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Performance artists put on a monthly cabaret, for each other and for themselves

From the left | One Wig Out attendee, Kast, gets in with a wig discount despite that being his real hair; Wig Out organizer Jean "Jean Natalia" Spinosa; dancer Amy Sanchez; Human Flys front man Jack Atlantis

Slideshow | Rockabilly night at Wig Out, featuring Jack Atlantis of the Human Flys, performers on stilts and a doughnut-eating Krys Fox
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By Olga Khazan

It was 11:15 p.m. when Jean Spinosa took the stage dressed as an androgynous Freddie Mercury figure in a plaid dress, black wig and a stick-on moustache. Not that Queen had much to do with the night's "Rockabilly" theme, but at Wig Out, anything goes.

First three circus performers, who had erstwhile been clanking around the bar on stilts, came onstage and twirled glowing hula-hoops. Then came Krys Fox, who crammed a dozen doughnuts in his mouth so fast that the chewed fragments flew back out in a sugary, soggy flurry. The crowd didn't seem to mind.

"Wig Out is a crazy, spicy salad of extreme expression," said Kast, an artist whose natural hair is so big he got the $2 "with Wig" discount at the door. "I come out to jump into the salad and move around."

For the cabaret's grand finale, Ian MacKinnon took the stage wearing a pink bouffant wrapped in cheap Mardi-Gras beads and sang a song about the "love between a man and his wig." The object of his affection was played by another man in a blonde wig who jumped on his shoulders as the two finished singing.

One hour, one cabaret. Just the way they like it.

"It's a quick job," MacKinnon said. He and his "wig" practiced the routine only a few times before that night's performance. "Get a fun idea, let's go, let's make it happen."

The performers at Wig Out have been making it happen every month for more than four and a half years now. Just last month, they moved to downtown's HM157, from the more baroque-looking Bordello. Each night starts with a disc jockey and an opening band, followed by what Wig Out organizer Jean Spinosa calls the "cabaret." It's a Vaudeville-style show in which performance artists do their thing - be it doughnuts, hula hoops or um..."other."

"One guy ate a goat heart once," MacKinnon said. "I was like, 'Is that a sponge?!' and Jean was like, 'That's a real goat heart!'"

The point of the cabaret, it seems, is art for art's sake. That, or art for the sake of the artists. Jack Atlantis is the lead singer of the Human Flys, a Cramps cover band that performed for the Rockabilly night's opening set. For him, the cabaret portion is reminiscent of the eponymous Broadway play.

"It's kind of like the unusual surrealistic performances you might see in the early part of the 20th century in Germany," he said. Already chock-full of fishnets and flamboyance, all Rockabilly night lacked was Liza Minnelli.

The history of Wig Out is almost as random as the acts it comprises. Spinosa, who is an actress living in West Hollywood, said the idea for the event came to her like most of her brilliant ideas do.

"I was totally in a deep, deep sleep, and I woke up - like, jumped up - in the middle of the night and thought, 'Wig Out!'" she said. "The first thing I thought was, I need to call my best friend Jana. She picked up the phone, and I said, 'Wig Out!' and she said, 'Get your wig on!'"

"She knows me so well," she added.

Jana's exclamation became the event's catchphrase, and each month Spinosa works a new theme into it. For nerd night, it was, "Get your nerd on." Accordion night? "Get your squeeze on." A special May 8 performance at the Devil's Night Drive-In was "Get your smoke on" to match the night's movie, "Up in Smoke."

Each time, Spinosa wears a different wig and performs a different character to match. For Dada night, she spoke in gibberish.

"It was a mix of fake Russian and a bunch of other languages," she said.

The performers practice their routines only a few times before the night of the show. But they say you don't need practice when you've got a wig.

"We rehearse a couple times and try to develop what would be most fun for us," MacKinnon said. "It's almost like the wig does it - you put it on and peoples' perceptions of you change."

One frequent Wig Out performer, whose stage name is Auntie Biotic, said the homemade, improvisational feeling is part of the aesthetic. Before the event changed venues to Bordello, Spinosa would set the scene at Hollywood's M Bar with props like a bedazzled mannequin, which she made using craft-store glitter and Elmer's glue.

She made her own costumes, and those of her friends, from the veritable prop shop that is her one-bedroom apartment. A cabinet holding 64 types of buttons sits where a TV would normally go. Cabinet drawers are stuffed with everything from rubber chickens to pink sunglasses.

"It's not about buying stuff, or moving up and up and up. You have to improvise," Biotic said. She used to imagine what it would be like to make her own music videos for songs she heard on the radio. With Wig Out, she doesn't have to imagine anymore. "It's about feeding that creativity within yourself and satisfying it," she said.

Before long, the event had amassed a loyal following of about 150 regulars who embrace the chance to take a break from reality. No longer contained just to downtown, they perform occasional special shows at other venues, and they're considering going on a West Coast tour.

"It's just gotten stronger over the years, like a machine," Spinosa said. "But a magical, sparkly glitter machine."

Not to mention, she said, it's a welcome respite from the hustle of urban life.

"It's necessary to have Wig Out to really, severely let loose and not care what anyone thinks," Spinosa said. "Especially in a big business city like Los Angeles."

At one point during the Rockabilly performance, Spinosa lifted her dress to show off a pair of women's underwear with a very noticeable bulge in front. She reached in, tugged at the bulge and pulled out a Strawberry Shortcake sock.

"It's what I figured Freddie Mercury's penis would be shaped like," she explained.

Part of Wig Out's appeal is its friendliness toward the gay, bisexual, transgender and drag communities. As an occasional drag performer, Spinosa said that in the past, other drag queens would sometimes look down on her at performances because she's not a man. But Wig Out gives her and others a chance to assume whatever gender or identity they want.

"With Wig Out, I can be a man, or a woman dressed as a man, or a man dressed as a woman," Spinosa said. "Or I can be a fucking panda."

But most of all, it's Wig Out's unadulterated exuberance that keeps its regular performers coming back and encourages new performers to give it a shot. Sometimes the talent at Wig Out is amazing, said Joseph Newhouse, a singer who came to Rockabilly night. But sometimes it's ordinary, and that's just fine.

"It's childlike play taken to its glamorous maximum," he said. "If you work too hard at channeling your creativity toward something studied and precise, that's great. But every now and then you have to put on a silly wig."

Ian MacKinnon on Rockabilly night at Wig Out
Performance artist Ian MacKinnon on the love between a man and his wig.

Wig Out performers go drug-themed at the Drive In
Jean Spinosa and a few of the other Wig Out regulars did a special pre-show performance at the Devil's Night Drive In.

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Background photo by MikeFinkelstein