by Carolyn Blais
photo by Matthew Asner
I didn’t know exactly what to expect when heading in to TWENTYWONDER, an event described on its website as a “One Night World’s Fair” to benefit the Down Syndrome Association of Los Angeles (DSALA). I knew the night would involve comics, musical acts, art, and science, but I never could have imagined or expected to encounter the overall magic and yes, wonder that made TWENTYWONDER such a special event.
It was a gloomy, rainy night this past Saturday, March 6, but inside the Veterans’ Memorial Building in Culver City the mood could not have been more upbeat. Upon arriving I was given my ticket in to the event: a necklace with a circular, green medallion that read “TWENTYWONDER” on the front and the DSALA mission statement on the back. It wasn’t until later in the night that I realized the medallions came in a variety of colors, including a purplish pink (my favorite) that I was able to swap the green for. As if funky necklaces weren’t enough to be excited about, there was still so much more awaiting me beyond the lobby, in the main room. I was struck first by the sight of the world’s largest Kindle. Except upon further investigation it was in fact a “Twindle” not a Kindle. This larger than life version of the popular electronic book device was operated by a pair of burlesque clad twins who each turned a lever that revealed the pages of ‘Dirt Men,’ a short story in Tim Johnston’s collection entitled “Irish Girl.” Johnston, a writer featured in a previous Forth piece (and another to come in the near future), was one of the many creative and innovative minds behind the making of TWENTYWONDER. The main man behind all the magic though was Jim Hodgson, Senior Director of DSALA. Obviously quite busy making sure the night was running smoothly, Jim was hard to pin down, but luckily I had the pleasure of meeting him briefly to express my gratitude in having me at such an amazing event.
The amazing-ness continued with star studded performances from folks like Mr. Tremendous, aka Jim Turner best known for co-starring on the HBO comedy, “Arli$$.” Of course not to be missed was comedienne Sarah Silverman who kept it awkwardly funny with songs like “It’s not cold in here, you’re just dying” inspired by trips to visit her grandmother in the nursing home. Luckily the talented Dave Gruber Allen from “Freaks & Geeks” was able to keep the show-a-moving along with his very funny MC bits.
In-between acts, I was happy to peruse the many items at the artisan tables. With artists like Patricia Canaday-Farrow and Mary Brown, the arts section was filled with everything from handmade skirts and jewelry, to misfit toys and dolls, to pottery and sculptures, to paintings and collages. All items seemed to purposely posses a sort of off-beat, unusual nature—things you don’t see everyday that are still beautiful in their own unique and strange ways—perhaps an underlying, metaphoric theme for the whole evening. The very image of TWENTYWONDER is in fact a red, furry Cyclops creature looking pretty cool playing a guitar designed by artist Tim Biskup. Not only was a life size figure of this creature present, but paintings by Biskup were also displayed for sale.
Of course I can’t forget to mention the many activities that were going on throughout the auditorium. There was some kind of puppet karaoke where you controlled a puppet that made an image of your face move on the screen. Or for $10 you could build your own robot out of odds and ends of different scrap metals and other materials. My favorite though was a maze with Down syndrome facts found at every dead end called the aMAZEment. I learned things I never knew about this genetic condition that affects 400,000 people in the U.S. (yup, that was one of the things I learned). About 4,000 people with DS are currently living in the greater LA area—many of whom are capable of leading very productive, fulfilled lives. I think the most important thing I learned at TWENTYWONDER is that people with Down syndrome are no different than the rest of us—they have the same feelings, the same emotions, and they are worthy of the same kind of love, respect and happiness that all human beings strive for.
While it might have seemed like a random hodgepodge of an event, TWENTYWONDER, in its basic form, was really just a celebration of life—life in all of its unique, awe-inspiring, and beautifully strange forms. A job well done to Jim Hodgson and the DSALA crew for touching the hearts and minds of all that attended and made TWENTYWONDER a night to be remembered.
What: TWENTYWONDER—DSALA Benefit
Where: Veterans Memorial Building, 4117 Overland Ave. Culver City, CA
When: Saturday March 6th, 2010, 6 p.m. to Midnight