Environment skills are an essential part of nearly every improv scene. Nothing happens in a void, and knowing where you are connects you to the space and provides ideas. Unless your scene takes place in an actual void — then you’re on your own.
A lot of people spend most of their time indoors, venturing outside for the few steps to their car. We only go outdoors for specific activities, like sports, camping, or walking the dog. Outdoor improv scenes tend to be few and far between.
But neglect outdoor environments and you’re missing out on waaaaaaay more variety in your improv. After all, most buildings are constructed the same way, and have the same types of spaces in them. In the outdoors, you can be anywhere in the world — or any other. There’s also a much bigger range of objects to interact with, and nature is always changing.
It’s easier to Be Affected outdoors
People are much more affected by the environment when outside. We mostly control our indoor climate, but outside we feel changes in temperature or lighting. Outdoor spaces also have a lot more sounds. Being outside forces you to grapple with all your senses. The world feels different when you don’t have a ceiling over your head.
I recommend you always make a choice about the time of day. The same place will be much different depending on whether it’s light or dark. You should also consider the weather, even to decide that it’s a pleasant day. And remember that weather can change quickly.
Think outside the stage
Outdoor improv scenes still take place on a small stage, so you will mostly focus on what’s immediately around you. But remember that outdoor environments extend in all directions, including up (and sometimes down). Things happen beyond the immediate space, whether they’re distractions (like bats flying by), or events that may impact you (like that volcano erupting). Extend your thinking beyond the stage.
One thing to be careful of is getting drawn into talking about what you’re seeing. Since you can’t easily interact with things outside the immediate space, sometimes you do need to break the “show, don’t tell” rule. But try not to overdo it. If you can, bring the event to you as soon as possible so you can use your physical skills. A storm in the distance should be raining on you before too long. That bird in the sky might poop on you, which sends you looking for your rifle for revenge, and so on. Find a physical choice wherever and whenever you can.
Outdoor locations are also great for introducing new conflicts in your scenes. If you find your characters arguing all the time, put them into a hostile outdoor environment. Maybe they’ll work together to survive.
Try this exercise for outdoor improv scenes
Exploration of a Larger Environment / Weather Exercise: Players choose an outdoor location, and agree on characters and activity. They then explore the environment. Be affected by conditions beyond the immediate space. What is above? Below? Be affected by weather and outdoor conditions. For an added challenge, try to show the above without using hands.
Check out our full list of exercises for environment, object work, and physicality. Other exercises that are especially great for training your outdoor scenes include Powering Through Obstacles, What’s Beyond?, and The Specialized Where.
Please share your tips for outdoor improv scenes with the Improv Illusionist community. Leave a comment below!