Led by Darren Yorke, Grand Stretch is an Irish theatre company dedicated to improvisation since 2017.
We train all kinds of people to be "Team Players" in the unique improvisational approach and performance style we call “Impro”, and we create all kinds of opportunities for them in our shows, facilitating transformative experiences through fearless play along the way.
As you probably already know, “improv" is widely understood as being a form of entertainment in which spontaneous performers make up clever and funny material on the spot, which is often closer to stand-up or sketch comedy than theatre. “Impro” has roots in Keith Johnstone’s improvisational theory and licensed show formats, which we practice as Ireland’s leading member of the International TheatreSports™ Institute. We’re challenging the widely perceived limitations of improvisation in presenting “Impro theatre” as the momentary art-form through which we stage stories with staying power in memorable performance style.
We train players in The IMPRO System (our approach, method and techniques) and The IMPRO Playbook (our favourite show formats). Players progress from training onto the teams who share onstage opportunities and offstage responsibilities for making TheatreSports™, Maestro™ Impro and Gorilla Theatre™ shows happen.
We believe that we're all born creative. We believe we're all capable of brilliance. We believe that fear is the barrier between us and making things happen, that that fear is the root of suffering, and we believe fears can be dissipated through deep connection and mutual trust in high-spirited play.
IMPRO has changed our lives with an ideology to truly live by, a community to truly belong to, and personal growth to be truly proud of — and that's the truth.
We mean it when we say "it's all to play for!"
Our pool of Team Players is ever-growing and ever-changing. We don't have a "cast" or "ensemble" to aspire to. We've come to realise that it doesn't quite fit our ethos to limit ourselves so much. Instead, we grow dedicated show teams around the many-splendoured show formats in The IMPRO Playbook.
There is no audition process. Once a player has been trained up in a particular show format, they're made welcome on the team who share onstage opportunities and behind the scenes responsibilities for making that show happen.
I am — for all intents and purposes — an improviser. With a diverse skill-set and multiple passions, I’ve enjoyed a rich interdisciplinary practice (both onstage and behind the scenes) throughout my 10 years’ professional experience in the performing arts. Hailing from Longford, I hold a BA in Drama & Theatre Studies from Trinity College Dublin. I trained extensively in improvisational theatre with Vancouver TheatreSports™ from 2014-2016, and held a position as coordinator for VTS’ Education & Outreach programmes throughout that time.
All of this has culminated in Grand Stretch, and it has been a pleasure and privilege to sport so many of my favourite hats with this company — from designing and delivering training programmes to directing and performing in ambitious productions. And I'm so grateful for the new hats I've acquired along the way, gaining invaluable skills in running all aspects of the business of play.
At the moment, we’re quietly developing Keith Johnstone’s world-renowned show formats for Irish audiences. We look forward to presenting them to live audiences again when it’s safe to do so. In the meantime, a range of safe new ways to play are taking shape with Focus Impro.
Since moving home, I've pursued every opportunity to train abroad with distinguished practitioners – including Keith Johnstone, Patti Stiles, Steen Haakon Hanson, Shawn Kinley, Nadine Antler, Dan O Connor, Steve Jarand, Joe Bill, Armando Diaz, Leon Deuvel and The Showstoppers — The Improvised Musical. Closer to home, he collaborates with Anna Newell on her theatre adventures for young audiences (most recently in BLUE!), and has trained with Theatre Lovett (Theatre for Young Audiences) and Annie Ryan of Corn Exchange (Commedia dell'arte).
Darren Yorke founded Grand Stretch in 2017 with a view to:
Grand Stretch is a member of the International TheatreSports™ Institute and holds a licence to perform TheatreSports™.
An official introduction, of sorts. Here is Darren Yorke's official (and suitably unscripted) opening speech at our launch on Friday 13th of October — An Evening of Grand Stretch.
The evening's events featured Grand Stretch's debut production of Keith Johnstone's TheatreSports™, and starred our improv friends Denise Jones, Michael Teigen, and Dan Dumsha from Vancouver Theatresports™, Diana Frances from The Second City, and Keogh brothers Duane and Dave from The Town Pants. (Oh, what a night!)
'Grand Stretch' is inspired by a quintessentially Irish idiom. "There’s a grand stretch in the evenings" echoes 'round the country as Spring breaks — with Winter is at your back, and Summer on your doorstep. It’s the boring, obvious and unoriginal 'go-to' that creates an honest platform for meaningful conversation. It's terribly bright-si
'Grand Stretch' is inspired by a quintessentially Irish idiom. "There’s a grand stretch in the evenings" echoes 'round the country as Spring breaks — with Winter is at your back, and Summer on your doorstep. It’s the boring, obvious and unoriginal 'go-to' that creates an honest platform for meaningful conversation. It's terribly bright-sided. It's clear skies. It light triumphing over dark, and times of positive change, and time for sport, and time for play, and for taking risks, and for making things happen... it's perfect!
The tagline 'it's all to play for!' is a favourite in rural Irish Bingo Halls. It's the thrill of the gamble, its all-inclusive, its a leap-of-faith, its a sky's-the-limit values, and reinforces what "Grand Stretch" ignites in us — and also, we find ourselves saying it literally all the time.
IT'S ALL TO PLAY FOR!
(LET US PLAY!)
Our logo is tribute to our spirit animal, Nanny Mac — Darren's grandmother (and personal favourite) Rita McDermott. She's a National Treasure. Never one for an RTE weather report, Nanny Mac makes her own assessment of the sky over her head. Forever in the moment (and never a moment wasted), Nanny Mac has "The Spirit" in spades. Long may she reign!