A Spoonful of Sugar

Stephanie Faye Bartlett of Two Spoons Theatre Company talks to about funny and thought provoking theatre that makes the medicine go down

Image: Timothy Kelly

Image: Timothy Kelly

In 2014 they wowed in Drama Barn, this year they are on a mission to bring their high quality comedy to the rest of the nation with their two touring productions, Clandestine Sketch Show’ and The Room: the Musical, at various UK Fringe festivals. Two Spoons Theatre Company is a collection of four driven York alumnis who became firm friends through comedy events at York. I met with Stephanie Faye Bartlett, one of the talented quartet, on the morning of the show’s premiere in York to talk shows, societies and Tommy Wiseau.

In interviews, it is easy to see why Stephanie is such a successful producer. She is enthusiastic, committed yet ultimately practical and level-headed, despite the intimidating to-do list she shows me. When asked about the difficulties of running a graduate theatre company, she dismisses the limitations that such stressors can impose. “We have to understand that this is about us learning a craft. We’re growing together and it will give us a strong foundation if we want to do anything in the future. Out of every adverse situation there’s always good to be gained in the long run and that’s a philosophy that you have to live by, otherwise you will go insane.”

Such a positive and forgiving vision is wonderful to see, and what is even more encouraging is the company’s ability to plan for the future: “one of the reasons we’re doing the show tonight is as a bit of a lap. Hopefully we’re going to film tonight, then review where the laughs are, and understand how this plays to an audience that come with no expectations. We need to be prepared for times in the tour for when people have never heard of us before, and are waiting to see if it was money well spent.” Not only is this invaluable in helping the company to prepare for Fringe performances, but also allows for a strong focus on how to invest any current profits in potential future endeavours.

As an act that relies on a good relationship with its audience, it is incredibly important for Two Spoons to create a welcoming environment from the outset. As producer, this creates a lot of responsibility for Stephanie when choosing performance venues. “I constantly strive to create a venue that is locked off from the rest of the world, where every single molecule is completely saturated with people being in the moment watching the show and enjoying it for what it is… it’s this all inclusive party that everyone’s involved in.” This relationship is not simply Stephanie’s responsibility, but is maintained throughout the entire company, with Ed Greenwood and Charles Deane dynamically playing to and involving the audience beautifully throughout The Clandestine Sketch Show.

Stephanie is eager to promote the benefits of becoming involved with societies at York, considering such involvement as ‘vital’ in the formation and success of the ‘Two Spoons’ company. Our university is privileged to have weekly performance opportunities through DramaSoc, providing a constant stream of opportunities and allowing those with no former experience to become involved with running a show. “York University definitely has this culture of producing these fantastic performance societies as kind of a springboard to becoming professional.” Performance societies in York are keenly aware of the individual value of their members, and eager to support each member and help them to realise their creative potential.

Image: Timothy Kelly

Image: Timothy Kelly

Stephanie herself benefitted greatly from York’s culture scene and was keen to emphasise this: “I learned how to produce from directing, how to act from teaching and, personally, I think it’s that universal approach to theatre and performance that has given me the opportunity to learn. You need to understand the roles and responsibilities of everybody else to make the best show possible. [Two Spoons’ members have] done an awful lot of work together, but I think it’s the fact that we all went to the University of York. We’re very privileged to have a diverse community that are all willing to give a hand. I can’t speak for any other universities, but our basis in York is certainly vital.”

The fact that anyone can become involved with any aspect of theatre creates a rich base of multi-skilled students for companies such as Two Spoons to draw from. Coming from this background of York societies, Stephanie is more than willing to provide opportunities to those missing experience. In doing this, Two Spoons becomes more than a theatre company, but an inclusive and evolving learning environment in which individuals can fulfill their creative potential and gain further professional skills.

Protected by the Parody Law of October 2014, which loosened the laws on the use of artistic material without owning copyright, Two Spoons’ The Room: The Musical is safe from the well-known wrath of Tommy Wiseau. However, the intimidating force of Mr. Wiseau did weigh heavy on producer Stephanie’s mind. Mindful of letting him see that The Room: The Musical comes from a spirit of camaraderie, she sent an email to the official website of The Room. The response at 6am 3 weeks later was what started her journey ‘down the rabbit hole,’ exploring the mysterious Wiseau.

I would love to meet Tommy Wiseau, but I would not like to get on the wrong side of him, which I feel is very easily done

Signed off by ‘John Caffrey,’ the response made use of the same idiosyncratic English that only Mr. Wiseau seems to speak. Online forums are filled with people claiming that Wiseau messaged them under this pseudonym. This is not unusual in the film business, with smaller companies using avatars to make themselves seem more established.

Things get stranger further down this Tommy Wiseau-shaped rabbit tunnel, however. In research, there are only two records of John Caffrey’s existence: his working for Wiseau films, and a YouTube account which comments on random videos promoting The Room in baffling formats. The name ‘Drew Caffrey’ peppers the Wiseau-saturated credits of The Room, naming him executive producer and casting director for San Francisco, despite his death several years before the film was made.

Did Wiseau combine the name of this mentor with his character in The Room to create the inscrutable avatar, ‘John Caffrey’? Stephanie is almost convinced, however is still yet to meet him: “I would love to meet him and talk to him, but I would not like to get on the wrong side of him, which I feel is very easily done. I would not like to meet him in a dark alley for a game of football!”

With Wiseau’s self-claimed love of travelling and ‘turning up’ in unexpected places, are ‘Two Spoons’ likely to encounter the man himself during their tour? Stephanie would not be surprised: “Apparently he has this habit of just turning up to places, so I wouldn’t be surprised if in Edinburgh one night we look out into the audience and he’s just sat there, 1:00 AM, sunglasses still on, inside.”

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