's everything I love about L.A.," said "Mystery Science Theater 3000" creator Joel Hodgson, who started TwentyWonder with his brother Jim, who Joel described as "the nerd P.T. Barnum of art." "In its own way, the city becomes the creative center of the universe for that night," Joel added.
"You've got all these different facets — entertainment, analysis, mathematics — I think [TwentyWonder] is what the inside of our brains look like," said Jim Hodgson, a visual artist-turned-director of the Down Syndrome Assn. "It's the most unique fundraiser for Down syndrome in the country.
"The culture of Down syndrome to me is fascinating, and it's a culture that's been absolutely on the fringes of society for a millennium," said Jim Hodgson, whose 7-year-old son, Henry, has the condition. "It's one thing to have an event that resonates within your community, but when you move outside of that, you're moving the culture forward."
TwentyWonder raised $130,000 last year, and this year hopes for the same.
TwentyWonder's main events include Lucha VaVoom's signature mashup of burlesque striptease and Mexican wrestling with commentary by quick-witted comic Dana Gould, as well as a roller-derby match between the L.A. and San Diego Derby Dolls. In a bit of a whiplash-inducing change in tone, the halftime show will be a lesson on the origins of the universe — on wheels.
David Saltzberg, the physicist who scripts the science behind the CBS sitcom "The Big Bang Theory," will re-create the Large Hadron Collider — the international particle accelerator he works with to test high-end physics theories deep below the Earth — with skaters serving as protons and electrons propelled into choreographed collisions.
"It's kind of like CliffsNotes for one of the world's greatest science experiments, and we have one of the makers of it right there," Hodgson said.
To further the fundraising effort, artwork by Shepard Fairey and punk legend Exene Cervenka will be raffled off for $5 a ticket, and a Fender Stratocaster signed by the Foo Fighters will be on the auction block. L.A. artist and former Disney animator Tim Biskup, whose work has been seen in galleries as well as the clothing line Gama-Go, will also set up a carnival-style booth for his ongoing project Ego Killer.
For $20, he'll draw a "nice" caricature and — at your own risk — a "mean" portrait for $5. Biskup said the latter has resulted in everything from laughter to threats from his customers. "It's a social experiment," he said. "I can make anybody look horrible."
TwentyWonder will also feature an educational installation with facts about Down syndrome set in a 32-foot diameter geodesic dome before it travels to Burning Man in Nevada as a temporary living quarters.
"We try to make the educational process passive and enjoyable, instead of sticking it down someone's throat," said Hodgson.
People with disabilities will also be performing, including actress Jamie Brewer of "American Horror Story," the band Kids of Widney High and the visual artists of Tierra del Sol. And those with Down syndrome are invited to attend TwentyWonder free of charge.