For four decades Spring Green, Wisconsin, has been synonymous with American Players Theatre, the much-lauded classical company that draws more than 100,000 patrons a year to the sleepy rural town, all summer long. Now theater-goers have a reason to visit in the colder months as well. Two Crows Theatre Company is finishing up its inaugural season, right off the town’s main street in a building that, until recently, was home to the Village Tavern. Under the guidance of artistic director Robert Doyle and associate artist Brian Byrnes, the space is being reimagined and slowly transformed into The Jefferson, featuring a speakeasy style cocktail bar called Rosa Lee's Lounge in the front and a versatile black-box theater in the back, with a capacity for seating between 80 and 100 patrons.
Doyle and Byrnes met while working together on APT productions, A Flea in her Ear and A View From the Bridge in 2017. “We became quick friends and spoke numerous times about the shows that we would like to do together someday,” says Doyle. “Our wish lists were almost identical.”
Last spring the two saw a “for sale” sign on the Village Tavern. After touring the space, they immediately compiled to-do lists and outlined plans for their new company on legal pads in a bookstore down the street.
One of the first puzzles the team faced was what to call their new venture. After brainstorming “pages and pages” of possible names, Doyle says he was inspired by an old British nursery rhyme that his grandmother frequently quoted. “When she saw a crow, she’d say, ‘one for sorrow, two for joy,’ which is the poem’s first stanza.” Doyle immediately designed a logo with two crows and realized that the line could also refer to theater’s foundations in comedy and tragedy. “Still to this day, if I see one crow I frantically look for another,” he says.
The nonprofit company plans to present both contemporary and established plays, working with artists who call Spring Green home. The company doesn’t want to compete with American Players’ season, so will only mount productions during the winter and early spring months, when APT is dark. Doyle is also coordinating with APT’s artistic leadership to avoid overlaps.
“Picking the first season was a gargantuan challenge,” says Doyle. “Finding impactful plays that could fit the budget for a small theater while staying true to our mission was hard work.”
So far all of Two Crows’ productions have featured APT regulars and Spring Green residents onstage, in the director’s chair, and behind the scenes. The company presented The Santaland Diaries by David Sedaris in December and The Belle of Amherst by William Luce in February. Its third and final production of the season, Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me, by Frank McGuinness, is directed by Jim DeVita. The story about three hostages in Beirut during the late 1980s features Joshua Krause, Marcus Truschinski and Doyle. The show runs through March 24.
Although Doyle and Byrne both have previous experience running theater companies, Two Crows is a much larger project than either had undertaken before. “We have full control over the space, we have to think about how to house our out-of-town artists, we’re using professional contracts, we have to run payroll,” Doyle explains. “In short, we’re both learning tons every day. I enjoy that about theatre — you’re never done learning, as the craft constantly changes.”