Published by ShawnKinley on

black and white photo of clocks

The Game

This is a simple technique used on stages around the world. Sometimes, it is used as a gimmick to mess with performers but SOMETIMES… it’s used with good intention – to address an ongoing problem with ACTION vs DISCUSSION! ((SHOW- DON’T TELL)).



BENEFITS: Awareness of scene issues, playfulness with scene control, initiative to fix scenes that are in a state of gossip. Variety with how a scene can be presented.

# PEOPLE: however many people are in your scene

GOAL: Recognize when the scene has been stopped by discussion about future acts or history and isn’t moving forward. Then, Fix it.


  1. Start your scene.
  2. 2A – Recognize when people are taking about the past: “Do you remember how we met? I was talking to the boss today… When I was four I…”
    2B – Recognize when people are talking about the future. “Dad will be here in an hour.  When we get to the mountain, we should set up the telescope…”
  3. Someone onstage or off yells, “INTO THE FUTURE!” or “BACK TO THE PAST!”
  4. The scene leaps forward or back to that time where the activity occurs. 
  5. Shifting back to the present, anyone can say “PRESENT TIME”

EXAMPLE: Jonah and Tony are on the sofa eating Pizza and playing video games.  Jonah says, “When we were 4, did you ever imagine we’d have a perfect life like this?”

Someone yells “Back to the past”. 

They are in the backyard catching flies and putting them in a jar.  They do a happy scene on a summer day naming their flies and having adventures.

Someone yells “PRESENT”. 

They are back on the sofa. One person slaps a fly. 

Scene continues. The improvisers remain mindful of when their talk becomes too focused on the future or past. Then they shift the scene to that time and place.


Get performers used to the concept with the extreme version.  A panel of performers is listening for ANY moment that the performers are not in the present time and yell Future, or past. They yell out Present when they want to return to present time.

Get them used to being aware of the time to shift by having other performers run up and tag them out if they start gossiping or talking about something in the future.

There is a danger that people will start messing with time and fail to attend to the needs of the moment. So you might have to limit people to the number of shifts in time people go on. 3 shifts and they are stuck at that time in the story.

VARIATION: SPACE – The version where people shift to locations is an editing room exercise called, CUTTING ROOM. Some yells “CUT TO – ” And then a geographical location. “Arctic lab ” and then CUT TO – Kindergarten in Beiseker Alberta.

IMPORTANT: Of course this can be played to help players and the story or it can be played to mess around with each other.  Make sure you understand the value of the game and can play with that before jumping through space and time just for the hell of it.


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