There are rare moments in life when you meet true artists. I know many, many artists. But I’m talking about people who do something so exquisitely you are captivated and cannot imagine them doing anything else. They were born to do exactly this.
That’s how one might feel when watching the physical performance piece Button Wagon now playing at ArtWorks Theatre as part of the Hollywood Fringe.
Part playful narrative dashed with clowning, part physical feats that defy logic and gravity; Button Wagon is the result of harmonious artistic collaboration between its two-person performance team, contortionist Ember Bria and mime/object illusionist Matthew McCorkle.
“I have an obsession with buttons,” Bria describes the inspiration for the show. “I have a pretty extensive collection of buttons.”
“Yeah, let’s start there,” McCorkle adds with a shy laugh.
I sat with the couple post-show in the ArtWorks parking lot after clearing their set of over-sized props into their travel van, their accommodations on the road. Between them sat their small brown and white dog, Arlo. They left their permanent home in Peñasco, New Mexico to perform at the New Orleans Fringe before heading out to Hollywood.
While the show itself follows a trail of physical-feat vignettes, these performers don’t simply do tricks. They draw you into their characters with on-stage personas reminiscent of Lucille Ball’s delightful clowning and Buster Keaton’s stoic wonder of the world around him. It’s as if their characters have never lost the sense of childlike play and discover every object anew as they come into contact with it. Everything in their world is magical, even their own bodies.
“We have these still images that we want to hit for the show,” Bria describes their creative process. “Then it becomes about how to make them come alive.”
McCorkle nods adding, “What’s the movement to make them connect? That’s really the key.”
Bria—equipped with seven years training from the San Francisco Circus Center—describes her extensive warm-up needed to prepare for the demanding physical performance which ranges from extraordinary displays of strength to rag-doll limberness. McCorkle, a self-taught performer, creates multiple illusions and mime effects with simple objects large and small.
The team adheres to a rigorous performance schedule of three days on and one day off, where doing the show itself keeps them nimble and well-practiced. Since creating the show in 2010, they’ve had plenty of positive response from audiences of all ages.
“We made the show for adults but kids started coming and loved it,” says McCorkle. “They are very drawn in and well-behaved, which surprised us.”
After Hollywood, the team is heading to Portland to meet up with other performing friends and explore creating some new work. They both express desire to develop a new show. But they also hope to keep bringing Button Wagon to audiences around the country.
“We love it,” Bria says. “We really love performing it.”
And you have only two shows left to catch its magic…and then it’s gone.
Running Time: 1 hour Tickets: $15 Family Friendly
About the Author: Amy Tofte is a writer/director who worked way too hard for her SAG card that she stubbornly hangs on to. She has her MFA from CalArts (Writing for Performance) and has seen her work produced all over the country and at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. She is a founding member of Fierce Backbone in Los Angeles (a theater dedicated to all levels of play development) and a proud member of the Dramatists Guild of America. Visit Amy at http://amytofte.com